The State Department, in its annual report on human rights, says widespread abuse continues to be a major concern in many parts of the world. The report cites countries such as China, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan as nations where it says serious human rights violations are occurring.
The State Department released reports on 196 nations, saying intense problems exist in many countries but the world is also going through an era of monumental advancement for human rights and democracy.
The report calls North Korea one of the world's most repressive and brutal regimes, saying up to 200,000 people are believed to be in detention camps where defectors report many have died from torture, starvation and disease.
The report called China's progress on human rights disappointing, saying the government continues to arrest and detain activists.
Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky says the report tells oppressive governments there are consequences for abusing human rights.
"These reports put dictators and corrupt officials on notice that they are being watched by the civilized world and that there are consequences for their actions," she said. "With these in hand, we look forward to the day when all nations are part of the growing community of democracies and tyranny and slavery exist only as a sad chapter in human history."
In the Middle East the report accuses Saudi Arabia of severe violations of religious freedom. The acting assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, Michael Kozak, told reporters Washington is considering sanctions on Saudi Arabia because the government rigidly mandates religious conformity.
The report also found abuses in Iran, Syria and Egypt.
Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky pointed to recent elections in Iraq and Afghanistan as positive examples that democracy is spreading.
"Freedom and the ability to choose one's government still elude many people in many portions of the globe," continued Ms. Dobriansky. "In much of the broader Middle East people are increasingly conscious of the freedom deficit in the region and eager to taste the freedom and liberties that are being enjoyed elsewhere. If freedom and democracy work in Muslim nations like Indonesia, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq, why should they not be the norm in Iran, Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia?"
According to the State Department report, Sudan's human rights situation remains extremely poor. It says government forces in the troubled Darfur province routinely kill civilians.
The report says in Russia the Kremlin has taken actions to consolidate its power. It also expressed concerns about the erosion of government accountability because of media restrictions, law enforcement corruption, and political pressure on the judiciary.
In its discussion of Ukraine, the report highlights the Orange Revolution that led to the election of a new president, Viktor Yushchenko, who is expressing a strong commitment to democracy.
Under Secretary Dobriansky says encouraging such positive developments will remain a top priority.
"The United States will act globally to promote democracy, as democracy is the best guarantor of human rights," she added. "Promoting human rights is not just an element of our foreign policy, it is the bedrock of our policy and our foremost concern."
The State Department's next report, called Supporting Human Rights and Democracy, will detail how the government plans to deal with nations where abuses are rampant, while continuing U.S. efforts to spread democratic principles around the globe. That report is due at the end of March.