AFP: In Tehran, where a new more open leadership came to power in August, US officials said “our conclusion is that we’ve seen little meaningful improvement in human rights in Iran under the new government.”
By Jo Biddle
Washington (AFP) — The United States on Thursday denounced what it said was the growing use of security forces by repressive regimes to crackdown on a worldwide groundswell of pro-democracy protests.
“The fundamental struggle for dignity, for decency in the treatment of human beings… is a driving force in all of human history,” Secretary of State John Kerry said as he released his department’s annual human rights report.
But 2013 was “one of the most momentous years in the struggle for greater rights and freedoms in modern history,” the top US diplomat told reporters.
Kerry lamented what he said were the hundreds “murdered in the dead of night” in Syria in a chemical weapons attack.
He also denounced the rolling back of gay rights in almost 80 countries around the world, which he dubbed “an affront to every reasonable conscience.”
The US, he said, promotes global human rights to build a world “where marching peacefully in the street does not get you beaten up in a blind alley, or even killed in plain sight.”
From Sudan in the Horn of Africa, to the streets of Ukraine, the bombed-out neighborhoods of Syria and remote areas of Myanmar, security forces must be held to account for human rights abuses if democratic transitions are to succeed, the report insisted.
“This is about accountability,” Kerry insisted. “It’s about ending impunity.”
In 2013, “transitioning democracies dealt with predictable setbacks in their quest for political change, and new democracies struggled to deliver effective governance and uphold rule of law,” the report said.
-Third of humanity under authoritarian rule –
The State Department’s annual country-by-country index was released as the world marks the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But six decades later “more than one third of the world’s population still lives under authoritarian rule,” the report found.
“A widening gap persists between the rights conferred by law and the daily realities for many around the globe.”
The report also highlighted how new and fragile democracies, emerging out of the Arab Spring, are cracking down on civil society.
In Bahrain where campaigners have urged the monarchy to bring in constitutional reforms the report denounced the “arrest and detention of protesters on vague charges, in some cases leading to their torture in detention.”
But while rights groups welcomed the US assessment, they demanded more than words.
“The US State Department showed once again today it is not lacking information about the repression happening in Bahrain, just short of the will to do much about it,” said Brian Dooley, from Human Rights First.
“The US policy of muted public criticism over the last three years clearly hasn’t worked.”
In Tehran, where a new more open leadership came to power in August, US officials said “our conclusion is that we’ve seen little meaningful improvement in human rights in Iran under the new government.”
The report also threw a spotlight on a lack of labor rights in countries such as Bangladesh, where more than 1,000 garment workers were killed in a factory building collapse in April.
“Dangerous and exploitive” working conditions in other nations such as the gold mines in Nigeria and migrant workers in the Gulf also came in for criticism.
The use of military might to suppress dissent was particularly egregious in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was accused of unleashing a sarin gas attack in August that allegedly killed some 1,429 civilians, including 426 children.
Egypt was also heavily criticized for “the removal of an elected civilian government and excessive use of force by security forces, including unlawful killings and torture,” among the Arab nation’s most significant human rights abuses.
“From Independence Square in Ukraine to Gezi Park in Turkey, authorities resorted to violence to disperse peaceful protests around the world, seriously injuring scores of people,” the report said.
“China tightened controls on the Internet and stepped up a crackdown on anti-corruption protesters and other activists, Vietnam continued to use vague national security laws to curb freedom of expression… and Russia continued to suppress those critical of the government.”
But despite the difficulties recounted in the report, it also noted that “the courageous pursuit of human dignity remains enduring and undeterred.”