Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice named eight countries yesterday as the world's worst violators of religious liberty and denied that there has been any wavering in the U.S. commitment to global human rights, despite disclosures of secret prisons run by the CIA in Eastern Europe.
Releasing an annual report on international religious freedom, Rice came under sharp questioning from reporters about the Bush administration's policies on treatment of suspected terrorists detained in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
"The United States has stood for the values of human decency, of a government that respects the religious freedoms of its people, that respects the individual rights of its people, for its entire history," she said. "And let me just be very clear. We hold . . . those values today as strongly as we ever have."
The State Department's seventh annual report on religious freedom listed the same eight countries that it did last year as the most egregious violators, or "countries of particular concern." They are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Vietnam.
Before the report's release, the main question was whether Uzbekistan would be added to the list.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, bipartisan panel established by Congress, had recommended putting Uzbekistan in the category of worst abusers because of its mistreatment of Muslims, including the brutal suppression of a demonstration in the city of Andijan in May.
Michael Cromartie, the commission's chairman, said yesterday that the State Department did not explain its decision. "Our understanding is that a lot of behind-the-scenes diplomacy is going on with some of the countries that are not on the list," he said.
After the Bush administration criticized the Andijan massacre this year, Uzbek President Islam Karimov ordered the U.S. military to leave an air base that provided support for troops in Afghanistan.
Tom Malinowski, advocacy director in the Washington office of Human Rights Watch, said State Department officials "apparently were worried that if they were to name Uzbekistan this year, after never naming them before, it would look like they did it just because they're mad about being kicked off the base."
Although the United States "is no longer protecting its relationship with the nasty dictator," he said, "in the past I think they did keep them off the list to protect that relationship, and they're embarrassed by that and don't want to confirm that these were political decisions in the past."