[JURIST] The US Department of State (DOS) [official website] on Friday released the 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [materials]. The report outlined three prevailing trends that shaped human rights in 2010. These included the growth of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the increase in access to the Internet and mobile phones, and the continuing escalation of violence, persecution and discrimination. The report also noted that the impact of the ongoing protests in the Middle East and North Africa [BBC backgrounder] on international human rights could not be known:
[W]e cannot predict the outcome of these changes, and we will not know the lasting impacts for years to come. The internal dynamics in each of these countries are different, so sweeping analysis of the entire region is not appropriate. In places like Tunisia and Egypt, we are witnessing popular demands for meaningful political participation, fundamental freedoms, and greater economic opportunity. These demands are profound, they are homegrown, and they are being driven by new activists, many of them young people. These citizens seek to build sustainable democracies in their countries with governments that respect the universal human rights of their own people. If they succeed, the Middle East region, and with it the whole world, will be improved.
In Africa, the report noted the “generally free and fair” presidential elections [JURIST report] in Benin [materials], but that local and municipal elections were replete with irregularities and that the country still faced vigilante violence, police abuse and female genital mutilation. In Kenya [materials], despite the enactment of a new constitution following a free and fair national referendum [JURIST reports], the country still faces corruption, ethnic violence, discrimination and police abuse. In Somalia [materials; JURIST news archive], the report outlined progress, particularly in the autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland, in addition to rights set backs under the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.
In East Asia and the Pacific, the report noted a downward trend in human rights in China [materials]: “the government took additional steps to rein in civil society, particularly organizations and individuals involved in rights advocacy and public interest issues, and increased attempts to limit freedom of speech and to control the press, the Internet, and Internet access.” DOS also pointed to the detention of Liu Xiaobo [JURIST report] and ongoing corruption, widespread censorship, extrajudicial killings and a lack of due process. In Myanmar [materials], DOS accused the military government of severe human rights abuses, including “extrajudicial killings, custodial deaths, disappearances, rape, and torture,” and the failure to investigate a 2003 attack on opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi [JURIST news archive].
In Europe and Eurasia, DOS criticized France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy [materials] for their treatment of the Roma minority and the Swiss ban on minarets [JURIST reports]. Turkey [materials] also faced criticism over the rights of minorities, but noted improvement in rights as Turkey attempts to reform its constitution and join the EU [JURIST reports]. Azerbaijan [materials] faced human rights issues, particularly relating to the arrests of prominent journalists [JURIST report].
In the Near East and North Africa, DOS found the recent protests and uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen [materials] had an ambiguous impact on human rights in the region, particularly in the context of the government overthrows in Egypt and Tunisia [JURIST reports]. The report also pointed to the ongoing extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, police and military abuses and restrictions on freedom of expression.
In South and Central Asia, the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan [materials] were criticized for their conduct in the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda. The presidential elections in Afghanistan [JURIST report] were marred by significant irregularities and voter intimidation, according to DOS. In contrast, the 2008 Pakistani elections [JURIST report] were “competitive and reflective of the people’s will,” restoring democratic rule and leading to some human rights progress. Kyrgyzstan [materials] still faced significant rights issues and ethnic violence despite the overthrow of an authoritarian government and the passage of a new constitution [JURIST reports].
In the Western Hemisphere, the report criticized the governments of Cuba and Venezuela [materials] for harassment by authorities, abuse, and threats against political opponents by state security officials acting with impunity. Following free and fair elections in Honduras [materials], which was the first after the overthrow of president Manuel Zelaya [JURIST report], the Honduran government has attempted to address human rights concerns that had arisen out of the coup. Haiti [materials] faced significant human rights abuses, especially following the breakdown of government control [JURIST report] following the January 2010 earthquake.
The DOS issues its yearly reports on human rights practices to Congress under a legal mandate [22 USC § 2151n], and has filed similar reports for 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 [JURIST reports] and previous years. The 2010 report marks the 35th year of the report.