Darfur Tops U.S. Report Citing World's Worst Human Rights Abuses

Fledgling U.S.-backed democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq are failing to protect human rights, the State Department said Tuesday, despite huge flows of American aid to improve conditions after the ousters of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.

In its annual global survey of human rights practices, the department criticized the two U.S. allies in the war on terror for their records last year, when they were beset by increasingly bloody insurgencies and saddled with weak administrations and poorly trained security forces.

"Too often in the past year we received painful reminders that human rights, though self-evident, are not self-enforcing," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in presenting the report.

The report cited poor human rights conditions in several other U.S. allies and partners, including China, Egypt, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia. It also criticized the records of foes Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and North Korea — even amid recent progress in talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

The genocide in Sudan's troubled western Darfur region was the "most sobering reality of all," the report said.

Afghanistan and Iraq have received millions in U.S. aid for human rights and democracy programs — $102.9 million for Afghanistan last year alone and $183 million for Iraq since 2004, according to State Department figures.

In Iraq, where deadly attacks have surged despite the formation of an elected government after Saddam's 2003 removal in a U.S.-led invasion, "both deepening sectarian violence and acts of terrorism seriously undercut human rights and democratic progress," the report said.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government "was unable to diminish these violent attacks" despite enhanced security steps taken after the Feb. 22, 2006, bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra that provoked a major rise in Sunni-Shiite attacks, it said.

The report said the Iraqi defense and interior ministries were responsible for "serious" human rights violations, including severe beatings, electrocutions and sexual assaults of detainees.

Barry Lowenkron, assistant secretary state for democracy, expressed disappointment in Iraq's efforts, saying, "It's a long, long, hard road."

Nevertheless, Lowenkron said there was "no comparison" between conditions in Iraq now and those under Saddam, who ruled the country with an iron fist for more than two decades.

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai's government made progress on human rights in 2006, but its performance "remained poor," the report said, attributing lapses to a weak central administration, abuses by authorities, and Taliban and Al-Qaida insurgents. The U.S. deposed the country's Taliban rulers in 2001.

The report said there were persistent reports of "politically motivated or extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents" in addition to atrocities by insurgents who killed more than 1,400 civilians in suicide attacks, roadside bombings and assassinations.

Other government abuses included torture, poor prison conditions, official impunity, prolonged pretrial detention, violations of press and religious freedoms, and discrimination against women and religious converts, it said.

The report said Pakistan, another key U.S. counterterrorism ally, had a poor record, citing extrajudicial arrests, executions and torture, and dealing with rape cases. It faulted Egypt, a moderate Arab nation, for cracking down on dissent in court decisions and through the Internet.

It criticized Russia for its poor rights record in Chechnya and superficial probes of suspected contract killings of government foes, including reform minded officials and journalists. It also took China to task for clamping down on cyber dissent and the suppression of demonstrations and protests for liberalization.

The U.S. has been working with Russia and China in hopes of defusing showdowns with Iran and North Korea over those nations' nuclear programs. Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized the U.S. for meddling in Russia's domestic affairs.

The report said conditions in Cuba remained poor and at least 283 political prisoners were being held at the end of 2006. In Venezuela, detainees have been tortured and opposition figures and the press have been harassed, it said.

It also lambasted foes Myanmar and North Korea for continued systematic violations of basic human rights.

The report slammed Sudan for the situation in Darfur, where more than 200,000 have died and an estimated 2.5 million have been displaced during four years of violence.

Just days before senior U.S. diplomats expect to meet Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum, the report blamed the Sudanese military and proxy militia for the genocide in Darfur.

"The Sudanese government and government-backed janjaweed militia bear responsibility for the genocide in Darfur," the report said. The report said atrocities continue, including some committed by indigenous rebels.