WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is lashing out at China, Iran, Russia and North Korea for being "forces of instability" because of human rights abuses of their own citizens and others.
In its annual global human rights reports released on Friday, the State Department singled out the four countries for egregious rights violations, including restricting the freedoms of speech and assembly and allowing or committing violence against religious, ethnic and other minority groups. It said that countries that undermine the fundamental dignity of people are "morally reprehensible" and harm U.S. interests.
"The governments of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, for example, violate the human rights of those within their borders on a daily basis and are forces of instability as a result," acting Secretary of State John Sullivan said in an introduction to the reports — one for each country and territory in the world. He said the U.S. aims to lead by example and promotes good governance, anti-corruption efforts and the rule of law.
In addition to harshly criticizing those countries by name, the reports, which covers 2017 and is the first entirely produced by the Trump administration, replaces sections on "reproductive rights" with one titled "coercion in population control." The shift underscores the Trump administration's anti-abortion position that has already manifested itself in funding for international health programs and has been criticized by women's health advocates.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had added the "reproductive rights" section in 2012 and it had remained a part of each country's report until this year. Beyond coercion, that section had previously called out countries that denied access to information and services for reproductive health, including contraception.
Groups like Amnesty International denounced the report for that reason and others, maintaining that the administration's domestic policies — as well as close relationships with countries accused of abuses — had badly damaged its credibility as a leader in human rights advocacy.
"From the beginning, this administration has sent the message that the United States will no longer prioritize efforts to hold the global community to account for human rights," Amnesty said in a statement. "The omission of key passages pertaining to sexual and reproductive rights, women's rights and the rights of marginalized populations, combined with the administration's deference to known human rights violators like the governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, make us skeptical that these reports present a full picture of human rights around the world."
The reports are critical of U.S. partners and allies like Saudi Arabia and Turkey but traditional U.S. adversaries are hit hardest. The entries for China, Iran, Russia and North Korea outline a litany of abuses blamed on their governments, which are also accused of failing to hold human rights violators accountable for their actions:
The report said Beijing is responsible for arbitrary detentions, executions without due process and coerced confessions of prisoners as well as forced disappearances and "significant restrictions" on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement.
In the "coercion in population control" section, the report says that China enforces "a coercive birth-limitation policy that in some cases included sterilization or abortions. In its first year in office, the Trump administration, as previous Republican administrations have done, pulled funding from the U.N. Population Fund, largely because of its work in China. The fund denies that it promotes abortion.
"China continues to spread the worst features of its authoritarian system," Sullivan told reporters on Friday.
The theocratic Shiite government in Iran is responsible for executing "a high number" of prisoners for crimes that don't merit the death penalty, the report said, along with torture, jailing of dissidents, severe curbs on journalists, gays and religious minorities. It also accused Iran of taking few steps to investigate, prosecute or punish any officials who committed the abuses, citing a widespread pattern of impunity for offenders.
In addition, it said that through its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and Iraqi Shia militias, Iran "materially contributed" to rights abuses Syria and Iraq.
Moscow was lambasted in the report for allowing a "climate of impunity" for human rights abuses and doing little to punish officials who violate basic rights. The report laments Russia's "authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin," in contrast with Trump's reluctance to criticize Putin or the Kremlin directly.
The list of alleged transgressions by Russia is long. The report alleged that Russia allows "systematic" torture that sometimes leads to death, along with extrajudicial killings of gay people in Chechnya, which prompted U.S. sanctions late last year under a human rights law. Russia's "lack of judicial independence," crackdowns on journalists and political dissidents, and censorship on the internet and of foreign organizations was also sharply criticized.
Ahead of an anticipated historic meeting in the coming weeks between Trump and leader Kim Jong Un, the report accused North Korea of "egregious human rights violations" in nearly all of the categories included in the report. Forced labor, torture, coerced abortion and arbitrary arrests are all noted in the report, which also slams North Korea for extrajudicial killings, rigid controls over citizens' private lives and the use of political prison camps.
The report says that "impunity" for those offenses continues to be a problem in North Korea.
President Bashar Assad's government is accused of widespread atrocities, including chemical weapons attacks on civilians using sarin and chlorine — two agents the U.S. has said were used in this month's attack near Damascus that led the U.S., France and the U.K. to launch airstrikes. The report also accused Assad's government of starving civilians, "thousands of cases of torture," attacking hospitals and raping children "as a weapon of war."
Despite the harsh tone toward Iran, the report for Saudi Arabia — another country run under a strict version of Islamic law — is more measured. It notes without comment abuses that are similar to those in Iran, including unwarranted executions, the lack of free and fair elections and discrimination against women and homosexuals.
The report offers only mild criticism over the kingdom's military intervention in Yemen's civil war, which has long been blamed for high numbers of civilian casualties.