A U.S. State Department annual report highlighted concerns about continuing human rights abuses in Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, Egypt and other authoritarian nations, as well as the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on rights practices around the world.
The documentation of this annual report also underscored worrying cases of transnational repression, in which governments reach across borders to harass, intimidate or kill dissidents.
Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken unveiled the report with a grim outlook.
"Backsliding (of respect of human rights) has, unfortunately, continued," Blinken said, citing Russia's "brutal war" on Ukraine.
"We see what this receding tide is leaving in its wake – the bodies, hands bound, left on streets; the theaters, train stations, apartment buildings reduced to rubble with civilians inside," said the top U.S. diplomat as Russia continues to commit systematic and large-scale atrocities in Ukraine.
On Russia, the State Department's 2021 human rights report underlined violence against and imprisonment of Kremlin critics. Just this week, one of the main opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a critic of Putin's decision to invade Ukraine, Vladimir Kara-Murza, was arrested and has been detained in Moscow.
Others, including Alexey Navalny who had been poisoned and jailed, are listed as examples of Russia's arbitrary deprivation of life and politically motivated reprisals against individuals inside and outside the country.
"Governments are locking up more critics at home. Today, more than a million political prisoners are being held in over 65 countries," Blinken said.
"We urge Russia to cease the abuse of repressive laws" to target its own citizens, nonviolent and peaceful protesters, as well as individuals who are doing nothing more than advocating their universal rights, said State Department spokesperson Ned Price during a Tuesday briefing.
Even before Russia's invasion, the State Department said Moscow's 2014 occupation and purported annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula has had a significant negative effect on the human rights situation.
"The Russian government continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside Russia-led separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured," according to the report.
On China, the State Department said "genocide and crimes against humanity" against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang has been continuing, with "mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs" and other Muslim minority groups in extrajudicial internment camps and an additional two million subjected to daytime-only "re-education" training.
In January 2021, the United States formally classified China's policies toward Uighurs as genocide and crimes against humanity.
Chinese government officials and the security services often committed human rights abuses with impunity, the report said.
"Significant human rights issues included credible reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions," according to the State Department.
On Iran, the U.S. report detailed a stern picture, citing significant human rights abuses including credible reports of executions for crimes not meeting the international legal standard; arbitrary killings by the government and its agents; forced disappearances attributed to the government and its agents; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the government and its agents; as well as arbitrary arrest or detention.
"We continue to find ways both in public and in very discreet manners to support people who are trying to advance the human rights situation in Iran," said Lisa Peterson, acting assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor affairs. "We have also put into play a variety of sanctions tools."
The report also noted actions by the Egyptian government against political dissidents, continuing corruption by Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and his top aides, and restrictions imposed on political speech by governments such as Cuba, Ethiopia, Sudan and Belarus.
For almost five decades, the State Department has issued its annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices. The 2021 report covers 198 countries and territories around the globe.