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US Promises Forthright Response to Human Rights Complaints


The State Department says the United States will be responsive to criticism of alleged human rights abuses connected with the U.S.-led global war on terrorism. The pledge was made as the State Department issued its annual report on human rights practices worldwide. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Complaints about the United States' own record in dealing with alleged terrorism suspects have overshadowed the annual State Department reports in recent years.

The latest volume, covering 2006 and issued Tuesday, acknowledges the criticism and promises the United States will respond forthrightly to the good-faith concerns of others.

In a preamble to the Congressionally-mandated report covering more than 190 countries, the State Department said the United States is committed to continuing improvement and said practices and policies governing terrorist suspects have evolved considerably during the past five years.

Human rights groups and some foreign governments have criticized the United States, for among other things, detentions-without-trial at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base and elsewhere and the use of coercive interrogation techniques.

In a VOA interview, the executive director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said the controversial practices have undermined U.S. moral authority on human rights.

"It is a real loss for the human rights cause, because the U.S. is not only the most powerful nation still, but also has been one of the most committed defenders of human rights," he said. "And that commitment is now called into question, not simply because of a lack of political will, but because of a lack of credibility."

At a news conference launching the report, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice alluded to the controversy, saying the United States recognizes that its own human rights performance is not above criticism.

"We do not issue these reports because we think ourselves perfect, but rather because we know ourselves to be deeply imperfect, like all human beings and the endeavors they make," she said. "Our democratic system of governance is accountable, but not infallible."

The report presents a mixed picture of what are termed hopeful trends, as well as sobering realities in human rights around the globe.

On the positive side, it cites strides for democracy with elections in Liberia, Haiti, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and human rights progress in several countries - including Morocco, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

It is again critical of countries that have long been identified as human rights abusers including North Korea, Burma, Iran, Zimbabwe, Belarus and Cuba.

But U.S. friends and allies are not spared. The report says despite President Pervez Musharraf's stated commitment to democratic transition, Pakistan's human rights record remained poor - with restrictions on freedom of expression, association and religion and cases of disappearances of political activists and extra-judicial killings.

The report had critical comments about human rights in Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S.-led military forces are engaged.

It said the situation in Afghanistan remained poor, mainly due to weak central institutions and a deadly insurgency by the Taleban, al-Qaida and other extremists.

The report said deepening sectarian violence and acts of terrorism seriously undercut human rights and democratic progress in Iraq.

But Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Barry Lowenkron, insisted the current situation in Iraq is still better than it was during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

"I find no comparison between the two," he said. "Under Saddam there was absolutely no hope for a better future. In Iraq, a country that faces sectarian violence, that faces terrorist attacks and is a long way to go, there still is hope."

Among major powers, the report cited human rights backsliding in both Russia and China. It said freedom of expression declined in Russia due to government pressure and restrictions, and that Moscow used its controlling interests in major broadcasters to restrict access to information.

In China, the report cited an increased number of high-profile cases involving monitoring, harassment and detention of activists, journalists, and others trying to exercise their nominal rights.

Assistant Secretary Lowenkron also said China was the number-one offender in a growing number of countries seeking to curb the Internet.

The report said the most sobering reality of all was continued genocide in Sudan's western Darfur region, which it blamed on the Sudanese government and government-backed Janjaweed militias. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell first described the Darfur violence as genocidal in 2004.

Assistant Secretary Lowenkron, due to leave on a trip to Sudan later this week, said the last half of 2006 was a particularly violent period for the region.

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