The U.S. Department of State released
its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on
The 2004 reports, which provide individual
analyses of the human rights situations in 196 countries,
are designed to assess human rights conditions worldwide.
The reports, according to their introduction, demonstrate
that the United States “has stepped forward with its
democratic allies to reaffirm our commitment to human rights
Citing human rights in improvements in Afghanistan,
Iraq and Ukraine – countries which have recently experienced
national elections and increased citizen participation –
the introduction says unhindered citizen participation in
government creates “momentum for the improvement of
human rights practices for all people participating in them.”
According to the reports, several countries
-- including Burma, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Venezuela
-- continue to severely restrict fundamental human rights
enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
including freedom of speech, press, assembly, association,
religion and movement.
The purpose of the reports, however, is
not simply to bring to light human rights achievements and
violations but, rather, to “illuminate both future
tasks and the potential for greater cooperation in advancing
the aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,”
the introduction says.
The complete 2004 Country Reports on Human
Rights Practices can be found at:
Following is the text of the Introduction
to the reports:
INTRODUCTION TO THE COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN
RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 2004
On September 17, 2002, President Bush presented
a new National Security Strategy for the United States based
on the principle that promoting political and economic freedom
and respect for human dignity will build a safer and better
world. To guide and focus the national effort that had grown
out of the war on terrorism, the strategy outlined a series
of fundamental tasks which, among others, required our Government
to champion aspirations for human rights and build democracy.
In his second inaugural address on January 20, 2005, President
Bush elaborated on that principle: “The survival of
liberty in our land depends on the success of liberty in
other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the
expansion of freedom in all the world.”
The United States and its international
partners worked with many countries during 2004 to expand
freedom by helping to protect the political rights of their
citizens and to advance the rule of law in their societies.
In a few cases, where concerns centered on the rights of
the people to choose their own governments, dramatic developments
focused global attention on their struggles and landmark
In the past three years since the removal
of the Taliban regime, the people of Afghanistan have worked
to diminish terrorism and improve security; to bridge traditional
ethnic, religious, and tribal divides; to craft a new constitution
faithful to their values and way of life; to extend fundamental
rights to women and minorities; and to open their society
to unprecedented political competition and freedom of expression.
The international community responded to this undertaking
by helping to register voters across a geographically scattered,
largely illiterate population; by educating cadres of Afghan
election workers and political participants in the conduct
of elections and campaigns and by joining with Afghan forces
to provide security during pre-election preparations and
during the actual voting. In the presidential election,
which took place in October, 18 candidates vied for the
votes of the 10 million registered Afghans, more than 40
percent of whom were women. Despite threats and attacks
before the vote and serious technical challenges, more than
8 million Afghans--including more than 3.2 million women--cast
ballots to chose their leader in a truly democratic election
for the first time, with a majority selecting President
In Ukraine, the presidential election campaign
was marred by government pressure on opposition candidates
and by widespread violations and fraud during the voting.
The Kuchma government engaged in fraud and manipulation
during the presidential election in both the first and second
round of voting on October 31 and November 21. The Government
censored media outlets and journalists to influence news
coverage, which sparked the so-called "journalist rebellion"
among reporters who refused to follow government directives.
Eventually, popular demonstrations against the official
results of the flawed November 21 vote gradually swelled
into an “Orange Revolution,” the campaign color
associated with opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who
was widely believed to have won the election.
Respect for human rights in Ukraine took
a decided turn for the better when, on December 3, the country’s
Supreme Court invalidated the runoff election as fraudulent,
vindicating the observations of many domestic and international
monitors about numerous violations of electoral procedures,
harassment of opposition candidates, heavily biased coverage
in government-controlled media, and widespread voting and
counting fraud. In the court-mandated repeat election on
December 26, the people of Ukraine selected their new President.
International observers of that vote, won by Yushchenko,
noted the improvements in media coverage, increase in transparency
of the voting process, decrease in government pressure to
support a particular candidate, and fewer disruptions at
the polls. The new President expressed a strong commitment
to democracy, the rule of law, and observance of human rights.
In Iraq, people faced a series of difficult
tasks as they prepared to choose their own leader through
democratic elections, while the severity and ubiquity of
terrorist attacks expanded the dimensions of the challenges.
First, the Iraqi Governing Council achieved consensus on
a framework for the transition of sovereignty back to Iraqi
authorities under the aegis of the rule of law and clearly
defined procedures by which Iraq’s citizens would
be able to choose their own authorities and construct their
own constitutional order. In March, the approval of the
Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) achieved these objectives
and paved the way for the second step, the transition of
sovereignty from the Coalition Provisional Authority to
the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG) on June 28.
Working with the assistance of the United
Nations and other international advisors, the IIG established
the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, an independent
election authority that established procedures for registration
of and voting by Iraqis and expatriates in 14 other countries.
On August 15 - 18, the National Conference convened and
elected a 100-member Interim National Council. Elections
for the Transitional National Assembly, the country's legislative
authority and the first step in the formation of an Iraqi
Transitional Government, were scheduled to take place on
January 30, 2005. According to the TAL, the transitional
government will draft a permanent constitution that is to
be ratified by August 2005, and new elections are to be
held for a permanent government under that Constitution
by December 2005.
We believe events like these elections will
increase the prospects for peace, provide a solid grounding
for self-government in these countries and help create momentum
for the improvement of human rights practices for all people
participating in them. Yet progress along this path will
not be easy or rapid, at least at first, as the 196 detailed
reports in this volume amply demonstrate. In a number of
cases, these reports will show that human rights practices
may actually have eroded despite the successful completion
of internationally accepted elections, as has occurred in
some respects with the judiciary and the media since the
voting that took place last year in Venezuela.
It was in part the recognition of the complexity
and difficulty of the task of promoting human rights that
led Congress in 1977 to institutionalize the Department
of State’s process of compiling these annual Country
Reports on Human Rights Practices. By providing this compendium
of witness to the global human rights experience, we hope
that the record of this work in progress will help illuminate
both future tasks and the potential for greater cooperation
in advancing the aspirations of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights.
The Year in Review: Democracy, Human
Rights and Labor
Behind the detail of 196 country reports
contained in the pages that follow, the developments and
experiences in certain countries stand out due not only
to the intensity of the human rights problems but also to
our involvement with the victims and their governments during
The Government of Sudan’s human rights
record remained extremely poor as it continued to restrict
freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, religion
and movement. It arrested and harassed those who exercised
At year's end, there were more than 1.5
million Internally Displaced Person (IDPs) in the Sudanese
Province of Darfur, and another 200,000 civilians had fled
into Chad, where the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) coordinated a massive refugee relief effort. Approximately
70,000 people reportedly died as a result of the violence
and forced displacement.
Despite the Government's repeated commitments
to refrain from further violence in Darfur, the atrocities
continued. Government and government-supported militias
known as the Jinjaweed routinely attacked civilian villages.
Typically, the Jinjaweed, often in concert with regular
government forces, conducted attacks under cover of military
aerial support. In September, after carefully reviewing
a detailed study conducted by independent experts covering
the experience of more than 1,100 refugees, Secretary of
State Colin Powell concluded that genocide had been committed
against the people of Darfur, saying that “Genocide
has been committed in Darfur and that the Government of
Sudan and Jinjaweid bear responsibility and that genocide
may still be occurring.”
Government forces in that region routinely
killed, injured, and displaced civilians, and destroyed
clinics and dwellings intentionally during offensive operations.
There were confirmed reports that government-supported militia
also intentionally attacked civilians, looted their possessions,
and destroyed their villages.
At the same time, year-end developments
in negotiations related to the North-South conflict provided
hope for peace and improvement of human rights practices
in other areas of Sudan. By year's end, the State Department
saw significant movement on the preliminary accords between
the Government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement
Army after 21 years of low intensity conflict.
In response to the Democratic People’s
Republic of Korea’s (North Korea) continued brutal
and repressive treatment of its people, the United States
Congress enacted the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004.
The Act seeks to address the serious human rights situation
in North Korea and to promote durable solutions for North
Korean refugees, transparency in provision of humanitarian
assistance, a free flow of information, and a peaceful reunification
on the Korean peninsula.
In Belarus, police abuse and occasional
torture of prisoners and detainees continued. The security
forces arbitrarily arrested and detained citizens for political
reasons; in addition, individuals were sued and sentenced
to jail terms for such political crimes as "defamation"
of state officials, often interpreted to include criticism
of their policies. The Government of Belarus persisted in
discounting credible reports regarding the role of government
officials in the long-term disappearances of a journalist
and well-known opposition political figures and failed to
conduct full, transparent investigations into these disappearances.
Instead, the Government appointed Viktor Sheiman, linked
to disappearances by credible evidence in a Council of Europe
report, as Head of the Presidential Administration, thus
perpetuating a climate of abuse with impunity.
In Burma, the Junta ruled by decree and
was not bound by any constitutional provisions providing
any fundamental rights. Security forces carry out extrajudicial
killings. In addition, disappearances continued, and security
forces raped, tortured, beat, and otherwise abused prisoners
and detainees. Arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detention
were frequent. Security forces also regularly infringed
on citizens' privacy, forcibly relocated populations, and
conscripted child soldiers.
The Government of Iran was responsible for
numerous killings during the year, including executions
following trials that lacked due process. There were numerous
reports that security forces tortured prisoners and detainees.
Additionally, there were arbitrary arrests, extended incommunicado
detention, poor and overcrowded prisons, lack of access
to counsel, punishment by the lash, and violation of personal
China’s cooperation and progress on
human rights during 2004 was disappointing. China failed
to fulfill many of the commitments it made at the 2002 U.S.-China
Human Rights Dialogue. However, at the end of the year,
working level discussions on human rights, which had been
suspended when the U.S. supported a resolution on China’s
human rights practices at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights
(UNCHR), were resumed. During 2004, the government continued
to arrest and detain activists, such as individuals discussing
freely on the Internet, defense lawyers advocating on behalf
of dissidents and the dispossessed, activists arguing for
HIV/AIDs issues, journalists reporting on SARS, intellectuals
expressing political views, persons attending house churches,
and workers protesting for their rights. Abuses continued
in Chinese prisons. The Government continued its crackdown
against the Falun Gong spiritual movement, and tens of thousands
of practitioners remained incarcerated in prisons, extrajudicial
reeducation-through-labor camps, and psychiatric facilities.
The National People’s Congress amended the Constitution
to include protection of human rights, yet it is unclear
to what extent the Government plans to implement this amendment.
In Saudi Arabia, there were positive developments
in a few areas, including a government-sponsored conference
on women’s rights and obligations and the formation
of the first formal human rights organization permitted
in the Kingdom. In October, the Government issued an executive
by-law entitling some long-term residents to apply for citizenship,
and by year's end, voter and candidate registration, albeit
only for men, was well advanced for municipal elections
scheduled for February 2005.
The record of human rights abuses and violations
for Saudi Arabia, however, still far exceeds the advances.
There were credible reports of torture and abuse of prisoners
by security forces, arbitrary arrests, and incommunicado
detentions. The religious police continued to intimidate,
abuse, and detain citizens and foreigners. Most trials were
closed, and defendants usually appeared before judges without
legal counsel. Security forces arrested and detained reformers.
The Government continued to restrict freedoms of speech
and press, assembly, association and movement, and there
were reports that the Government infringed on individuals’
privacy rights. Violence and discrimination against women,
violence against children, discrimination against ethnic
and religious minorities, and strict limitations on worker
In contrast to developments in a number
of countries that increased direct citizen control over
government authorities, in Russia changes in parliamentary
election laws and a shift to the appointment, instead of
election, of regional governors further strengthened the
power of the executive branch. Greater restrictions on the
media, a compliant Duma (Parliament), shortcomings in recent
national elections, law enforcement corruption, and political
pressure on the judiciary also raised concerns about the
erosion of government accountability.
Racially motivated violence and discrimination
increased, despite considerable legislative prohibitions.
Authorities failed to investigate actions against minorities
while subjecting them to more frequent document checks,
targeting them for deportation from urban centers, and fining
them in excess of permissible penalties or detaining them
more frequently. Government institutions intended to protect
human rights were relatively weak.
The Government of Zimbabwe has conducted
a concerted campaign of violence, repression, and intimidation.
This campaign has been marked by disregard for human rights,
the rule of law, and the welfare of Zimbabwe's citizens.
Torture by various methods is used against political opponents
and human rights advocates. War veterans, youth brigades,
and police officers act with sustained brutality against
political enemies. The Mugabe regime has also targeted other
institutions of government, including the judiciary and
police. Judges have been harassed into submission or resignation,
replaced by Mugabe’s cronies. The news media have
been restricted and suppressed, with offending journalists
arrested and beaten. Land seizures continue to be used as
a tool for political and social oppression, and opponents
of these destructive policies are subject to violent reprisals.
Respect for human rights remained poor in
Venezuela during 2004, despite the Government victory in
an August referendum to recall President Chavez. Opponents
charged that the process was fraudulent, but Organization
of American States (OAS) and Carter Center observers found
that the official results “reflected the will of the
electorate.” Throughout the year, the Government increased
its control over the judicial system and its interference
in the administration of justice. Nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs) were subject to threats and intimidation by government
supporters. In December, the legislature passed laws that
erode freedom of the media, freedom of speech, and which
in effect make criticism of the government a criminal offense.
The U.S. Government sanctioned the Venezuelan Government
for continuing to fall short in efforts to combat trafficking
Fidel Castro added another year to his record
as the longest serving dictator in the world. The Government
retained its stance of rejection of all democratic processes
and continued its harassment and intimidation of pro-democracy
activists, dissidents, journalists and other professionals
and workers seeking to undertake economic activities not
controlled by the state. The majority of the 75 dissidents
sentenced to long jail terms in 2003 remained incarcerated
despite international protests, and the authorities arrested
22 additional human rights activists and sentenced them
for acts such as "contempt for authority." Addressing
abuses in Cuba continued to be a priority for the United
States as a member of the UNCHR.
During its 2004 session, the UNCHR formally
adopted a U.S.-sponsored resolution on Cuba, as well as
resolutions on Turkmenistan, North Korea and Belarus for
the second year in a row. A resolution on Burma was approved
by consensus. With such member countries as Zimbabwe, Cuba,
Sudan, and China, which fail to protect their own citizens’
rights, the 2004 session of the UNCHR fell short in several
respects. The Commission failed to adopt resolutions on
the human rights situations in China, Zimbabwe and Chechnya.
The United States continued to emphasize the need to improve
the functioning of the Commission, especially by supporting
the inclusion of more countries with positive human rights
The United States believes that democratically
elected governments are more likely to respect their citizens’
human rights. For this reason, the United States collaborated
with other participating countries of the Community of Democracies
(CD), a network of democratic countries working together
to promote, solidify, and advance democracy throughout the
world. In 2004, the U.S. joined other CD countries to help
launch the formation of a democracy caucus, a group of like-minded
countries that coordinates more closely in the UNCHR and
other UN settings to advance goals consistent with democratic
values. At the UNCHR, the United States – jointly
with Peru, Romania and East Timor – introduced and
succeeded in having adopted a resolution to enhance the
UN’s role in promoting democracy. Among the resolution’s
recommendations is a call for the establishment of a mechanism
– a “Focal Point” – within the Office
of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, dedicated to
helping new and emerging democracies access UN resources
available to support them.
In addition to its support for the creation
of the UN democracy caucus, the CD sought to support the
development of democratic institutions and values through
projects linking democratic countries. It sent a multinational
delegation of democracy practitioners to East Timor to share
best practices with Timorese officials. Likewise, a group
of Iraqi, election-related officials traveled from Iraq
to Lithuania to observe and learn about election processes.
Unifying democratic voices against violations of basic human
rights--rights that have been codified in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and that that were reaffirmed
in the CD's Warsaw Declaration and Seoul Plan of Action--is
an essential way to maintain pressure on governments that
deny and violate the rights of their own citizens.
In Qatar, the process of constitutional
change continued with the Emir's approval of the draft of
a new constitution that voters overwhelmingly had approved
in 2003. Although the Emir’s family will maintain
hereditary rule, the new constitution, expected to be enacted
in June 2005, contains a number of human rights provisions.
In Pakistan, President Musharraf continued
as Chief of the Army Staff, despite his promise to step
down by year's end.
In Africa, the Central African Republic
(CAR) enacted a new constitution and took a number of other
steps to further an announced transition to democracy under
President Bozize, who seized power in a March 2003 coup.
In Guinea-Bissau, following a military coup in September
2003, the military installed a civilian government. In both
cases, the stabilization of post-coup situations has been
accompanied by a decline in the number of reported violations
of human rights.
Turkey’s desire to meet the EU Copenhagen
Criteria to begin the accession process moved the Government
to pass an important package of reforms, including a new,
relatively more liberal penal code and a set of constitutional
amendments to combat honor killings and torture; expand
the freedom of religion, expression, and association; and
reduce the role of the military in government. However,
implementation of these reforms lagged. Security forces
continued to commit numerous abuses, including torture,
beatings, and arbitrary arrest and detention, although observers
noted a decrease in such practices and the European Committee
for the Prevention of Torture reported that local authorities
were making efforts to comply with the Government's "zero
tolerance" policy on torture Honor killings continued.
The Government relaxed some restrictions on the use of Kurdish
and other languages, but restrictions on free speech and
the press remained.
The year witnessed increasing efforts by
some governments to fight corruption. Costa Rica was the
most ambitious in actually investigating former high-level
officials, as it launched separate investigations for misuse
of funds, kickbacks, and illegal contracts by three former
presidents. In Africa, anti-corruption campaigns focused
on pecuniary as well as human rights abuses by officials.
Gambian President Jammeh’s campaign centered on curbing
official corruption to restore international credibility,
and the work of the Commission of Inquiry led to the dismissal
of a number of top officials and some prosecutions for economic
crimes. Kenya created an anti-corruption czar, and the Government
opened a number of investigations into allegations of extrajudicial
killings. In Zambia, a Police Complaints Authority instituted
in 2003 to combat police misconduct, continued investigations
Regrettably, with the exception of Georgia
and Ukraine, political developments in Eurasia continue
to remain a serious concern. Progress continues to be measured
largely in terms of civil society development. More and
more NGOs, opposition parties, and citizens are willing
to organize and advocate for government accountability.
In Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, opposition parties are unable
to register. At the same time, governments of the regions
are drawing the wrong lessons from Ukraine and Georgia and
attempt to stifle civil society by harassing democracy NGOs
through bureaucratic obstacles and specious legal means.
In Georgia, the progress that international
observers noted in last January’s presidential election
set the stage for “the most democratic elections in
Georgia’s history” in parliamentary voting in
Other governments in the region have made
some limited progress in improving electoral processes by
drafting new election codes. New election laws introduced
in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are an improvement
in some areas, but in all three countries, the laws continue
to fall short of international standards. Likewise, elections
in 2004 in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan marked limited improvements
over previous ones, but domestic and international observers
raised questions about voting irregularities, abuse or harassment
of opposition candidates, or limitations on equal access
to the media.
In Belarus, the Government continued to
deny the citizens the right to change their government through
a democratic political process. A seriously flawed referendum
on October 17 removed constitutional term limits on the
presidency. In advance of the referendum and the equally
flawed parliamentary elections held simultaneously, the
Government suspended independent newspapers and disqualified
many parliamentary candidates. The Government used excessive
force and in some cases beat and arrested political leaders
who peacefully protested electoral fraud and the journalists
covering the protests. During the year, the Government also
shut down a number of major registered NGOs that focused
on political rights, and state security authorities increasingly
harassed those that remained.
In October, Bosnia and Herzegovina held
its first self-administered municipal elections since the
signing of the Dayton Peace Accords. The elections were
judged to meet international democratic standards.
A notably high voter turnout in a series
of three elections in Indonesia paved the way for the transition
in political power there from a defeated incumbent to an
elected opposition leader. The process also marked the defeat
of military and police candidates who stood for seats in
In noteworthy elections in Africa, the incumbent
political parties of Ghana and Mozambique gained re-election
in processes that were judged generally free and fair. Sierra
Leone held its first local government elections in 32 years,
although there were irregularities in some areas.
In Burundi, concern focused on the delay
in holding elections and the progress of the country’s
transition to democracy. The Transitional Government failed
to hold the local and national elections that are stipulated
by the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, and at
the end of the year it also delayed indefinitely a referendum
on a draft constitution. The Maoist insurgency and the deadlock
among Nepal’s political parties also prevented the
holding of elections there during the year and helped deepen
the country’s political crisis.
In Rwanda, greatly circumscribed political
rights were further limited when leading human rights organizations
were either shut down or effectively dismantled. The action
was justified as part of a campaign against “divisionism,”
according to a government report that accused human rights
groups, journalists, teachers, and churches of promoting
an “ideology of genocide.”
The Iranian Government’s respect for
the freedom and political participation of its citizens
continued to deteriorate. Elections that were widely perceived
as neither free nor fair were held for the 290-seat Majlis
(Parliament) in February. The conservative, cleric-dominated
Guardian Council excluded virtually all reformist candidates,
including 85 incumbent members of parliament. Reasons cited
included not showing "demonstrated obedience"
to the current system of government. As a result of the
seriously-flawed elections, reformers were reduced to a
small minority of the parliament. Meanwhile, the conservative
backlash against reformist trends and parties continues.
Internal and other conflicts:
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission
of Sierra Leone completed public hearings in which approximately
10,000 citizens participated to air grievances as victims
or provide confessions from the civil war. The Commission
suggested legal, political and administrative reforms to
the Government. The Government also released numerous children
who had fought as child soldiers. By year’s end, the
UN Mission to Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) had handed over responsibility
countrywide to the Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the Sierra
Leone Police, as UNAMSIL began preparations to withdraw
by June 2005 as stipulated by its Security Council mandate.
After being elected in a runoff at the end
of 2003, Guatemalan President Oscar Berger “re-launched”
the 1996 Peace Accords as a national agenda and symbolically
apologized to citizens on behalf of the State for human
rights violations committed during that country’s
protracted civil war. The Government also reduced the size
of the military, eliminated some major commands and units
and reduced the military budget. In August, the military
made public a new doctrine, which includes provisions on
the importance of protecting human rights.
As a result of negotiations throughout the
year, the Government of Colombia demobilized approximately
3,000 fighters from the paramilitary United Self-Defense
Forces of Colombia (AUC in November and December). In addition,
hundreds of municipal officials returned to their towns
after the government established a permanent police presence
in every urban center in the country. As a result, rates
for homicides, kidnappings, and other violent crimes decreased.
In Haiti, domestic conflict continued throughout
the year. The political impasse, combined with increasing
violence between pro- and anti-Aristide factions, culminated
on February 29, when President Aristide submitted his resignation
and left the country. Despite the presence of UN peacekeeping
forces, the constitutionally-established Interim Government
remained weak. In September, pro-Aristide partisans in Port-au-Prince
launched a campaign of destabilization and violence known
as "Operation Baghdad." This campaign included
kidnapping, decapitation and burning of police officers
and civilians, indiscriminate shootings, and the destruction
and incineration of public and private property. The violence
prevented the normal functioning of schools, public markets,
the seaport, and the justice system in Port-au-Prince for
A series of conflicts continued to trouble
South Asia. In Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states
of India, violence continued, and security forces committed
abuses with impunity, including killing both armed forces
and civilians. In Sri Lanka, both the Government and the
terrorist organization, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,
violated the ceasefire. In Nepal, the disappearance of persons
in custody remained a very serious problem, and government
security forces continued to have broad authority to arrest
and detain individuals suspected of sympathizing with the
Maoist insurgents. Security forces also used arbitrary and
unlawful lethal force. As the Maoist insurgency continued,
rebel militants tortured civilians, while government agents
forcibly conscripted children as soldiers and conducted
bombings that killed civilians.
The Great Lakes region of central Africa,
which encompasses the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC),
Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, has been plagued by civil war,
large-scale interethnic violence, and massive human rights
abuses associated with them for well over a decade due to
the continuing presence of armed groups and militia that
move between the countries. These groups compete with one
another for strategic and natural resources and inhabit
an environment of shifting alliances. Among the most worrisome
groups in the eastern Congo are those who took sanctuary
in the region after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. This same
group continues to oppose the Government of Rwanda and launch
cross-border campaigns, as well as attack civilians in the
DRC and commit numerous other abuses. There are also armed
groups in the region who oppose the governments and peace
process in Uganda and Burundi.
While prospects for peace in the Great Lakes
region are promising, human rights abuses are almost routine.
Children are the primary victims and are forcefully recruited,
abducted, and turned into soldiers, although some of the
governments have made progress in demobilizing child soldiers
in their ranks. Some militia groups are predominantly comprised
of children. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable,
as rape increasingly is used as a weapon of war. The region
is a home to approximately five million of the world's 25
million internally displaced persons and hosts a number
of refugees. The United States is actively pursuing talks
between the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda. We continue to monitor
the situation in all the countries in the region by focusing
attention on the threat posed by armed groups.
In Cote d’Ivoire, an attack on the
rebel positions and an air strike on French peacekeeping
troops in November broke the tenuous 18-month ceasefire
between the Government and rebels. Despite the embargo and
threat of sanctions, the Government has threatened to pursue
a military solution to the conflict. President Bush determined
that Cote d’Ivoire, once one of the United States’
largest trading partners in the region through the Africa
Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), was ineligible for AGOA
this year due to concerns about the security situation and
the general decline in the rule of law that make it a hostile
place for foreign investment.
In Russia, the September attack on the Beslan
school in North Osettia and the ongoing disappearances of
civilians detained by security forces underscored the extent
to which both sides in the expanding conflict in the North
Caucasus continue to demonstrate little respect for basic
human rights. There were credible reports of serious violations,
including politically motivated disappearances and unlawful
killings, by both the government and Chechen rebels. Individuals
seeking accountability for these abuses also continued to
be targeted, and Chechen rebels continued to attack Russian
civilians, including a bombing of a Moscow subway.
Integrity of the person:
After years of controversy, the Chilean
Supreme Court upheld an appeals court decision to lift the
judicial immunity of former President Augusto Pinochet.
On December 13, a prosecuting judge indicted Pinochet for
crimes committed as part of “Operation Condor”
during the 1970s.
In Central African Republic as the process
of transition to civilian rule continues, the government
disbanded the Security Investigation Division, a military
intelligence unit that was accused of committing numerous
human rights abuses, including torture, rape and extortion,
during 2003. In December 2003, President Bozize reconvened
the permanent military tribunal after an eight-year suspension.
The tribunal considered cases on a variety of alleged human
rights abuses including extrajudicial killings, rape and
North Korea remains one of the world’s
most repressive and brutal regimes. An estimated 150,000-200,000
persons are believed to be political prisoners in detention
camps in remote areas, and defectors report that many prisoners
have died from torture, starvation, disease, exposure, or
a combination of causes. The regime also subjects citizens
to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives.
In Egypt, the 1981 Emergency Law, extended
in February 2003 for an additional 3 years, restricted many
basic rights. The security forces continued to mistreat
and torture prisoners, which resulted in at least 10 reported
deaths in custody at police stations or prisons during the
year. Arbitrary arrest and detention and prolonged pretrial
detention remained serious problems. Dismal prison conditions
Widespread use of torture by the Government
of Syria resulted in at least 8 deaths during the year.
Arbitrary arrest and detention, prolonged pre-trial detention
without trial, fundamentally unfair trials in the security
courts, and deteriorating prison conditions all persisted.
Throughout the year, the security services conducted mass
arrests of Kurds in Hassakeh province, Aleppo, Damascus,
and other areas. On March 12, security forces in Qamishli,
in the northeastern Hassakeh province, opened fire on a
crowd at a soccer match after clashes between Arab and Kurdish
fans erupted. In the days of rioting that followed, dozens
were killed, as many as 2,000 Kurds were detained, and nearly
300 Kurds remained in custody and were awaiting trial before
the State Security Court and Military Court at year’s
end. The Government also continued to withhold information
on the welfare and whereabouts of persons who have been
held incommunicado for years.
In Uzbekistan, torture was routine in prisons,
pretrial facilities, and local police and security service
precincts, and members of the security forces responsible
for documented abuses were rarely punished. However, the
government took some notable steps to address torture and
establish police accountability. It created preliminary
procedures within some divisions of the Ministry of Internal
Affairs for investigating and disciplining officers for
human rights abuses and allowed NGO access to its prisons
and to train prison guards in human rights practices. The
Government also cooperated with international forensic experts
to take part in investigations of deaths in custody in which
torture had been alleged.
Freedom of the press:
A conservative backlash to democratic demands
in Iran extended into a number of areas beyond explicit
questions of political rights. For example, the investigation
into the 2003 death of a Canadian/Iranian photographer who
suffered a brain hemorrhage after sustaining injuries while
in an Iranian prison stagnated during 2004. The Government
also gradually suppressed all independent domestic media
outlets and arrested or intimidated their journalists into
silence. In 2004 the last forum for free debate, weblogs,
came under pressure when the government began arresting
their creators and forced them to sign false confessions.
The increase in government pressure and
control of media in Russia continued to weaken freedom of
expression and independence of the media there, as a trend
of increasing control and harassment of the press was noted
in a number of Eurasian countries, especially Belarus and
some countries in Central Asia. The Russian approach centered
on use of controlling ownership of broadcast media to limit
access to information on sensitive issues, such as Chechnya.
Government pressure also increased self-censorship of journalists.
In Togo, after the Government undertook
formal political consultations with the European Union,
it adopted a new press code with mixed results. It eliminates
prison sentences for most journalistic offenses, but maintained
them for inciting certain actions, such as ethnic hatred
or violation of the law, as well as for publishing under
a false name. The law also sets standards of professionalism
for journalists and requires independent newspapers to ensure
that at least one third of their staff meet the Government’s
While Algeria experienced its first contested
democratic election in 2004, leading to the reelection of
President Bouteflika, the Government acted to increase restrictions
on the media. The use of defamation laws and government
harassment of the press significantly increased, leading
to the imprisonment of several journalists for terms from
two to 24 months, closure or suspension of two newspapers,
and more self-censorship by the press.
In Venezuela, international organizations
and domestic journalists charged the government with encouraging
a climate of hostility toward the media. Administrative
acts, combined with a new law passed in December, created
a climate of hostility toward the independent media with
increasing threats of prosecution.
Freedom of religion:
These issues are discussed in depth in the
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, released
in September 2004, while these Country Reports further highlight
and update important developments.
The International Religious Freedom Act
requires that those countries that engage in particularly
severe violations of religious freedom be designated as
Countries of Particular Concern (CPC). In September 2004,
the Secretary of State re-designated Burma, China, Iran,
North Korea, and Sudan as CPCs, and designated for the first
time Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam.
With the cessation of government-sponsored
violations of religious freedom under Saddam Hussein, the
Secretary acted to remove Iraq’s CPC designation in
June 2004. Since the liberation of Iraq by coalition forces,
there have been no governmental impediments to religious
freedom, and the Iraqi Transitional Administrative Law provides
for “freedom of thought, conscience, and religious
belief and practice.”
The Government of Saudi Arabia's actions
in the area of religious freedom were disappointing. Throughout
2004, senior U.S. officials engaged Saudi authorities in
an intense discussion of religious practices, and in September,
the Secretary of State designated Saudi Arabia as a "Country
of Particular Concern" under the International Religious
Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious
freedom. The Government rigidly mandates religious conformity.
Non-Wahabi Sunni Muslims, as well as Shia and Sufi Muslims,
face discrimination and sometimes severe restrictions on
the practice of their faith. A number of leaders from these
traditions have been arrested and imprisoned. The government
prohibits public non-Muslim religious activities. Non-Muslim
worshippers risk arrest, imprisonment, torture, or deportation
for engaging in religious activities that attract official
attention. There were frequent instances in which mosque
preachers, whose salaries are paid by the government, used
violent language against non-Sunni Muslims and other religions
in their sermons.
Vietnam continued to restrict freedom of
religion and the operation of religious organizations other
than those approved by the State. The Government failed
to issue a nationwide decree banning forced renunciations
of faith, did not end the physical abuse of religious believers,
continued to hold a significant number of religious prisoners,
and although it permitted the re-opening of some churches
closed in the Central Highlands in 2001, it refused to allow
the re-opening and registration of hundreds of others. However,
following CPC designation, some improvements in religious
freedom were evident. Some religious leaders expressed cautious
optimism about a new Ordinance on Religion that the Government
released in November, and in December, the Evangelical Church
of Vietnam North (ECVN) held its first National Congress
in 20 years and named a new, independent leadership board.
Among the gains in freedom of religion covered
by the Country Reports, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in
Armenia succeeded in October to register with the government
after they had experienced a string of rejected applications.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a new state-level law on religious
freedom passed both houses of the legislature. The law provides
comprehensive rights to religious communities and confers
a legal status upon them they had not held previously. And
in Georgia, there were fewer reports of violence against
minority religious groups this year.
Treatment of minorities, women and
On December 30, the Department of State
completed its Report on Global Anti-Semitism, July 1, 2003-December
15, 2004. Drawing extensively on material from our embassies,
NGOs and accounts submitted for these Country Reports, this
separate compendium was prepared in accordance with a separate
In the Czech and Slovak Republics, discrimination
against Roma persisted, although both governments made efforts
to improve the situation through such measures as revising
legal norms and recruiting Roma to serve as community liaisons
with the police forces or as health assistants.
In Croatia, the restitution of property
to mostly Serb refugees has improved significantly, although
local obstruction to the return of minority groups remained
a problem. In Kosovo, acts of violence against the minority
Kosovo Serb population and other non-Serb minorities took
place during a series of riots over two days in March, demonstrating
the continued tenuousness of minority rights there.
In Thailand, the government’s human
rights record was marred by abuses committed by security
forces against Muslim dissidents in the southern part of
the country. On April 28, elements of the police and military
killed more than 100 persons while repelling attacks by
Muslim separatists in Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat provinces.
On October 25, 78 Muslim detainees being transported to
an army camp died from asphyxiation after police and military
forces stacked them into overcrowded truck beds.
In Afghanistan and Iraq, women made unprecedented
strides in exercising political rights by voting, holding
public office and standing for election as candidates. In
education and other areas as well, women made increasing
strides in achieving basic rights. In Pakistan, special
women’s police stations with all female staff have
been established in response to complaints of custodial
abuse of women. Additionally, while honor killings continued
in Pakistan, new legislation stiffened penalties for honor
killings and criminal proceedings for the blasphemy laws
and Hudood ordinances were changed to reduce abuses.
In a number of countries, one of the most
significant problems related to the abuse of women and children
is the failure of the state to combat vigorously against
conditions that engender the trafficking of women and children.
In Burma, women and girls from villages
were trafficked for prostitution at truck stops, fishing
villages, border towns, mining and military camps. Burmese
men, women and children are also trafficked to other countries.
Government economic mismanagement and forced labor policies
worsen the situation.
In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), women
and girls are used as prostitutes and domestic servants,
and young boys are exploited as camel jockeys. A recent
documentary on camel jockeys notes the very young age at
which abuse often begins, the harsh conditions that may
lead to serious injuries or death, and the malnutrition,
physical and sexual abuse by employers. The Government has
pledged and taken some measures of limited effectiveness
against these practices.
State promotion of tourism drives the predatory
interests that promote sex tourism and sexual exploitation
of underage girls for prostitution in Cuba.
The booming oil sector in Equatorial Guinea
contributes to making the country both a transit point and
destination for trafficking of women for prostitution.
The estimates of the number of Indians trafficked
into forced labor and the sex trade runs into the millions,
in addition to thousands of Nepalis and Bangladeshis trafficked
to India for sexual servitude. Trafficking in persons in
India is a significant problem, and some government officials
participated in and facilitated the practice. While India
continues to lack a national law enforcement response to
its trafficking in persons problem, some progress has been
noted in individual states and the central government recently
expressed a commitment to establishing and implementing
a national anti-trafficking policy.
Violence and discrimination towards vulnerable
groups continued to be a problem in Tanzania. In August,
the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar outlawed homosexuality
and set severe penalties in its autonomous island territory.
On mainland Tanzania, 4 million women and girls have undergone
female genital mutilation (FGM), and despite a law partially
outlawing the practice, police rarely enforced the law and
the average age of the practice appeared to have decreased
in an effort to avoid detection.
In Iraq, the exercise of labor rights remained
limited, largely due to violence, unemployment, and maladapted
labor organizational structures and laws, although, with
international assistance, some progress was underway at
year’s end. According to the Brussels-based International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), workers reported
organizing unions in workplaces where they were forbidden
under the laws of the former regime and revitalized union
structures previously dominated by the Ba’ath party.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) provided technical
assistance to Iraq throughout the year to help bring its
labor laws into line with international labor standards,
rebuild the capacity of the Ministry of Labor and Social
Affairs, establish emergency employment services, and put
in place training and skills development programs.
In April, a Commission of Inquiry appointed
under Article 26 of the ILO Constitution visited Belarus
to investigate a complaint that the Government was systematically
violating its obligations under the ILO’s fundamental
Conventions on freedom of association and protection of
the right to organize and bargain collectively, both of
which it has ratified. The Commission’s report, issued
in October, concluded that the country’s trade union
movement was subject to significant government interference.
The Commission recommended that the government take all
necessary steps to register independent unions, amend laws
and decrees restricting freedom of association, protect
independent trade unionists from anti-union discrimination,
and disseminate the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations.
It stated that most of these recommendations should be implemented
by June 2005 at the latest.
Under the leadership of President Bush the
United States has stepped forward with its democratic allies
to reaffirm our commitment to human rights and democracy.
We rest upon the principle that nations governed by free
people will be the cornerstone for the development of a
world that is more peaceful for all. The execution of our
democratic duty depends on the determination and passion
of its promoters. Let the following Country Reports serve
as an indicator of the progress made and as a guide for
the challenges ahead.