No Short List of Human Rights Violators

China, Russia and Saudi Arabia all received strong criticism in the State Department's annual human rights report released Monday.

China is accused of violating the rights of Muslim citizens in the Xinjiang region, while Saudi Arabia is accused of torturing prisoners. Russia received poor marks for its arbitrary arrests in the Chechen region, where rebels are trying to create an independent state and Al Qaeda terrorists are said to be hiding out.

Russia and China both used the war against terrorism to justify crackdowns on advocates of independence and religious freedom. The report, culled from U.S. diplomatic post findings and information from human rights groups, accused Russia of torturing rebels in Chechnya and extrajudicial killings.

China is accused of suppressing religious freedom in general, a topic President Bush brought up during his meetings last month with China President Jiang Zemin.

The annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001 said the Sept. 11 attacks brought into focus the issue of human rights around the world. The report said one bright spot of the war on terror is the freedom now experienced by Afghans released from the tyranny of the Taliban regime.

"The attacks of Sept. 11, in which some 3,000 men, women and children from 80 countries died, reminds us all of our common humanity. Today, as American stands against terrorism in countries all around the world, we also reaffirm what our nation has stood for since its earliest days — for human rights, democracy and the rule of law," Secretary of State Colin Powell said presenting the report of nearly 200 nations.

While Peru was listed as another success story for its steps to investigate corruption and human rights abuses, many governments still regularly abuse their citizens by denying them legal reforms, freedom of the press, religious liberty, tolerance, workers rights, protections for childrens, and rights of women and minorities, Powell said.  He added that the United States will continue to engage countries to encourage greater freedoms.

High on the list of human rights violators are "axis of evil" members Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

Of Iran, the report said: "The government significantly restricts citizens' rights to change their government. Systematic abuses include summary executions, disappearances, widespread use of torture and other degrading treatment."

Iraq's government was cited for its continued abductions, tortures and killings of people suspected of -- or related to persons suspected of -- economic crimes, military desertion and other activities.

"Security forces routinely tortured, beat, raped and otherwise abused detainees," the report said. 

The report cited North Korea for denying its citizens the right to peacefully to change their government.

"There continued to be reports of extrajudicial killings and disappearances. Citizens are detained arbitrarily, and many are held as political prisoners; prison conditions are harsh. The constitutional provisions for an independent judiciary and fair trials are not implemented in practice. The regime subjects its citizens to rigid controls," the report said. 

Several U.S. allies were also on the list of countries with human rights problems. Police and security forces in Pakistan and Uzbekistan, two key allies in the administration's war on terror, were accused of bearings, torture, extrajudicial killings as well as rape and abuse, the report said.

"While the officers responsible for such abuses sometimes were transferred or suspended for their actions, no officer has been convicted and very few have been arrested," it said of Pakistan's response to the violations.

In Uzbekistan, "Prison conditions were poor, and pretrial detention can be prolonged. The security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, on false charges, particularly Muslims suspected of extremist sympathies, frequently planting narcotics, weapons or banned literature on them."

Israel's human rights record earned criticism as well, though the State Department tempered it by noting the country's struggle with terrorism, particularly against Arab military groups including Hamas and Hezbollah, which were condemned for their attacks on Israel.

While Israel is trying to cope with terrorists -- whose attacks killed 200 and wounded 1,500 Israelis last year -- the government generally respects the rights of Israeli Arabs and of Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza

However, its practices are sometimes questionable, the report said, citing reports of excessive use of force by Israeli authorities.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is asserting itself this year as a potential peacemaker. Crown Prince Abdullah has proposed Arab recognition and peace with Israel if it gives up all of the West Bank, Gaza and part of Jerusalem.

On Monday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met with Secretary of State Colin Powell and offered to mediate a summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The report was delivered to Congress, as mandated by statute, on Sunday evening.