Rice: Arab Allies Score Low on Human Rights

The State Department called the human rights records of key Arab allies poor or problematic on Wednesday, citing flawed elections and torture of prisoners in Egypt, beatings, arbitrary arrest and lack of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, and floggings as punishment for adultery or drug abuse in the United Arab Emirates.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited all three of those nations last month, calling each a strategic partner or stalwart ally that wields regional influence or helps in such areas as anti-terror investigations.

The relationship between the United States and the UAE is at the center of a political fracas over a Dubai company's plans to take over operations at six U.S. ports.

"How a country treats its own people is a strong indication of how it will behave toward its neighbors," Rice said in introducing the report. "The growing demand for democratic governance reflects a recognition that the best guarantor of human rights is a thriving democracy," with rights such as accountable government and a free press, she said.

On Iraq, the government's performance was "handicapped" by insurgency and terrorism that affected every aspect of life, the State Department said in its annual report on human rights worldwide.

"The ongoing insurgency, coupled with sectarian and criminal violence, seriously affected the government's human rights performance," the report said. It cited increased reports of killings that may have been politically motivated.

"Additionally, common criminals, insurgents, and terrorists undermined public confidence in the security apparatus by sometimes masking their identity in police and army uniforms," the report said.

Iraq was the only country Rice mentioned by name in her brief remarks, and she did not mention the report's catalog of violence and corruption there.

"Today, there is a worldwide discussion of democratic ideas and the universal principles that democratic governance protects," she said. "This discussion is taking place from the halls of government in newly democratic Iraq to Internet cafes around the globe, in numerous public squares and across countless kitchen tables."

The study, which has been published each year since 1977, offers a comprehensive analysis of all countries in the world. It calls records in Saudi Arabia and Egypt poor, and the UAE record problematic.

The introduction calls particular attention to six countries where restrictions on rights were said to be severe: North Korea, Myanmar, Iran, Zimbabwe, Cuba and China.

Repression in China increased in 2005, with a trend toward "increased harassment, detention, and imprisonment" of people seen as threats to the government, the State Department said.

The full account on the situation in China, running more than 35,000 words, said the government's human rights record "remained poor, and the government continued to commit numerous and serious abuses."