The outgoing State Department official responsible for U.S. human rights policies has testified in Congress about human rights around the world. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, where Assistant Secretary of State Barry Lowenkron appeared before a House committee examining the State Department's most recent reports on global human rights.
Making what will probably be his final appearance before a congressional panel, said that while some countries made significant progress over the past year, others regressed.
Liberia and Indonesia are in the progress category, on the basis of positive steps by the new Liberian government, and what are called substantial reductions in killings by Indonesia's armed forces and police in politically sensitive areas, along with generally free and fair elections across the country.
Lowenkron says Iraq and Afghanistan are "vivid examples" of what he calls "a second sobering reality that insecurity due to internal or cross-border conflict can threaten gains in human rights and democratic government."
Deepening sectarian violence, and terrorism in Iraq have seriously undercut human rights and democratic progress, while in Afghanistan progress has been set back by weak central institutions and attacks by extremists.
Burma, North Korea, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Belarus and Zimbabwe are among countries cited as places where power remains concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers.
Lowenkron underscores a few of the most troubling events. "New arrests of Burmese human rights defenders; the sentencing in Cuba of an independent journalist to 4 years of imprisonment for "social dangerousness", demonstrating that repression continues unabated under Raul Castro; China's targeting for persecution and imprisonment of released Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer's family members; the arrest in Iran of peaceful demonstrators supporting women on trial for demanding equal status under the law, and the brutal suppression of peaceful gatherings of opposition members in Zimbabwe," he said.
Noting the description of 2006 as "The Year of the Push Back" on human rights, he adds to that list a number of incidents related to setbacks to press freedom.
They include Internet restrictions in China and Cuba, the arrest, detention and abuse of Egyptian Internet bloggers, and the recent conviction and sentencing in Uzbekistan of a Human Rights Watch staffer, Umida Niyazova, to seven years following a trial observers said did not meet due process.
Russia, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Sudan were other topics during the hearing of the subcommittee on human rights.
The hearing came as the House of Representatives prepared to approve a resolution condemning a wave of arrests and sentencing of key dissidents in Vietnam since February.
Lowenkron said that in the latest dialogue with Vietnamese officials just last week, he delivered this message. "We went over the entire list, and I made it clear, I said this is not where we need to be. We had made progress last year, the directions are not good, and I asked them is it your intention to signal to the administration, the American people and the Congress, that the steps you took were in the context of [achieving Vietnam's entry into] WTO, PNTR (Permanent Normal Trade Relations) and a successful APEC summit and you are not interested in hammering out these outstanding differences and still proceeding to advance these human rights," he said.
"They [the Vietnamese government] get their benefit, they get into WTO, they get PNTR, and they revert right back to form and arrest these brave, wonderful people," he said.
In Africa, Lowenkron also touched on Darfur, noting efforts by Secretary of State Rice and others to urge China to cooperate with efforts to get Khartoum's full agreement on deployment of a 20,000 strong U.N.-African Union force.
On Eritrea, Lowenkron said the situation remains "poor", while in Ethiopia, where he visited in March, he says he pressed Ethiopia's prime minister on steps to restore democracy and release opposition figures who remain in prison in the wake of the hotly-contested 2005 election.