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US Rights Report Critical of Arab Allies, Iran, China,  Zimbabwe


The State Department's annual report on human rights conditions worldwide, issued Wednesday, includes criticism of China, North Korea, Iran and some of the United States' Arab allies including Iraq. Department officials said their efforts to promote human rights have not been harmed by some controversial U.S. practices including the rendition of terrorist suspects.

The massive document, mandated each year by the U.S. Congress, presented a mixed picture on human rights worldwide.

Democratic progress was cited in some Middle East states and Liberia.

But there was renewed criticism of countries long cited as human rights violators, including China, North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe, and new problem trends emerging, including efforts by various countries to curb access to and content of the Internet.

The report was introduced at a news conference by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said the United States' promotion of human rights and democracy is in keeping with its most cherished principles, and is helping build a more peaceful world.

"How a country treats its own people is a strong indication of how it will behave toward its neighbors. The growing demand for democratic governance reflects a recognition that the best guarantor of human rights is a thriving democracy with transparent, accountable institutions of government, equal rights under the rule of law, a robust civil society, political pluralism and independent media," she said.

Release of the report comes amid criticism of the United States by human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for U.S. policies related to the war on terrorism, notably the maintenance of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and the rendition of terrorist suspects to other countries for interrogation.

The report contains no segment on the United States but alludes to the criticism, saying no government is without flaws and that the United States' own journey toward liberty and justice is still far from complete.

At the news conference, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Labor Barry Lowenkron fielded several questions on rendition, saying the United States does not turn over detainees to countries where it is believed they would be subject to torture.

Lowenkron also insisted that the criticism of the United States has not hampered his efforts in recent overseas missions to advance a human rights agenda.

"In all of my stops, in all of my discussions, we continue to have vigorous debate, discussion, and advancement of these policies. This in no way has hindered me from my job, hindered me from the effort to advance the democracy agenda or the human rights agenda. It in no way hindered me from raising issues of Burma, it did not hinder me in any way from raising the problems of the Internet in China, or the problems of constraints on NGO activity in Russia," he said.

The report said China's human rights record remained poor and that the Beijing government adopted measures over the past year to more tightly control the news media, while also censoring Internet content.

It said the military junta in Burma rules by diktat and maintained iron-fisted control over would-be dissenters through surveillance, harassment and imprisonment of political activists, notably opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Assistant Secretary Lowenkron, who recently completed a mission to Asia that focused on Burma, said the situation there is a high priority for the Bush administration.

"This regime is reprehensible, and the hardships that the Burmese people endure are unacceptable. We will work very hard with our ASEAN partners, we will work very hard with countries in the region and beyond. We have put that on the agenda of our discussions with the EU and we'll continue to press at the U.N. to bring about change that is long overdue in Burma," he said.

The State Department report cited what it said was a clear trend in Russia toward the erosion of accountability of government leaders to the people.

It said the Iranian government's already poor record on human rights and democracy worsened in 2005, during which serious abuses occurred, including summary executions and severe punishments including amputations and floggings.

It noted the disqualification by clerical authorities of more than a thousand would-be candidates in last year's Iranian presidential election, including all female contenders.

The report said 2005 overall was a year of major progress toward democracy in Iraq. But it said the Baghdad government's performance was handicapped by insurgency and terrorism that affected every aspect of life. It also said there were reports of security forces acting independently of government authority.

It said the Egyptian government's respect for human rights remain poor, and that while last September's multi-candidate presidential election was widely seen as an improvement, it was nonetheless marred by electoral flaws and a low turnout.

At the same time, the report said there had been a marked improvement in democracy and human rights in the Balkans region and the Great Lakes region of central Africa.

It also reported progress in several other countries including, Ukraine, Indonesia, Lebanon and in Liberia, where civil warfare gave way to free elections last November that made Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Africa's first elected female head of state.