3.18.2008

The U.S. Human Rights List 2007

The annual release of the report on human rights by the U.S. State Department is mandated by law. The report reviews progress and pitfalls around the world—not including the United States—and highlights major offenders.

The world’s most systematic human rights violators according to the report are ten countries including Syria for the first time.

Following are some excerpts from the introduction of this report concerning the world’s most systematic human rights violators and Middle East's countries highlighted in the introduction:


Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2007
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 11, 2008

Countries in which power was concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers remained the world’s most systematic human rights violators.

The repressive North Korean regime continued to control almost all aspects of citizens’ lives, denying freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, and restricting freedom of movement and workers’ rights. Reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and arbitrary detention, including of political prisoners, continued to emerge from the insular country. Some forcibly repatriated refugees were said to have undergone severe punishment and possibly torture. Reports of public executions also continued to emerge.

Burma’s abysmal human rights record continued to worsen. Throughout the year, the regime continued to commit extrajudicial killings and was responsible for disappearances, arbitrary and indefinite detentions, rape, and torture. In September, security forces killed at least 30 demonstrators and detained over 3,000 others during a brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, including monks and pro-democracy protesters. Despite promises of dialogue, the regime did not honor its commitment to begin a genuine discussion with the democratic opposition and ethnic minority groups. Defying calls from the UN Security Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the early release of all political prisoners, the regime continued to hold opposition leaders under incarceration, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who remained under house arrest.

The Iranian regime violated freedom of speech and assembly, intensifying its crackdown against dissidents, journalists, women’s rights activists, labor activists, and those who disagreed with it through arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, abductions, the use of excessive force, and the widespread denial of fair public trials. The regime continued to detain and abuse religious and ethnic minorities. Authorities used stoning as a method of execution and as a sentence for alleged adultery cases despite a government moratorium in 2002 banning the practice. The regime continued to support terrorist movements and violent extremists in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon and called for the destruction of a UN member state.

Syria’s human rights record worsened this year, and the regime continued to commit serious abuses such as detaining an increasing number of activists, civil society organizers, and other regime critics. The regime sentenced to prison several high-profile members of the human rights community, including a number of leaders of the National Council for the Damascus Declaration in December. The regime continued to try some political prisoners in criminal courts. For example, in April and May, respectively, authorities convicted human rights activists Anwar al-Bunni and Michel Kilo in criminal courts on charges of “weakening the national sentiment during the time of war.” The Syrian regime continues to support international terrorist groups and violent extremists, enabling their destabilizing activities and human rights abuses in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and elsewhere.

The year 2007 was the worst year yet for human rights defenders in Zimbabwe. Despite recent efforts by regional leaders to resolve the ongoing crisis, the assault against human rights and democracy by the government significantly increased. The Mugabe regime accelerated its campaign to limit political opposition. Official corruption and impunity remained widespread. Security forces harassed, beat, and arbitrarily arrested opposition supporters and critics within human rights NGOs, the media, and organized labor, as well as ordinary citizens. Recent reporting from independent organizations operating in Zimbabwe cite over 8,000 instances of human rights abuse in 2007, including some 1,400 attacks against students alone and at least 1,600 cases of unlawful arrest and detention.Human rights groups reported that physical and psychological torture perpetrated by security agents and government supporters increased during the year. Victims reported beatings with whips and cables, suspension, and electric shock.

Cuba remained under totalitarian control under Acting President Raul Castro and Communist Party First Secretary Fidel Castro. The regime continued to deny citizens basic rights and democratic freedoms, including the right to change their government, the right to a fair trial, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, and the right of association. Although the estimated number of political prisoners decreased to 240 from the 283 reported the previous year, prison conditions remained harsh and life-threatening, and authorities beat, harassed, and made death threats against dissidents both inside and outside prison. Of the 75 peaceful activists, journalists, union organizers, and opposition figures arrested and convicted in 2003, 59 remained in prison. Government-directed mob attacks against high-profile dissidents decreased in number and intensity compared to previous years, but the rate of short-term arrests and detentions of ordinary citizens expressing dissent from the regime appeared to rise.

In Belarus,the authoritarian Lukashenko government restricted freedom of press, speech, assembly, association, and religion. Scores of activists and pro-democracy supporters were arrested and convicted on politically motivated charges. One of Lukashenko’s opponents in the 2006 presidential election, Alexander Kozulin, remained a political prisoner. In January, Lukashenko further consolidated his rule through local elections that failed to meet international standards. The United Nations General Assembly for the second year adopted a resolution condemning the human rights situation in Belarus and calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and other individuals detained for exercising or promoting human rights.

Authoritarian President Karimov and the executive branch of government dominated Uzbekistan’s political life and exercised nearly complete control over the other branches. Security forces routinely tortured, beat, and otherwise mistreated detainees under interrogation to obtain confessions or incriminating information, and there were several deaths in custody of prisoners who were allegedly members of organizations viewed by the regime as threatening. In November, the UN Committee Against Torture concluded that torture and abuse were systemic throughout the investigative process. The government sought to control completely all NGO and religious activity.

The Eritrean government’s human rights record remained poor. There were severe restrictions of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion, particularly for religious groups not approved by the government. Authorities continued to commit numerous serious abuses, including the abridgement of citizens’ rights to change their government through a democratic process; unlawful killing by security forces; torture and beating of prisoners, some resulting in death; arrest and torture of national service evaders, some of whom reportedly died of unknown causes while in detention; harsh and life threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; arrests of family members of national service evaders; executive interference in the judiciary; and the use of a special court system to limit due process.

Sudan’s human rights record remained horrific, with continued reports of extrajudicial killings, torture, beatings, and rape by government security forces and their proxy militia in Darfur. Despite the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement in 2006, violence increased in 2007, and the region sank further into chaos as the government continued aerial bombardment of villages, rebel groups splintered and stepped up attacks, and intertribal warfare intensified. Since 2003, at least 200,000 people are believed to have died from violence, hunger, and disease. The U.S. government called the conflict genocide and innocent civilians continued to suffer from its effects during the year. By year’s end, the protracted conflict had left more than two million people internally displaced and another 231,000 across the border in Chad, where they sought refuge. The government obstructed international efforts to deploy an AU-UN hybrid peacekeeping force there, and government security forces obstructed lifesaving humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian workers increasingly found themselves to be among the targets of the violence. According to the UN, 13 human rights workers were killed, 59 were assaulted, 61 were arrested and detained, and 147 were kidnapped during the year.


Excerpts on the Middle East's countries:

The April inauguration in Mauritaniaof a president elected in polls deemed by the international community to be largely free and fair marked the country’s first successful transition to democracy in its 50 years of independence. These polls, coupled with the parliamentary elections in November 2006, created a tolerant environment in which participation in the political sphere was broad and increasingly inclusive. The new government led to improved focus on addressing human rights problems, particularly the vestiges of slavery, the unequal political and social status of Black Moors and Afro-Mauritanians, and the repatriation of Mauritanian refugees living in Senegal.

As part of a broader reform process in Morocco, September parliamentary elections were transparent and accompanied by the increased influence of the Consultative Council on Human Rights. While observers noted problems in the campaign period and there were reports of vote-buying and other manipulation, the government published participation statistics and popular vote results by district within 48 hours, and all political parties accepted the final results as accurate. Some prison reforms, including access by NGOs, accompanied an overall public commitment to develop a culture of human rights. Human rights problems continued, however, such as restrictions on freedom of the press and reported abuses in the Moroccan-administered Western Sahara.

Despite President Musharraf’s stated commitment to democratic transition, Pakistan’s human rights situation deteriorated during much of 2007. After President Musharraf suspended the Chief Justice in March, lawyers and civil society responded with widespread protests in support of an independent judiciary, resulting in mass detentions. This prompted a protracted lawyers’ strike. In November, President Musharraf declared a state of emergency prior to the Supreme Court’s expected decision on whether or not he was eligible for re-election as President. During the state of emergency, President Musharraf suspended the constitution and dismissed and arrested eight members of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice, and 40 provincial High Court judges. Under emergency provisions, Pakistani authorities also arrested approximately 6,000 opposition political party workers, human rights advocates, lawyers, and judges. At the end of the year, there still were 11 suspended judges and three lawyers under house arrest, and media outlets were required to sign a code of conduct that prohibited criticism of the government in order to operate. On the positive side, President Musharraf resigned as Chief of Army Staff at the end of November, re-took the presidential oath of office as a civilian, and lifted the state of emergency in December. The leaders of the two major opposition political parties returned from abroad and parliamentary elections were scheduled. The elections later were postponed in the aftermath of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

In Iraq, the constitution and law provide a framework for the free exercise of human rights, and many citizens contributed to efforts to help build institutions, both civil and security, to protect those rights. Nonetheless, sectarian, ethnic, and extremist violence, coupled with weak government performance in its ability to uphold the rule of law, resulted in widespread, severe human rights abuses and the creation of large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The year began with the war’s most deadly six-month period, followed by a steep reduction in civilian deaths in the second half of the year as a new strategy gained ground. Aided by new military efforts, violence declined as a ceasefire by some Shi’a militias took hold and local citizen watch groups countered extremists. During the year, government institutions were greatly stressed and faced difficulty in successfully responding to the challenges presented by widespread human rights abuses and attacks by Al Qaida in Iraq terrorists and extremist groups. Terrorist groups continued to attack civilians and security forces.

Democracy and human rights progress inLebanon continued to face opposition in the form of a campaign of violence and assassination and foreign-backed efforts to prevent the functioning of the government. Militant groups continued efforts to terrorize public and political figures, including through a series of car bombings and assassinations during the year. The May to September Nahr al-Barid conflict between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the terrorist group Fatah al-Islam resulted in a death toll of 168 LAF soldiers and an estimated 42 civilians and the internal displacement of some 30,000 Palestinian refugees. The Lebanese opposition, backed by outside forces, continued to block the election of a president by refusing to allow parliament to convene. Nonetheless, the Lebanese Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, continued to work intensively to ensure the functioning of the government.

In Egypt, opposition political activists, journalists, and NGOs continued to advocate for reform and criticize the government, despite the government’s attempts to thwart them. The government continued to hold former presidential candidate Ayman Nour as a political prisoner, charge journalists with libel, detain Internet bloggers, and significantly restrict freedom of association. In September, seven independent newspaper editors were convicted on charges ranging from misquoting the justice minister to defaming the president and senior officials of the ruling National Democratic Party. During the year, police detained some active Internet bloggers for periods of several days. In September, the government ordered the closure of the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid, an NGO, for accepting funds from foreign donors without government approval; the organization had played a role in exposing several cases of torture by security personnel.

In Tunisia, throughout the year the government continued to intimidate, harass, arrest, jail, and physically assault journalists, labor union leaders, and those working with NGOs. The government also continued to place restrictions on foreign funding to organizations not approved by the government. Writer and lawyer Mohammed Abbou, imprisoned in 2005 for posting articles on the Internet critical of President Ben Ali, was released, but he is not allowed to travel outside the country.

The UN Democracy Fund, proposed by President Bush in his speech to the General Assembly in 2004, continued to grow by leaps and bounds. By the end of 2007, the Fund totaled $36 million and projects were being identified for a second round of grant-making. The number of proposals submitted increased from 1,300 in 2006 to 1,800 in 2007. A priority was funding projects to support the efforts of NGOs in emerging democracies, such as that of Hungary’s International Center for Democratic Transition, and to support for civilian participation in the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative.

In the Broader Middle East and North Africa, non-governmental groups continued their activities related to the Forum for the Future, culminating in the Parallel Civil Society Forum in Sanaa, Yemen, in December. The gathering brought together more than 300 civil society leaders from across the region. The participants issued a report identifying benchmarks for reform and setting forth action plans for 2008 to address critical issues of freedom of expression and women’s political empowerment.



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