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Top US Official Defends US Human Rights Standard - 2004-07-07

The outgoing top U.S. official for human rights says the United States still has credibility on human rights issues, despite damage done by the controversy over abuse of Iraqi prisoners by members of the U.S. military. Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Craner spoke at a congressional hearing where lawmakers urged the Bush administration to continue to focus on rights violations by governments in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Mr. Craner is leaving his post as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and his appearance was his last before the House human rights subcommittee.

Referring to the controversy over abuse of prisoners in Iraq by members of the U.S. military, Mr. Craner said the United States still has a credible role in bringing about change in a number of countries.

"In places like Darfur, and Burma, Zimbabwe and Belarus and elsewhere, who would benefit and who would pay the price if we self-consciously turned inward and ignored human rights abuses outside of our country?" he asked.

He says the U.S. role in trying to end killing in Sudan's western region of Darfur shows the United States still has the will and authority to push for internationally-accepted standards of human rights.

However, another witness, Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch, said the Iraqi prisoner abuse issue has seriously hurt U.S. credibility.

"It has hurt us very badly in all of the places where we are promoting human rights around the world," he said. "World leaders, dictators, are gloating over it. American diplomats have told us there are certain issues they can no longer raise because of the scandal. In Malaysia, American diplomats have told us very candidly you can't really criticize indefinite detention of dissidents anymore or abuse in prisons."

On Sudan, Roger Winter, assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), issued yet another bleak prediction about the situation in the Western Darfur region.

"The truth of the matter is that the situation of the population at large continues to deteriorate, notwithstanding the fact that there is a ceasefire agreement, aerial bombardment continues, and attacks on civilians continue," he noted.

On Burma, Assistant Secretary Craner said he believes the National League for Democracy (NLD) remains a viable political force, despite some media reports to the contrary.

"I know there were a number of people, including the regime, who thought that Aung San Suu Kyi's popularity had worn off that people were no longer interested in following her," he added. "And one of the great surprises they got, and perhaps the reasons she is back in her house today, is that thousands and thousands of Burmese turned out everywhere she went to see her. So I have no doubts about her capabilities and about the capabilities of the NLD itself. It continues to be repressed, but as we have seen in dozens of countries around the world these last two decades, you cannot repress the idea of freedom in people's minds."

Mr. Craner ran into some criticism from some Democrats on the committee regarding the Bush administration record in dealing with Iran and North Korea, with some lawmakers saying progress has been reversed in both instances.

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff accused the Bush administration of failing to do enough about human rights and nuclear issues in both countries.

"We have, I think, moved backward in terms of North Korea's nuclear program, we have moved backward in terms of Iran's nuclear program as those two efforts have gone forward, have not been arrested," he said.

This year's State Department report on human rights around the world was delayed because of the furor over the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.

Secretary of State Colin Powell has said foreign governments should judge the United States based on the actions taken to bring those responsible to justice.