U.S. State Department Releases 2004 Human Rights Country Reports

Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of
State. Web site:
Feb 28 2005

U.S. State Department Releases 2004 Human Rights Country Reports

Introduction says aim is to show needed tasks, potential for

The U.S. Department of State released its annual Country Reports
on Human Rights Practices on February 28. The 2004 reports, which
provide individual analyses of the human rights situations in 196
countries, are designed to assess human rights conditions worldwide.
The reports, according to their introduction, demonstrate that the
United States “has stepped forward with its democratic allies to
reaffirm our commitment to human rights and democracy.”

Citing human rights in improvements in Afghanistan, Iraq and Ukraine
– countries which have recently experienced national elections and
increased citizen participation – the introduction says unhindered
citizen participation in government creates “momentum for the
improvement of human rights practices for all people participating
in them.”

According to the reports, several countries — including Burma, Iran,
North Korea, Sudan and Venezuela — continue to severely restrict
fundamental human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, including freedom of speech, press, assembly,
association, religion and movement.

The purpose of the reports, however, is not simply to bring to light
human rights achievements and violations but, rather, to “illuminate
both future tasks and the potential for greater cooperation in
advancing the aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights,” the introduction says.

The complete 2004 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices can be
found at:

Following is the text of the Introduction to the reports:

(begin text)


On September 17, 2002, President Bush presented a new National Security
Strategy for the United States based on the principle that promoting
political and economic freedom and respect for human dignity will build
a safer and better world. To guide and focus the national effort that
had grown out of the war on terrorism, the strategy outlined a series
of fundamental tasks which, among others, required our Government
to champion aspirations for human rights and build democracy. In
his second inaugural address on January 20, 2005, President Bush
elaborated on that principle: “The survival of liberty in our land
depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for
peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”

The United States and its international partners worked with many
countries during 2004 to expand freedom by helping to protect the
political rights of their citizens and to advance the rule of law in
their societies. In a few cases, where concerns centered on the rights
of the people to choose their own governments, dramatic developments
focused global attention on their struggles and landmark achievements.

In the past three years since the removal of the Taliban regime,
the people of Afghanistan have worked to diminish terrorism and
improve security; to bridge traditional ethnic, religious, and tribal
divides; to craft a new constitution faithful to their values and
way of life; to extend fundamental rights to women and minorities;
and to open their society to unprecedented political competition and
freedom of expression. The international community responded to this
undertaking by helping to register voters across a geographically
scattered, largely illiterate population; by educating cadres of
Afghan election workers and political participants in the conduct of
elections and campaigns and by joining with Afghan forces to provide
security during pre-election preparations and during the actual
voting. In the presidential election, which took place in October,
18 candidates vied for the votes of the 10 million registered Afghans,
more than 40 percent of whom were women. Despite threats and attacks
before the vote and serious technical challenges, more than 8 million
Afghans–including more than 3.2 million women–cast ballots to
chose their leader in a truly democratic election for the first time,
with a majority selecting President Hamid Karzai.

In Ukraine, the presidential election campaign was marred by government
pressure on opposition candidates and by widespread violations and
fraud during the voting. The Kuchma government engaged in fraud and
manipulation during the presidential election in both the first and
second round of voting on October 31 and November 21. The Government
censored media outlets and journalists to influence news coverage,
which sparked the so-called “journalist rebellion” among reporters
who refused to follow government directives. Eventually, popular
demonstrations against the official results of the flawed November
21 vote gradually swelled into an “Orange Revolution,” the campaign
color associated with opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who was
widely believed to have won the election.

Respect for human rights in Ukraine took a decided turn for the
better when, on December 3, the country’s Supreme Court invalidated
the runoff election as fraudulent, vindicating the observations of
many domestic and international monitors about numerous violations
of electoral procedures, harassment of opposition candidates, heavily
biased coverage in government-controlled media, and widespread voting
and counting fraud. In the court-mandated repeat election on December
26, the people of Ukraine selected their new President. International
observers of that vote, won by Yushchenko, noted the improvements
in media coverage, increase in transparency of the voting process,
decrease in government pressure to support a particular candidate,
and fewer disruptions at the polls. The new President expressed a
strong commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and observance of
human rights.

In Iraq, people faced a series of difficult tasks as they prepared
to choose their own leader through democratic elections, while the
severity and ubiquity of terrorist attacks expanded the dimensions of
the challenges. First, the Iraqi Governing Council achieved consensus
on a framework for the transition of sovereignty back to Iraqi
authorities under the aegis of the rule of law and clearly defined
procedures by which Iraq’s citizens would be able to choose their own
authorities and construct their own constitutional order. In March,
the approval of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) achieved
these objectives and paved the way for the second step, the transition
of sovereignty from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the Iraqi
Interim Government (IIG) on June 28.

Working with the assistance of the United Nations and other
international advisors, the IIG established the Independent Electoral
Commission of Iraq, an independent election authority that established
procedures for registration of and voting by Iraqis and expatriates in
14 other countries. On August 15 – 18, the National Conference convened
and elected a 100-member Interim National Council. Elections for the
Transitional National Assembly, the country’s legislative authority and
the first step in the formation of an Iraqi Transitional Government,
were scheduled to take place on January 30, 2005. According to the TAL,
the transitional government will draft a permanent constitution that
is to be ratified by August 2005, and new elections are to be held
for a permanent government under that Constitution by December 2005.

We believe events like these elections will increase the prospects for
peace, provide a solid grounding for self-government in these countries
and help create momentum for the improvement of human rights practices
for all people participating in them. Yet progress along this path
will not be easy or rapid, at least at first, as the 196 detailed
reports in this volume amply demonstrate. In a number of cases,
these reports will show that human rights practices may actually have
eroded despite the successful completion of internationally accepted
elections, as has occurred in some respects with the judiciary and
the media since the voting that took place last year in Venezuela.

It was in part the recognition of the complexity and difficulty
of the task of promoting human rights that led Congress in 1977 to
institutionalize the Department of State’s process of compiling these
annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. By providing this
compendium of witness to the global human rights experience, we hope
that the record of this work in progress will help illuminate both
future tasks and the potential for greater cooperation in advancing
the aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Year in Review: Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Behind the detail of 196 country reports contained in the pages that
follow, the developments and experiences in certain countries stand
out due not only to the intensity of the human rights problems but also
to our involvement with the victims and their governments during 2004.

The Government of Sudan’s human rights record remained extremely
poor as it continued to restrict freedom of speech, press, assembly,
association, religion and movement. It arrested and harassed those
who exercised these rights.

At year’s end, there were more than 1.5 million Internally Displaced
Person (IDPs) in the Sudanese Province of Darfur, and another 200,000
civilians had fled into Chad, where the U.N. High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) coordinated a massive refugee relief effort.
Approximately 70,000 people reportedly died as a result of the violence
and forced displacement.

Despite the Government’s repeated commitments to refrain from
further violence in Darfur, the atrocities continued. Government and
government-supported militias known as the Jinjaweed routinely attacked
civilian villages. Typically, the Jinjaweed, often in concert with
regular government forces, conducted attacks under cover of military
aerial support. In September, after carefully reviewing a detailed
study conducted by independent experts covering the experience of more
than 1,100 refugees, Secretary of State Colin Powell concluded that
genocide had been committed against the people of Darfur, saying that
“Genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the Government of
Sudan and Jinjaweid bear responsibility and that genocide may still
be occurring.”

Government forces in that region routinely killed, injured, and
displaced civilians, and destroyed clinics and dwellings intentionally
during offensive operations. There were confirmed reports that
government-supported militia also intentionally attacked civilians,
looted their possessions, and destroyed their villages.

At the same time, year-end developments in negotiations related to
the North-South conflict provided hope for peace and improvement of
human rights practices in other areas of Sudan. By year’s end, the
State Department saw significant movement on the preliminary accords
between the Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement
Army after 21 years of low intensity conflict.

In response to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (North
Korea) continued brutal and repressive treatment of its people, the
United States Congress enacted the North Korea Human Rights Act of
2004. The Act seeks to address the serious human rights situation in
North Korea and to promote durable solutions for North Korean refugees,
transparency in provision of humanitarian assistance, a free flow of
information, and a peaceful reunification on the Korean peninsula.

In Belarus, police abuse and occasional torture of prisoners and
detainees continued. The security forces arbitrarily arrested and
detained citizens for political reasons; in addition, individuals
were sued and sentenced to jail terms for such political crimes
as “defamation” of state officials, often interpreted to include
criticism of their policies. The Government of Belarus persisted
in discounting credible reports regarding the role of government
officials in the long-term disappearances of a journalist and
well-known opposition political figures and failed to conduct full,
transparent investigations into these disappearances. Instead,
the Government appointed Viktor Sheiman, linked to disappearances
by credible evidence in a Council of Europe report, as Head of the
Presidential Administration, thus perpetuating a climate of abuse
with impunity.

In Burma, the Junta ruled by decree and was not bound by any
constitutional provisions providing any fundamental rights. Security
forces carry out extrajudicial killings. In addition, disappearances
continued, and security forces raped, tortured, beat, and otherwise
abused prisoners and detainees. Arbitrary arrests and incommunicado
detention were frequent. Security forces also regularly infringed on
citizens’ privacy, forcibly relocated populations, and conscripted
child soldiers.

The Government of Iran was responsible for numerous killings during
the year, including executions following trials that lacked due
process. There were numerous reports that security forces tortured
prisoners and detainees. Additionally, there were arbitrary arrests,
extended incommunicado detention, poor and overcrowded prisons,
lack of access to counsel, punishment by the lash, and violation of
personal privacy.

China’s cooperation and progress on human rights during 2004 was
disappointing. China failed to fulfill many of the commitments it
made at the 2002 U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue. However, at the
end of the year, working level discussions on human rights, which had
been suspended when the U.S. supported a resolution on China’s human
rights practices at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR),
were resumed. During 2004, the government continued to arrest and
detain activists, such as individuals discussing freely on the
Internet, defense lawyers advocating on behalf of dissidents and
the dispossessed, activists arguing for HIV/AIDs issues, journalists
reporting on SARS, intellectuals expressing political views, persons
attending house churches, and workers protesting for their rights.
Abuses continued in Chinese prisons. The Government continued
its crackdown against the Falun Gong spiritual movement, and tens
of thousands of practitioners remained incarcerated in prisons,
extrajudicial reeducation-through-labor camps, and psychiatric
facilities. The National People’s Congress amended the Constitution to
include protection of human rights, yet it is unclear to what extent
the Government plans to implement this amendment.

In Saudi Arabia, there were positive developments in a few areas,
including a government-sponsored conference on women’s rights and
obligations and the formation of the first formal human rights
organization permitted in the Kingdom. In October, the Government
issued an executive by-law entitling some long-term residents to apply
for citizenship, and by year’s end, voter and candidate registration,
albeit only for men, was well advanced for municipal elections
scheduled for February 2005.

The record of human rights abuses and violations for Saudi Arabia,
however, still far exceeds the advances. There were credible reports of
torture and abuse of prisoners by security forces, arbitrary arrests,
and incommunicado detentions. The religious police continued to
intimidate, abuse, and detain citizens and foreigners. Most trials
were closed, and defendants usually appeared before judges without
legal counsel. Security forces arrested and detained reformers. The
Government continued to restrict freedoms of speech and press,
assembly, association and movement, and there were reports that the
Government infringed on individuals’ privacy rights. Violence and
discrimination against women, violence against children, discrimination
against ethnic and religious minorities, and strict limitations on
worker rights continued.

In contrast to developments in a number of countries that increased
direct citizen control over government authorities, in Russia changes
in parliamentary election laws and a shift to the appointment, instead
of election, of regional governors further strengthened the power of
the executive branch. Greater restrictions on the media, a compliant
Duma (Parliament), shortcomings in recent national elections, law
enforcement corruption, and political pressure on the judiciary also
raised concerns about the erosion of government accountability.

Racially motivated violence and discrimination increased, despite
considerable legislative prohibitions. Authorities failed to
investigate actions against minorities while subjecting them to
more frequent document checks, targeting them for deportation from
urban centers, and fining them in excess of permissible penalties or
detaining them more frequently. Government institutions intended to
protect human rights were relatively weak.

The Government of Zimbabwe has conducted a concerted campaign of
violence, repression, and intimidation. This campaign has been marked
by disregard for human rights, the rule of law, and the welfare of
Zimbabwe’s citizens. Torture by various methods is used against
political opponents and human rights advocates. War veterans,
youth brigades, and police officers act with sustained brutality
against political enemies. The Mugabe regime has also targeted other
institutions of government, including the judiciary and police.
Judges have been harassed into submission or resignation, replaced by
Mugabe’s cronies. The news media have been restricted and suppressed,
with offending journalists arrested and beaten. Land seizures continue
to be used as a tool for political and social oppression, and opponents
of these destructive policies are subject to violent reprisals.

Respect for human rights remained poor in Venezuela during 2004,
despite the Government victory in an August referendum to recall
President Chavez. Opponents charged that the process was fraudulent,
but Organization of American States (OAS) and Carter Center
observers found that the official results “reflected the will of the
electorate.” Throughout the year, the Government increased its control
over the judicial system and its interference in the administration
of justice. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were subject to
threats and intimidation by government supporters. In December, the
legislature passed laws that erode freedom of the media, freedom of
speech, and which in effect make criticism of the government a criminal
offense. The U.S. Government sanctioned the Venezuelan Government for
continuing to fall short in efforts to combat trafficking in persons.

Fidel Castro added another year to his record as the longest
serving dictator in the world. The Government retained its stance of
rejection of all democratic processes and continued its harassment
and intimidation of pro-democracy activists, dissidents, journalists
and other professionals and workers seeking to undertake economic
activities not controlled by the state. The majority of the 75
dissidents sentenced to long jail terms in 2003 remained incarcerated
despite international protests, and the authorities arrested 22
additional human rights activists and sentenced them for acts such as
“contempt for authority.” Addressing abuses in Cuba continued to be
a priority for the United States as a member of the UNCHR.

During its 2004 session, the UNCHR formally adopted a U.S.-sponsored
resolution on Cuba, as well as resolutions on Turkmenistan, North
Korea and Belarus for the second year in a row. A resolution on Burma
was approved by consensus. With such member countries as Zimbabwe,
Cuba, Sudan, and China, which fail to protect their own citizens’
rights, the 2004 session of the UNCHR fell short in several respects.
The Commission failed to adopt resolutions on the human rights
situations in China, Zimbabwe and Chechnya. The United States continued
to emphasize the need to improve the functioning of the Commission,
especially by supporting the inclusion of more countries with positive
human rights records.

The United States believes that democratically elected governments are
more likely to respect their citizens’ human rights. For this reason,
the United States collaborated with other participating countries of
the Community of Democracies (CD), a network of democratic countries
working together to promote, solidify, and advance democracy throughout
the world. In 2004, the U.S. joined other CD countries to help launch
the formation of a democracy caucus, a group of like-minded countries
that coordinates more closely in the UNCHR and other UN settings to
advance goals consistent with democratic values. At the UNCHR, the
United States – jointly with Peru, Romania and East Timor – introduced
and succeeded in having adopted a resolution to enhance the UN’s role
in promoting democracy. Among the resolution’s recommendations is a
call for the establishment of a mechanism – a “Focal Point” – within
the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, dedicated to
helping new and emerging democracies access UN resources available
to support them.

In addition to its support for the creation of the UN democracy caucus,
the CD sought to support the development of democratic institutions
and values through projects linking democratic countries. It sent a
multinational delegation of democracy practitioners to East Timor to
share best practices with Timorese officials. Likewise, a group of
Iraqi, election-related officials traveled from Iraq to Lithuania
to observe and learn about election processes. Unifying democratic
voices against violations of basic human rights–rights that have
been codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that
that were reaffirmed in the CD’s Warsaw Declaration and Seoul Plan
of Action–is an essential way to maintain pressure on governments
that deny and violate the rights of their own citizens.

Institutional changes:

In Qatar, the process of constitutional change continued with
the Emir’s approval of the draft of a new constitution that voters
overwhelmingly had approved in 2003. Although the Emir’s family will
maintain hereditary rule, the new constitution, expected to be enacted
in June 2005, contains a number of human rights provisions.

In Pakistan, President Musharraf continued as Chief of the Army Staff,
despite his promise to step down by year’s end.

In Africa, the Central African Republic (CAR) enacted a new
constitution and took a number of other steps to further an announced
transition to democracy under President Bozize, who seized power in
a March 2003 coup. In Guinea-Bissau, following a military coup in
September 2003, the military installed a civilian government. In both
cases, the stabilization of post-coup situations has been accompanied
by a decline in the number of reported violations of human rights.

Turkey’s desire to meet the EU Copenhagen Criteria to begin the
accession process moved the Government to pass an important package
of reforms, including a new, relatively more liberal penal code and a
set of constitutional amendments to combat honor killings and torture;
expand the freedom of religion, expression, and association; and reduce
the role of the military in government. However, implementation of
these reforms lagged. Security forces continued to commit numerous
abuses, including torture, beatings, and arbitrary arrest and
detention, although observers noted a decrease in such practices and
the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture reported that
local authorities were making efforts to comply with the Government’s
“zero tolerance” policy on torture Honor killings continued. The
Government relaxed some restrictions on the use of Kurdish and other
languages, but restrictions on free speech and the press remained.

The year witnessed increasing efforts by some governments to
fight corruption. Costa Rica was the most ambitious in actually
investigating former high-level officials, as it launched separate
investigations for misuse of funds, kickbacks, and illegal contracts
by three former presidents. In Africa, anti-corruption campaigns
focused on pecuniary as well as human rights abuses by officials.
Gambian President Jammeh’s campaign centered on curbing official
corruption to restore international credibility, and the work of
the Commission of Inquiry led to the dismissal of a number of top
officials and some prosecutions for economic crimes. Kenya created
an anti-corruption czar, and the Government opened a number of
investigations into allegations of extrajudicial killings. In Zambia,
a Police Complaints Authority instituted in 2003 to combat police
misconduct, continued investigations into complaints.

Political rights:

Regrettably, with the exception of Georgia and Ukraine, political
developments in Eurasia continue to remain a serious concern.
Progress continues to be measured largely in terms of civil society
development. More and more NGOs, opposition parties, and citizens are
willing to organize and advocate for government accountability. In
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, opposition parties are unable to
register. At the same time, governments of the regions are drawing the
wrong lessons from Ukraine and Georgia and attempt to stifle civil
society by harassing democracy NGOs through bureaucratic obstacles
and specious legal means.

In Georgia, the progress that international observers noted in last
January’s presidential election set the stage for “the most democratic
elections in Georgia’s history” in parliamentary voting in March.

Other governments in the region have made some limited progress in
improving electoral processes by drafting new election codes. New
election laws introduced in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are
an improvement in some areas, but in all three countries, the laws
continue to fall short of international standards. Likewise, elections
in 2004 in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan marked limited improvements
over previous ones, but domestic and international observers raised
questions about voting irregularities, abuse or harassment of
opposition candidates, or limitations on equal access to the media.

In Belarus, the Government continued to deny the citizens the right
to change their government through a democratic political process. A
seriously flawed referendum on October 17 removed constitutional
term limits on the presidency. In advance of the referendum and
the equally flawed parliamentary elections held simultaneously,
the Government suspended independent newspapers and disqualified
many parliamentary candidates. The Government used excessive force
and in some cases beat and arrested political leaders who peacefully
protested electoral fraud and the journalists covering the protests.
During the year, the Government also shut down a number of major
registered NGOs that focused on political rights, and state security
authorities increasingly harassed those that remained.

In October, Bosnia and Herzegovina held its first self-administered
municipal elections since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords.
The elections were judged to meet international democratic standards.

A notably high voter turnout in a series of three elections in
Indonesia paved the way for the transition in political power there
from a defeated incumbent to an elected opposition leader. The process
also marked the defeat of military and police candidates who stood
for seats in Parliament.

In noteworthy elections in Africa, the incumbent political parties
of Ghana and Mozambique gained re-election in processes that were
judged generally free and fair. Sierra Leone held its first local
government elections in 32 years, although there were irregularities
in some areas.

In Burundi, concern focused on the delay in holding elections and the
progress of the country’s transition to democracy. The Transitional
Government failed to hold the local and national elections that are
stipulated by the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, and
at the end of the year it also delayed indefinitely a referendum on
a draft constitution. The Maoist insurgency and the deadlock among
Nepal’s political parties also prevented the holding of elections
there during the year and helped deepen the country’s political crisis.

In Rwanda, greatly circumscribed political rights were further
limited when leading human rights organizations were either shut
down or effectively dismantled. The action was justified as part of
a campaign against “divisionism,” according to a government report
that accused human rights groups, journalists, teachers, and churches
of promoting an “ideology of genocide.”

The Iranian Government’s respect for the freedom and political
participation of its citizens continued to deteriorate. Elections
that were widely perceived as neither free nor fair were held for
the 290-seat Majlis (Parliament) in February. The conservative,
cleric-dominated Guardian Council excluded virtually all reformist
candidates, including 85 incumbent members of parliament. Reasons cited
included not showing “demonstrated obedience” to the current system of
government. As a result of the seriously-flawed elections, reformers
were reduced to a small minority of the parliament. Meanwhile, the
conservative backlash against reformist trends and parties continues.

Internal and other conflicts:

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Sierra Leone completed
public hearings in which approximately 10,000 citizens participated
to air grievances as victims or provide confessions from the civil
war. The Commission suggested legal, political and administrative
reforms to the Government. The Government also released numerous
children who had fought as child soldiers. By year’s end, the UN
Mission to Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) had handed over responsibility
countrywide to the Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the Sierra Leone
Police, as UNAMSIL began preparations to withdraw by June 2005 as
stipulated by its Security Council mandate.

After being elected in a runoff at the end of 2003, Guatemalan
President Oscar Berger “re-launched” the 1996 Peace Accords as a
national agenda and symbolically apologized to citizens on behalf of
the State for human rights violations committed during that country’s
protracted civil war. The Government also reduced the size of the
military, eliminated some major commands and units and reduced the
military budget. In August, the military made public a new doctrine,
which includes provisions on the importance of protecting human rights.

As a result of negotiations throughout the year, the Government
of Colombia demobilized approximately 3,000 fighters from the
paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC in November
and December). In addition, hundreds of municipal officials returned
to their towns after the government established a permanent police
presence in every urban center in the country. As a result, rates
for homicides, kidnappings, and other violent crimes decreased.

In Haiti, domestic conflict continued throughout the year. The
political impasse, combined with increasing violence between pro-
and anti-Aristide factions, culminated on February 29, when President
Aristide submitted his resignation and left the country. Despite the
presence of UN peacekeeping forces, the constitutionally-established
Interim Government remained weak. In September, pro-Aristide
partisans in Port-au-Prince launched a campaign of destabilization
and violence known as “Operation Baghdad.” This campaign included
kidnapping, decapitation and burning of police officers and civilians,
indiscriminate shootings, and the destruction and incineration
of public and private property. The violence prevented the normal
functioning of schools, public markets, the seaport, and the justice
system in Port-au-Prince for several weeks.

A series of conflicts continued to trouble South Asia. In Jammu and
Kashmir and the northeastern states of India, violence continued,
and security forces committed abuses with impunity, including killing
both armed forces and civilians. In Sri Lanka, both the Government
and the terrorist organization, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,
violated the ceasefire. In Nepal, the disappearance of persons in
custody remained a very serious problem, and government security
forces continued to have broad authority to arrest and detain
individuals suspected of sympathizing with the Maoist insurgents.
Security forces also used arbitrary and unlawful lethal force. As
the Maoist insurgency continued, rebel militants tortured civilians,
while government agents forcibly conscripted children as soldiers
and conducted bombings that killed civilians.

The Great Lakes region of central Africa, which encompasses the
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda,
has been plagued by civil war, large-scale interethnic violence,
and massive human rights abuses associated with them for well over
a decade due to the continuing presence of armed groups and militia
that move between the countries. These groups compete with one another
for strategic and natural resources and inhabit an environment of
shifting alliances. Among the most worrisome groups in the eastern
Congo are those who took sanctuary in the region after the 1994 Rwandan
genocide. This same group continues to oppose the Government of Rwanda
and launch cross-border campaigns, as well as attack civilians in
the DRC and commit numerous other abuses. There are also armed groups
in the region who oppose the governments and peace process in Uganda
and Burundi.

While prospects for peace in the Great Lakes region are promising,
human rights abuses are almost routine. Children are the primary
victims and are forcefully recruited, abducted, and turned into
soldiers, although some of the governments have made progress in
demobilizing child soldiers in their ranks. Some militia groups are
predominantly comprised of children. Women and girls are particularly
vulnerable, as rape increasingly is used as a weapon of war. The
region is a home to approximately five million of the world’s 25
million internally displaced persons and hosts a number of refugees.
The United States is actively pursuing talks between the DRC,
Uganda and Rwanda. We continue to monitor the situation in all the
countries in the region by focusing attention on the threat posed by
armed groups.

In Cote d’Ivoire, an attack on the rebel positions and an air strike
on French peacekeeping troops in November broke the tenuous 18-month
ceasefire between the Government and rebels. Despite the embargo
and threat of sanctions, the Government has threatened to pursue
a military solution to the conflict. President Bush determined that
Cote d’Ivoire, once one of the United States’ largest trading partners
in the region through the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA),
was ineligible for AGOA this year due to concerns about the security
situation and the general decline in the rule of law that make it a
hostile place for foreign investment.

In Russia, the September attack on the Beslan school in North
Osettia and the ongoing disappearances of civilians detained by
security forces underscored the extent to which both sides in the
expanding conflict in the North Caucasus continue to demonstrate
little respect for basic human rights. There were credible reports of
serious violations, including politically motivated disappearances
and unlawful killings, by both the government and Chechen rebels.
Individuals seeking accountability for these abuses also continued to
be targeted, and Chechen rebels continued to attack Russian civilians,
including a bombing of a Moscow subway.

Integrity of the person:

After years of controversy, the Chilean Supreme Court upheld an appeals
court decision to lift the judicial immunity of former President
Augusto Pinochet. On December 13, a prosecuting judge indicted Pinochet
for crimes committed as part of “Operation Condor” during the 1970s.

In Central African Republic as the process of transition to civilian
rule continues, the government disbanded the Security Investigation
Division, a military intelligence unit that was accused of committing
numerous human rights abuses, including torture, rape and extortion,
during 2003. In December 2003, President Bozize reconvened the
permanent military tribunal after an eight-year suspension. The
tribunal considered cases on a variety of alleged human rights abuses
including extrajudicial killings, rape and armed robbery.

North Korea remains one of the world’s most repressive and brutal
regimes. An estimated 150,000-200,000 persons are believed to be
political prisoners in detention camps in remote areas, and defectors
report that many prisoners have died from torture, starvation, disease,
exposure, or a combination of causes. The regime also subjects citizens
to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives.

In Egypt, the 1981 Emergency Law, extended in February 2003 for an
additional 3 years, restricted many basic rights. The security forces
continued to mistreat and torture prisoners, which resulted in at least
10 reported deaths in custody at police stations or prisons during the
year. Arbitrary arrest and detention and prolonged pretrial detention
remained serious problems. Dismal prison conditions persisted.

Widespread use of torture by the Government of Syria resulted in
at least 8 deaths during the year. Arbitrary arrest and detention,
prolonged pre-trial detention without trial, fundamentally unfair
trials in the security courts, and deteriorating prison conditions
all persisted. Throughout the year, the security services conducted
mass arrests of Kurds in Hassakeh province, Aleppo, Damascus,
and other areas. On March 12, security forces in Qamishli, in the
northeastern Hassakeh province, opened fire on a crowd at a soccer
match after clashes between Arab and Kurdish fans erupted. In the
days of rioting that followed, dozens were killed, as many as 2,000
Kurds were detained, and nearly 300 Kurds remained in custody and were
awaiting trial before the State Security Court and Military Court at
year’s end. The Government also continued to withhold information on
the welfare and whereabouts of persons who have been held incommunicado
for years.

In Uzbekistan, torture was routine in prisons, pretrial facilities,
and local police and security service precincts, and members of
the security forces responsible for documented abuses were rarely
punished. However, the government took some notable steps to address
torture and establish police accountability. It created preliminary
procedures within some divisions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs
for investigating and disciplining officers for human rights abuses and
allowed NGO access to its prisons and to train prison guards in human
rights practices. The Government also cooperated with international
forensic experts to take part in investigations of deaths in custody
in which torture had been alleged.

Freedom of the press:

A conservative backlash to democratic demands in Iran extended into
a number of areas beyond explicit questions of political rights. For
example, the investigation into the 2003 death of a Canadian/Iranian
photographer who suffered a brain hemorrhage after sustaining
injuries while in an Iranian prison stagnated during 2004. The
Government also gradually suppressed all independent domestic media
outlets and arrested or intimidated their journalists into silence.
In 2004 the last forum for free debate, weblogs, came under pressure
when the government began arresting their creators and forced them
to sign false confessions.

The increase in government pressure and control of media in Russia
continued to weaken freedom of expression and independence of the
media there, as a trend of increasing control and harassment of the
press was noted in a number of Eurasian countries, especially Belarus
and some countries in Central Asia. The Russian approach centered
on use of controlling ownership of broadcast media to limit access
to information on sensitive issues, such as Chechnya. Government
pressure also increased self-censorship of journalists.

In Togo, after the Government undertook formal political consultations
with the European Union, it adopted a new press code with mixed
results. It eliminates prison sentences for most journalistic
offenses, but maintained them for inciting certain actions, such
as ethnic hatred or violation of the law, as well as for publishing
under a false name. The law also sets standards of professionalism
for journalists and requires independent newspapers to ensure that
at least one third of their staff meet the Government’s standards.

While Algeria experienced its first contested democratic election in
2004, leading to the reelection of President Bouteflika, the Government
acted to increase restrictions on the media. The use of defamation
laws and government harassment of the press significantly increased,
leading to the imprisonment of several journalists for terms from
two to 24 months, closure or suspension of two newspapers, and more
self-censorship by the press.

In Venezuela, international organizations and domestic journalists
charged the government with encouraging a climate of hostility toward
the media. Administrative acts, combined with a new law passed in
December, created a climate of hostility toward the independent media
with increasing threats of prosecution.

Freedom of religion:

These issues are discussed in depth in the Annual Report on
International Religious Freedom, released in September 2004,
while these Country Reports further highlight and update important

The International Religious Freedom Act requires that those countries
that engage in particularly severe violations of religious freedom
be designated as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC). In September
2004, the Secretary of State re-designated Burma, China, Iran, North
Korea, and Sudan as CPCs, and designated for the first time Eritrea,
Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam.

With the cessation of government-sponsored violations of religious
freedom under Saddam Hussein, the Secretary acted to remove Iraq’s CPC
designation in June 2004. Since the liberation of Iraq by coalition
forces, there have been no governmental impediments to religious
freedom, and the Iraqi Transitional Administrative Law provides for
“freedom of thought, conscience, and religious belief and practice.”

The Government of Saudi Arabia’s actions in the area of religious
freedom were disappointing. Throughout 2004, senior U.S. officials
engaged Saudi authorities in an intense discussion of religious
practices, and in September, the Secretary of State designated Saudi
Arabia as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International
Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious
freedom. The Government rigidly mandates religious conformity.
Non-Wahabi Sunni Muslims, as well as Shia and Sufi Muslims, face
discrimination and sometimes severe restrictions on the practice
of their faith. A number of leaders from these traditions have been
arrested and imprisoned. The government prohibits public non-Muslim
religious activities. Non-Muslim worshippers risk arrest, imprisonment,
torture, or deportation for engaging in religious activities that
attract official attention. There were frequent instances in which
mosque preachers, whose salaries are paid by the government, used
violent language against non-Sunni Muslims and other religions in
their sermons.

Vietnam continued to restrict freedom of religion and the operation
of religious organizations other than those approved by the State.
The Government failed to issue a nationwide decree banning forced
renunciations of faith, did not end the physical abuse of religious
believers, continued to hold a significant number of religious
prisoners, and although it permitted the re-opening of some churches
closed in the Central Highlands in 2001, it refused to allow
the re-opening and registration of hundreds of others. However,
following CPC designation, some improvements in religious freedom
were evident. Some religious leaders expressed cautious optimism
about a new Ordinance on Religion that the Government released in
November, and in December, the Evangelical Church of Vietnam North
(ECVN) held its first National Congress in 20 years and named a new,
independent leadership board.

Among the gains in freedom of religion covered by the Country Reports,
the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Armenia succeeded in October to register
with the government after they had experienced a string of rejected
applications. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a new state-level law on
religious freedom passed both houses of the legislature. The law
provides comprehensive rights to religious communities and confers a
legal status upon them they had not held previously. And in Georgia,
there were fewer reports of violence against minority religious groups
this year.

Treatment of minorities, women and children:

On December 30, the Department of State completed its Report on Global
Anti-Semitism, July 1, 2003-December 15, 2004. Drawing extensively
on material from our embassies, NGOs and accounts submitted for these
Country Reports, this separate compendium was prepared in accordance
with a separate legislative provision.

In the Czech and Slovak Republics, discrimination against Roma
persisted, although both governments made efforts to improve the
situation through such measures as revising legal norms and recruiting
Roma to serve as community liaisons with the police forces or as
health assistants.

In Croatia, the restitution of property to mostly Serb refugees has
improved significantly, although local obstruction to the return of
minority groups remained a problem. In Kosovo, acts of violence against
the minority Kosovo Serb population and other non-Serb minorities took
place during a series of riots over two days in March, demonstrating
the continued tenuousness of minority rights there.

In Thailand, the government’s human rights record was marred by
abuses committed by security forces against Muslim dissidents in the
southern part of the country. On April 28, elements of the police
and military killed more than 100 persons while repelling attacks by
Muslim separatists in Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat provinces. On
October 25, 78 Muslim detainees being transported to an army camp
died from asphyxiation after police and military forces stacked them
into overcrowded truck beds.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, women made unprecedented strides in exercising
political rights by voting, holding public office and standing for
election as candidates. In education and other areas as well, women
made increasing strides in achieving basic rights. In Pakistan, special
women’s police stations with all female staff have been established
in response to complaints of custodial abuse of women. Additionally,
while honor killings continued in Pakistan, new legislation stiffened
penalties for honor killings and criminal proceedings for the blasphemy
laws and Hudood ordinances were changed to reduce abuses.

In a number of countries, one of the most significant problems related
to the abuse of women and children is the failure of the state to
combat vigorously against conditions that engender the trafficking
of women and children.

In Burma, women and girls from villages were trafficked for
prostitution at truck stops, fishing villages, border towns, mining and
military camps. Burmese men, women and children are also trafficked
to other countries. Government economic mismanagement and forced
labor policies worsen the situation.

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), women and girls are used as
prostitutes and domestic servants, and young boys are exploited as
camel jockeys. A recent documentary on camel jockeys notes the very
young age at which abuse often begins, the harsh conditions that may
lead to serious injuries or death, and the malnutrition, physical and
sexual abuse by employers. The Government has pledged and taken some
measures of limited effectiveness against these practices.

State promotion of tourism drives the predatory interests that promote
sex tourism and sexual exploitation of underage girls for prostitution
in Cuba.

The booming oil sector in Equatorial Guinea contributes to making
the country both a transit point and destination for trafficking of
women for prostitution.

The estimates of the number of Indians trafficked into forced labor
and the sex trade runs into the millions, in addition to thousands of
Nepalis and Bangladeshis trafficked to India for sexual servitude.
Trafficking in persons in India is a significant problem, and some
government officials participated in and facilitated the practice.
While India continues to lack a national law enforcement response
to its trafficking in persons problem, some progress has been noted
in individual states and the central government recently expressed a
commitment to establishing and implementing a national anti-trafficking

Violence and discrimination towards vulnerable groups continued
to be a problem in Tanzania. In August, the semi-autonomous island
of Zanzibar outlawed homosexuality and set severe penalties in its
autonomous island territory. On mainland Tanzania, 4 million women
and girls have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), and despite
a law partially outlawing the practice, police rarely enforced the
law and the average age of the practice appeared to have decreased
in an effort to avoid detection.

Worker rights:

In Iraq, the exercise of labor rights remained limited, largely due to
violence, unemployment, and maladapted labor organizational structures
and laws, although, with international assistance, some progress was
underway at year’s end. According to the Brussels-based International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), workers reported organizing
unions in workplaces where they were forbidden under the laws of the
former regime and revitalized union structures previously dominated
by the Ba’ath party. The International Labor Organization (ILO)
provided technical assistance to Iraq throughout the year to help
bring its labor laws into line with international labor standards,
rebuild the capacity of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs,
establish emergency employment services, and put in place training
and skills development programs.

In April, a Commission of Inquiry appointed under Article 26 of the
ILO Constitution visited Belarus to investigate a complaint that the
Government was systematically violating its obligations under the
ILO’s fundamental Conventions on freedom of association and protection
of the right to organize and bargain collectively, both of which it
has ratified. The Commission’s report, issued in October, concluded
that the country’s trade union movement was subject to significant
government interference. The Commission recommended that the government
take all necessary steps to register independent unions, amend laws
and decrees restricting freedom of association, protect independent
trade unionists from anti-union discrimination, and disseminate the
Commission’s conclusions and recommendations. It stated that most of
these recommendations should be implemented by June 2005 at the latest.

Under the leadership of President Bush the United States has stepped
forward with its democratic allies to reaffirm our commitment to human
rights and democracy. We rest upon the principle that nations governed
by free people will be the cornerstone for the development of a world
that is more peaceful for all. The execution of our democratic duty
depends on the determination and passion of its promoters. Let the
following Country Reports serve as an indicator of the progress made
and as a guide for the challenges ahead.

(end text)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs,
U.S. Department of State. Web site: )

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress