State Department deplores rights records of North Korea, Iran, in annual reports News
State Department deplores rights records of North Korea, Iran, in annual reports

[JURIST] The US State Department Tuesday heavily criticized the right records of North Korea, Iran, Myanmar, Syria, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Eritrea and Sudan Tuesday in its annual report on worldwide human rights observance. In the introduction [text] to the its 2007 Reports on Human Rights Practices [index], the Department noted that "Countries in which power was concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers remained the world’s most systematic human rights violators." The State Department summed up the record of its top three violators in these terms:

The repressive North Korean regime continued to control almost all aspects of citizens’ lives, denying freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, and restricting freedom of movement and workers’ rights. Reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and arbitrary detention, including of political prisoners, continued to emerge from the insular country. Some forcibly repatriated refugees were said to have undergone severe punishment and possibly torture. Reports of public executions also continued to emerge.

Burma’s abysmal human rights record continued to worsen. Throughout the year, the regime continued to commit extrajudicial killings and was responsible for disappearances, arbitrary and indefinite detentions, rape, and torture. In September, security forces killed at least 30 demonstrators and detained over 3,000 others during a brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, including monks and pro-democracy protesters. Despite promises of dialogue, the regime did not honor its commitment to begin a genuine discussion with the democratic opposition and ethnic minority groups. Defying calls from the UN Security Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the early release of all political prisoners, the regime continued to hold opposition leaders under incarceration, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who remained under house arrest.

The Iranian regime violated freedom of speech and assembly, intensifying its crackdown against dissidents, journalists, women’s rights activists, labor activists, and those who disagreed with it through arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, abductions, the use of excessive force, and the widespread denial of fair public trials. The regime continued to detain and abuse religious and ethnic minorities. Authorities used stoning as a method of execution and as a sentence for alleged adultery cases despite a government moratorium in 2002 banning the practice. The regime continued to support terrorist movements and violent extremists in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon and called for the destruction of a UN member state.

The Department additionally condemned Sudan for a "horrific" record and criticized Russia [Reuters reports] for restrictions on the media, harassment of NGOs, and "corruption and selectivity in enforcement of the law." Among close US allies, the State Department flagged ongoing human rights problems in Pakistan, Iraq, amd Afghanistan.

China – whose own human rights record was labelled "poor" this year – regularly responds to the State Department's annual report with its own generally negative assessment of America's rights record [JURIST report]. The State Department addressed criticism of US human rights practices this way:

As we publish these reports, the Department of State remains mindful of both international and domestic criticism of the United States' human rights record. The U.S. government will continue to hear and reply forthrightly to concerns about our own practices, including the actions we have taken to defend our nation from the global threat of terrorism. Our laws, policies, and practices have evolved considerably in recent years, and we continue to strive to protect innocent civilians from attack while honoring our longstanding commitment to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. As part of this effort, the United States submits reports to international bodies in accordance with its obligations under various human rights treaties to which it is a party.

We take all of our human rights commitments seriously and, in our good faith efforts to meet those commitments, we value the vital role played by civil society and independent media. We do not consider views about our performance voiced by others in the international community to be interference in our internal affairs, nor should other governments regard expressions about their performance as such. Indeed, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is the right and the responsibility of "every individual and every organ of society to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance."

AP has more.