The U.S. State Department’s annual report on human rights expressed hope Friday that the protests against authoritarian rule sweeping the Middle East will yield sustainable democracies in the region. The report included sharp criticism of the human rights records of China, North Korea, Cuba and Belarus, among others.
The report nominally covered human rights in 2010. But it did not ignore the so-called Arab Spring democracy protests this year in Middle East and North African countries and said if they succeed, the region, and with it the whole world, will be improved.
Introducing the State Department’s 35th annual survey of rights conditions world-wide, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said those pushing for reform can count on U.S. support. "The United States will stand with those who seek to advance the causes of democracy and human rights wherever they may live. And we will stand with those who exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly in a peaceful way, whether in person, in print or in pixels on the Internet," she said.
Clinton cited three worrisome trends on the human rights front, including a widespread crackdown on civil society groups and activists, violations of free expression through Internet curbs, and discrimination against vulnerable minorities including gays and lesbians.
In a more detailed comment than is customary for a Secretary of State at the human rights event, Clinton lamented crackdowns on civil society groups in Venezuela and Russia.
She said a negative human rights trend noted in China in 2010 has worsened this year with arbitrary arrests and detentions since February of public interest lawyers, writers, intellectuals and activists.
"Among them most recently was the prominent artist Ai Weiwei, who was taken into custody just this past Sunday. Such detention is contrary to the rule of law. And we urge China to release all of those who have been detained for exercising their internationally-recognized right to free expression, and to respect the fundamental freedoms of human rights of all of the citizens of China," she said.
Clinton named Burma and Cuba as leading offenders among 40 governments curbing Internet access for political reasons, while citing Iran for more than 300 summary executions of human rights advocates and others, and Uganda for what she termed state-sanctioned homophobia.
She also lamented harsh blasphemy laws in Pakistan and the murders this year of two prominent political figures who had advocated for their reform.
"The blasphemy law has been enforced against Muslims who do not share the beliefs of other Muslims, and also against non-Muslims who worship differently. In the first two months of 2011, two government officials in Pakistan who sought to reform the law, (Punjab) Governor (Salman) Taseer and (Minorities) Minister (Shabaz) Bhatti, were targeted by a Fatwa and assassinated," Clinton said.
The report cited a grim human rights picture in North Korea, the continued detention of more than 2100 political prisoners in Burma, and the jailing of losing presidential candidates from last year’s election in Belarus.
But it also took note of what were said to be notable improvements in human rights in Colombia, Indonesia and Guinea, which inaugurated its first democratically elected president since independence.
Secretary Clinton said 35 years of Congressionally-mandated U.S. human rights reporting has yielded progress over that span.
She said the State Department is setting up a new website of human rights information compiled by U.S. government agencies that people around the world can access anonymously.