— The U.S. State Department Friday released its annual report on human rights
around the world. Secretary of State John Kerry says the Obama administration is calling for the protection of rights regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, or disability.
As he released this year's Human Rights Report, Secretary Kerry said one of the bright spots is Burma, where democratic reform and better human rights protections are ending years of isolation.
"Has it reached where we want it to be? No. But it's on the road. It's moving," he said. "And by starting to embrace universal rights, the Burmese government has opened the doors to a stronger partnership with their neighborhood and with countries around the world."
The report says Burma still faces many challenges including corruption and political prisoners.
"But if Burma’s leaders stay focused on promoting and protecting the rights of all people in their country, Burma is likely to continue along a promising path of renewal," Kerry said.
In the Middle East and North Africa, the human rights report says "the hope of the early days of the Arab Awakening has run up against the harsh realities of incomplete and contested transitions."
"Where entrenched regimes have been swept out and new governments have been slow to guarantee those rights and protect the most vulnerable and build accountable, democratic institutions, we still see resistance in this part of the world," Kerry said.
Including Syria, where the United States is backing opponents of embattled President Bashar al-Assad.
"In Syria, Assad is desperately clinging to power, responding to the cries of freedom with murder and mayhem and more bloodshed," said Kerry. "The vision of so many who have fought and sacrificed across the region will never be released if their human rights are denied or ignored."
In Tibet, the human rights report says the number of Buddhist self-immolations last year was more than six times that of 2011. It says authorities repressed Tibet’s unique religious and cultural heritage by "strictly curtailing the civil rights of China’s ethnic Tibetan population."
In Iran, the report says the government continued its crackdown on civil society by arresting journalists, students, lawyers, artists, and ethnic and religious activists -- with security forces committing acts of politically motivated violence and repression, including torture, beatings, and rape.
Kerry says the United States promotes human rights not simply because it is the right thing to do but because it is tied to security.
"Countries where strong human rights prevail are countries where people do better, economies thrive, rule of law is stronger, governments are more effective and more responsive, and they are countries that lead on the world stage and project stability across their regions," he said.
The report noted a shrinking space for civil society activism around the world -- especially in Russia where new laws increase fines for unauthorized protests, limit Internet freedoms, and dramatically expand the definition of treason.