State Dept. Rights Report Calls Record of Sudan 'Horrific'

By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The State Department's annual survey of human rights practices around the world calls Sudan's record "horrific" and notes that countries where power is in the hands of unaccountable rulers are the most systematic violators of human rights standards.

In the 2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices released yesterday, the department accused the Sudanese government of obstructing the deployment of an African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force to Darfur. Government-backed militias in that western region of Sudan have carried out a war against rebellious African tribes that has led to the deaths of as many as 450,000 people and displaced 2.5 million. The report also said Sudanese security forces prevented humanitarian workers from delivering assistance.

Sudan was just one country the State Department highlighted where an authoritarian government has been behind egregious human rights abuses. In presenting the report at a news conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice quoted President Bush, who said, "Freedom can be resisted, and freedom can be delayed, but freedom cannot be denied."

But human rights activists noted that the Bush administration, which has made the promotion of democracy a stated centerpiece of its foreign policy, has not always spoken out against undemocratic governments and human rights violators that support its war against terrorism.

"The lessons of the Bush administration are clear: You cannot declare democracy a priority and refuse to advocate strong human rights protections," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "Human rights should not be just an issue that is trotted out once a year, nor is it a cause du jour. Democracy and human rights go hand in hand."

The report says China, now preparing to host the Olympics in August, has tightened controls on religious freedom in Tibetan areas and other regions.

Last year, the report says, a number of countries stepped up efforts to control the Internet to stifle political opposition. North Korea, Burma, Iran, Syria, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Eritrea and Zimbabwe were among countries cited as places where political opposition is quelled by arbitrary detentions and denial of freedom of speech and assembly.

In Cuba, the government of Fidel and Ra¿l Castro continued to deny citizens basic political rights, the report states.

It says that the human rights situation in Pakistan deteriorated during much of 2007, despite U.S.-backed President Pervez Musharraf's pledge to take steps to promote democracy in the nuclear-armed nation. The assessment notes that Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, did resign as the army's chief of staff and now serves as a civilian.

In Bangladesh, emergency rule and the indefinite postponement of elections undermined human rights, the report says.

In Sri Lanka, an intensification of the long-standing civil war contributed to a decline in human rights standards, the report says, faulting both the government and the rebel Tamil Tigers.

In a positive note, the report says the small African nation of Mauritania elected a president last year in voting deemed largely free and fair by international observers. It was that country's first successful democratic transition since its independence from France in 1960.

The report praises the new government for addressing chronic human rights problems, such as the vestiges of slavery, discrimination against black Moors and Afro-Mauritanians, and the repatriation of thousands of refugees from exile in neighboring Senegal.

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