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February 27, 2014

US Slams Unremitting Crackdown on Human Freedoms

by Jeff Seldin

The United States says too many governments are "tightening their grasp" on basic human freedoms. The finding comes from the State Department's release of its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Those named as the worst actors in the world come as no surprise.

The United States says nowhere was the disregard for human rights more blatant or horrible than Syria, where on April 21, 2013, the government dropped sarin gas on a suburb of Damascus.  More than 1,400 Syrians died, including 426 children.

"We know that countries that deny human rights and human dignity challenge our interests as well as human interests," said Secretary of State John Kerry.

The State Department reports also targeted other well-known human rights violators, like North Korea, slammed earlier this month by the United Nation's for what is described as Nazi-like crimes.

And despite ongoing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, Acting Assistant Secretary for Human Rights Uzra Zeya says problems remain there, too.

"Torture, political imprisonment, executions in the absence of due process which have gone up under this government, harassment of ethnic and religious minorities and limits on free expression," said Zeya.

In many places, the report said hopes for improvement were dashed by stubborn repression, like in China, where the government announced the end of its re-education camps, but cracked down on dissent on the Internet and on basic freedoms in Tibet, where 26 people set themselves on fire in protest.

In Egypt, where hopes had risen with the Arab Spring, the State Department criticized the killings and torture that came with the military's continued crackdown on protesters.

In Africa, officials noted grave concerns in South Sudan and in the Central African Republic, where Muslims and Christians engaged in a cycle of killings, disappearances, rape and torture.

There is also alarm at the rate of sexual violence and discrimination against gays and lesbians in places like Uganda and Russia, where new laws make harassment easier and more dangerous.

"We join with many other nations in reaffirming our commitment where speaking one’s mind does not lead to prosecution and where professing one’s love does not lead to persecution, a world where practicing one’s faith does not lead to imprisonment," said John Kerry.

The State Department reports even raise concerns about worker's rights, noting the garment factory fire in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,000 people.

"Despite documenting so much abuse and repression, U.S. officials insist there is hope pointing to the bravery of people in place like Ukraine, who took to the streets to stand up for change."

As for places where standing up remains a challenge, like Venezuela, Secretary Kerry said those who struggle will not be alone.

“The United States of America will continue to speak out, without a hint of arrogance or apology, on behalf of people who stand up for their universal rights," he said.

The diplomat saying reports like these on human rights abuses will help ensure those responsible will be held accountable.