The U.S. State Department has released its annual human rights report, a couple of months later than usual. It describes 2011 as a “tumultuous and momentous year” and amidst the usual suspects, detects some positive trends.
It says that the democratic opening in Burma may inspire other closed societies to open up.
It says that the Arab spring led to a general improvement in human rights, but that it will take time to build free societies.
Transitions are times of uncertainty. They can be chaotic, unstable, and at times violent. And even when they succeed, they are rarely linear, quick, or easy.
The challenge during these transitions is to keep societies open to political debate. Protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms ensures that negotiations over a country’s future can take place without fear or intimidation, and that anti-democratic forces do not snuff out genuine political participation.
In her preface, Hillary Clinton says:
Respect for human rights is not a western construct or a uniquely American ideal; it is the foundation for peace and stability everywhere.
Her department was forced to defend the report from accusations of hypocrisy, that human rights are subordinate to U.S. political and security interests, seen, for example, in the approach to Bahrain’s violent crackdown on dissent.
Protesters there have been seen with banners showing Hillary Clinton with the line: “U.S. interests comes before our freedom.”
The U.S. plans to resume arms sales to Bahrain at the same time as the report notes “serious unresolved human rights issues” in Bahrain and reports of “excessive use of force” by riot police.
The report also fails to mention U.S. drone killings of civilians, even though, in chapters on Yemen, Somalia, Turkey and Pakistan, it does cover killings by government forces.
Said Amnesty International USA:
The United States cannot selectively champion freedom and human rights when convenient. It must fully commit to ensuring that human rights are not an afterthought, but integral to its foreign relations and economic negotiations.
The report is strongly critical of human rights in American ally Ethiopia. On Israel, another ally, the report notes continuing racial discrimination against non-Jews, particularly Arabs, and details at length mistreatment of Palestinians. On India, it covers widespread corruption and police and security force abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture and rape.
For the third year, each country has its record on human rights for LGBT people discussed. The report says:
In many countries there was an uptick in discrimination against members of racial and ethnic minorities; people with disabilities; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people, all of whom were frequent targets of abuse, discrimination, and violence.
Russia, China and Iran reports top the headlines with all three reacting angrily to the State Department’s coverage of their human rights record. Russia’s Foreign Ministry called it “non-objective,” and not just in relation to Russia.
Russia also points out that the report does not cover human rights in the U.S. China has responded with its own report on human rights in America. This ranges from the policing of Occupy protests, through women’s rights to the high rate of gun violence.
However, the U.S. does actually report on its human rights as part of United Nations processes under the various treaties it is signed up to, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Elsewhere, the report has been picked over in many smaller countries. For example, Hungary responded to their section by claiming that there is no discrimination against Roma (gypsies) in their country.
Watch Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner release the 2011 Country Reports:
Picture courtesy U.S. Department of State