WASHINGTON – The Obama administration on Thursday tagged Iran and Cuba as serial human rights abusers even as it accelerates attempts to improve relations with both countries.
Just days before the resumption of high-level nuclear talks with Tehran and weeks before the expected re-opening of embassies in Washington and Havana, the State Department castigated Iran and Cuba, along with many other nations, as violators of basic freedoms in 2014 in its annual human rights reports. Last week, the administration also criticized Iran for its "undiminished" support for terrorism in 2014. Cuba was also identified as a "state sponsor of terrorism" in 2014, although it was removed from that list earlier this year.
Administration officials have defended their outreach to Cuba as an effort to improve the human rights situation in the country after decades of isolating the communist nation through an embargo and strict sanctions. The countries hope to re-open embassies in their respective capitals in mid-July.
On Iran, officials have said the nuclear negotiations — resuming this weekend in Vienna against a June 30 deadline for a deal — are not intended to address other issues the U.S. has with Iranian behavior, including its support for terrorism and its record on human rights. However, they have said that a nuclear deal could open the door to a broader rapprochement with Iran that might include those elements of concern.
The reports released on Thursday accused Iran of "severely restricting" multiple civil liberties and taking few, if any, steps to punish abusers.
"Iran continued to severely restrict civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, speech, religion, and press, and to execute citizens at the second highest rate in the world after legal proceedings that frequently didn't respect Iran's own constitutional guarantee to due process or international legal norms," the department said.
It said that other Iranian violations included disappearances; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, politically motivated violence and repression, lack of an independent judiciary, legal discrimination and violence against women, ethnic and religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, as well as incitement to anti-Semitism and trafficking in persons.
"The government took few steps to investigate, prosecute, punish, or otherwise hold accountable officials, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, who committed abuses," it said. "Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces."
On Cuba, the human rights reports said the government continued to use threats and intimidation to suppress peaceful dissent in 2014. And, they accused government officials of carrying out "most human rights abuses" at the direction of their superiors.
Although Cuba released 53 political prisoners as part of the normalization process with the United States, the reports noted that Cuban activists in 2014 had recorded the highest number of arbitrary arrests of dissidents in the past five years. And, though the government in 2014 has indicated it will expand internet and telecommunications access, it "continued to block its citizens' access to uncensored, independent information in general," the reports said.
Other Cuban rights abuses mentioned in the reports include the abridgement of the ability of citizens to change the government and use of government threats, extrajudicial physical assault, intimidation, violent government-organized counter-protests against peaceful dissent, and harassment and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly.
"Most human rights abuses were committed by officials at the direction of the government. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread," the reports said.