WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is blaming a global crisis in governance as well as atrocities committed by non-state actors for a decline in human rights standards around the world.
In its annual human rights report released Wednesday, the State Department said governments in 2015 pushed back against groups that seek to empower ordinary people and fight corruption. The report noted an "increasing vigor and viciousness" in crackdowns on such organizations, particularly in nations often singled out by the U.S. for abuses like North Korea, China, Cuba, Sudan and Iran. It also cited Russia, Rwanda, Congo, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, Uganda, Egypt and Vietnam for repressive steps.
"In every part of the world, we see an accelerating trend by both state and non-state actors to close the space for civil society, to stifle media and Internet freedom, to marginalize opposition voices, and in the most extreme cases, to kill people or drive them from their homes," Secretary of State John Kerry said. "Governments that deny political liberty forfeit public trust, thereby opening the door to civil unrest of all sorts, including violent extremism."
The report condemned abuses by the Islamic State group, Boko Haram, al Shabab and the Taliban in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and several African nations where it said lack of governance, poor governance or outright repression fueled radical movements.
Some highlights from the report:
— Afghanistan: The report found widespread Taliban attacks on civilians; detainee abuse and torture; endemic discrimination against girls and women, including arrests for "moral crimes"; killings by security forces and lack of investigations; pervasive corruption; sexual abuse of children, human trafficking, forced labor and child labor; general disregard for rule of law.
— China: The report noted routine repression of civil rights advocates, minorities; family members of activists prosecuted; tight control of Internet; severe repression of free speech and religion for Uighurs and Tibetans; mass terrorism trials; executions without due process; torture and coerced confessions at "black jails"; widespread corruption; forced abortions and sterilizations.
— Cuba: Despite the ongoing normalization of relations with the U.S., the report criticized Cuba for denying its citizens basic democratic rights and continuing arbitrary, short-term detentions aimed at suppressing freedoms of expression and assembly and calls for reform.
— Egypt: The report said the government continued to apply restrictive registration laws to investigate and shut down human rights organizations, especially those linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. The government also imposed travel bans on human rights defenders and political activists, it said.
— Iran: The government stifled and harassed human rights groups looking into allegations of abuses in addition to stifling dissent, the report said. It also noted severe restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, association, speech and religion, a lack of free and fair elections and abuse of due process and use of capital punishment.
— Israel and the Palestinian territories: The reported cited attacks against civilians, discrimination against Arabs and African citizens, foreign workers and non-Orthodox Jews. In the Palestinian territories, it said the most significant issues were restrictions on civil liberties, particularly by Hamas in Gaza, and excessive use of force by Israeli security forces.
— Libya: The report cited indiscriminate shelling by militias and government-aligned forces; civilians killed regularly; political figures, journalists, activists kidnapped and killed; no effective governance, justice or security.
— Myanmar: The report noted official discrimination against the stateless Rohingya minority, who face killings, detentions, torture, and denial of due process; rape and sexual violence in conflict areas; corruption and widespread land confiscation; arrests of journalists; life-threatening conditions in labor camps; child soldiers; trafficking and forced labor of children.
— Nigeria: The report cited Boko Haram killings and destruction, creating more than 100,000 refugees; security services responding with killings, torture, rape; ethnic, regional, religious violence; vigilante killings; lack of independent judiciary; official corruption; violence against women, child abuse, female genital mutilation, infanticide; bonded labor; impunity at all levels of government.
— North Korea: The report repeats criticism of North Korea's vast network of forced labor camps with life-threatening conditions; killings, disappearances, political prisoners, torture; no fair trials; trafficking of women refugees and workers into China; claims of crimes against humanity.
— Russia: Russia continued suppression of dissent or criticism of government, especially regarding Ukraine, the report said; NGOs fined, stigmatized as "foreign agents"; lack of due process for activists; government discrimination of racial, religious, sexual minorities; torture, excessive force, life-threatening prison conditions; widespread corruption, election irregularities; limits on women's rights; trafficking in persons; rapes, killings, torture, lack of rule of law in North Caucasus.
— Turkey: The Turkish government used anti-terror laws as well as a law against insulting the president to stifle legitimate political discourse and investigative journalism, said the report, which criticized the prosecution of journalists and driving opposition media outlets out of business or bringing them under state control.
— Venezuela: In Venezuela, the report said the government adopted overly restrictive media laws and detained dozens of dissenters.