The State Department said yesterday that Philippine government security forces engaged in murder and other serious human-rights violations during 1985. But a senior department official added that the Philippines has "an infrastructure on which democracy can effectively be built."
The charges of torture, killing and arrest of innocent civilians by forces controlled by Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos were detailed in the annual reports that Congress requires the department to make on human-rights conditions in all countries belonging to the United Nations.
It prompted reporters at a news conference to ask Richard Schifter, assistant secretary of State for human rights, whether there is any reason for hope that democracy can emerge from last week's disputed Philippines election. There have been widespread charges of fraud intended to assure Marcos of reelection over his challenger, Corazon Aquino.
But Schifter said that "the sentiment of the people, the attitude of the people is toward democracy. In the Philippines, there is hope."
The State Department report noted that there were "some positive developments" in the Marcos government's human-rights performance, such as allowing vastly greater press freedom. However, it continued, "there were frequent reports, many of them well-founded, of human-rights abuses, especially in the countryside, by government security forces. These included summary executions of civilians, instances of torture, arbitrary arrests, detentions, unlawful searches and seizures, and disappearances."
This is the tenth year that the reports, which now cover 164 countries, have been issued, and they regularly have provoked controversy over President Reagan's advocacy of "quiet diplomacy" as the most effective way of advancing human rights in other countries. Critics have charged that this approach has caused the State Department to play down abuses by countries with which the United States has a close security relationship.
Several private organizations that monitor human-rights conditions criticized the reports for allegedly minimizing charges of continuing abuses in El Salvador, while taking a much harsher line toward the situation in Nicaragua. One reporter at the news conference quoted Rep. Gus Yatron (D-Pa.), chairman of the House foreign affairs subcommittee on human rights, as saying that the reports "reflect this administration's double standard . . . . "
Schifter, asserting that the department uses "a uniform standard to the extent that we can humanly do it," argued that the situation in the two Central American countries is very different.
"There is a democratically elected government in El Salvador pledged to reaching the goals of democracy," he said. "Nicaragua, in our view, is led by a group of Leninists who have a different view . . . . We do not believe in ideologies that view repression as effective means of governing."
Schifter cited Latin America as the only region in the world where there has been a continuing move away from dictatorship.
"What stands out in the Western Hemisphere is how, in the last five years, country after country has moved to democracy," he said. "In 1980 and '81, we would not have predicted that such progress would be made."
The report on the Soviet Union called it "a one-party, centralized state in which the leadership of the Communist Party, a self-perpetuating elite assisted by the repressive measures of the secret police, attempts to direct all aspects of public life and to prohibit the development of independent centers of political or ideological influence. There was no evidence of change in this pattern of repression in 1985."
Schifter was asked whether the Soviet action Tuesday in releasing Jewish dissident Anatoly Shcharansky to the West was a portent of change in that country. Schifter replied that the United States has "some high hopes" that the Soviets will relax their restrictions on emigration. But, he added, "there's no change in the system of repression that the Soviet Union uses to govern its people."
Schifter refused requests to list "a rogue's gallery" of the worst offenders. But he cited Ethiopia as a country whose Marxist government's program of forced resettlement has caused "tens of thousands of deaths and perhaps more." He said that information obtained by the United States in recent days indicates that the death toll and hardship being suffered in Ethiopia is far more extensive than the situation described in the report.
The reports' findings about other countries that have figured in rights controversies include:
*South Africa. Despite the white minority government's "incremental reform process, political discontent and ferment increased dramatically in the nation's black and colored townships. . . . Police often quelled demonstrations with excessive force, utilizing tear gas, birdshot, whips and rubber bullets."
*Israel and Israeli-occupied Arab territories. Both Arab and Jewish residents of the West Bank suffered from a "marked increase of violence." The report blamed much of the violence on factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization, but it added that some Arab violence was "spontaneous and local," and it cited Arab complaints of harassment by Israeli settlers.
*Haiti. The report covered events before the recent fall from power of President Jean-Claude Duvalier. It said that under Duvalier's rule Haiti remained the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a record of abuses that included widespread killings, torture and arbitrary arrests.