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US Issues New Global Human Rights and Democracy Report

The U.S. State Department has issued its fifth annual report on what the United States is doing to support worldwide human rights and democracy. VOA's Sean Maroney reports.

The State Department report says the U.S. government spent some $1.2 billion last year to help defend human rights around the world. The report stresses that major efforts to restrict human rights come from official crackdowns on non-governmental agencies.

Undersecretary Barry Lowenkron says the United States remains committed in its support of free and fair elections, transparent governments and robust civil societies with independent media.

"Where these three essential elements of democracy are weak, we work to strengthen them," he explains. "Where they are under siege, we work to defend them. And where they are nonexistent due to government repression, we speak out to those who live in fear, yet dream of freedom."

However, there are complaints about the United States' own human rights record.

Human rights groups and some foreign governments criticize the United States for its handling of terrorist suspects. Some of the criticism, both at home and abroad, focuses on the detention of suspects without trial, and accusations of coercive interrogation techniques.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, said earlier in the week in Washington that U.S. officials need to re-examine America's standing in the world.

"We used to raise high the banner of human rights and I think Donald [Vance, a former U.S. contractor in Iraq turned FBI whistle-blower] has pointed out that this is something we cannot do anymore and I hope in the future that will be changed," he says.

The State Department's Barry Lowenkron says, ultimately, a democracy is the most effective way to achieve change, regardless of the country.

"When I have talked about the promotion of democracy and the protection of human rights, what I've said is when people have said, 'You think that democracy is the perfect system for all of these,' and my answer has always been the strength of democracy is not that it's infallible, but that it is accountable," he says.

He says self-correcting mechanisms, such as a free press, an effective legislature and independent courts are the essential elements.

But Lowenkron adds that constructive change must come from a long-term, multilateral effort tailored to each country.