It would be wrong to write off the state department’s annual report as insignificant. What is missing is an assessment of human rights in the US itself.
The US has criticised human rights conditions in Syria and Iran, but after years of denouncing Myanmar’s rights record, the country’s state department has held it up as an example of reform in a world convulsed by citizen uprisings.
The judgments were made in the department’s annual assessment of human rights around the world, released on Thursday.
The report is an assesment by the state department of how each country was working towards safeguarding the rights of individuals.
“We know that in the 21st century human rights are not only a question of civil and political liberties. It’s about the fundamental question of whether people everywhere have the chance to make the most of their God-given potential,” Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, said at the release of the report in Washington DC.
“We are supporting efforts around the world to give people a voice in their societies, a stake in their economies, and to support them as they determine for themselves the future of their own lives and the contributions they can make to the future of their countries.
“We think this is the way, together, we can make human rights a human reality.”
Iran and Syria criticised
The report was particularly harsh on Iran and Syria, saying Iran “continued to deny its citizens human rights, including the freedoms of expression, assembly, association, movement, and religion”.
It criticised Syria, saying it “used indiscriminate and deadly force to quell peaceful protests .. the situation deteriorated sharply early this year, with the government waging massive military operations against cities and towns”.
In Bahrain, which is an important US ally, it said the “military and civilian security forces committed a number of human rights violations, including torture, arbitrary detentions, limitations on freedoms of speech and association”.
But it noted that the government has begun to take steps to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher reported from Washington DC.
He said “2011 was a remarkable year because of the events that happened in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and they clearly impacted on this report”.
The report noted that the MENA uprisings had sent rumblings around the world, with millions of people in other countries demanding more rights, economic opportunity and a say in their governments.
The report praised “remarkable” improvements in Myanmar, with the releases of hundreds of political prisoners and the participation of its most famous former detainee, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in elections.
It said conditions have improved in Myanmar but “significant human rights problems persisted, including military harassment … and denial of the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, religion, and movement”.
It said China’s human rights record was getting worse, with authorities stepping up efforts to silence activists and stifle public debate.
On Pakistan, it said “both militant, terrorist, or extremist groups and security forces committed human rights abuses”.
It also criticised Sri Lanka for disappearances and killings by pro-government paramilitary groups despite the end of the island nation’s civil war in 2009.
The state department said conditions remain extremely poor in North Korea, where an estimated 130,000-200,000 people are detained in political penal labour.