Washington: The United States ranked North Korea and Myanmar among the world’s worst violators of human rights and took other Asian countries to task for alleged abuses.
But the State Department’s 2007 Human Rights Report dropped China from the category of worst violators -- even while denouncing its poor record -- and noted progress in Thailand’s return to democracy following its 2006 coup.
It hailed multiparty democracies like India and Indonesia for generally respecting citizens’ rights, while still pointing out major problems.
“Countries where power was concentrated in hands of unaccountable rulers remained the world’s most systematic human rights violators,” the report said, singling out Myanmar and North Korea for this category -- which also included Zimbabwe, Iran and Cuba.
The North Korean regime of Kim Jong-Il “continued to control almost all aspects of citizens’ lives, denying freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, and restricting freedom of movement and workers’ rights,” it said.
It cited reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances and arbitrary detention. It said Myanmar’s “abysmal human rights record” only worsened in the past year.
The military junta “continued to commit extrajudicial killings and was responsible for disappearances, arbitrary and indefinite detentions, rape, and torture.”
It shone a spotlight on the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in September when it said security forces killed at least 30 demonstrators and detained over 3,000 others.
The report said human rights in Pakistan worsened last year despite President Pervez Musharraf’s repeated pledges to foster democracy in the key US ally. It highlighted a period of emergency rule late last year.
In Bangladesh, the report said the “government’s human rights record worsened, in part due to the state of emergency and postponement of elections.”
In Sri Lanka, it said, “the government’s respect for human rights continued to decline due in part to the escalation of the armed conflict,” with the ethnic Tamil minority the “overwhelming majority of victims” of abuses.
Democracies like India a tad better
A multiparty democracy that outshone its neighbours, India “generally respected the rights of its citizens,” but its record was marred by a number of problems, it said.
It cited major problems like extrajudicial killings of persons in custody, disappearances, and torture and rape by police and other security forces.
“A lack of accountability permeated the government and security forces throughout the country, creating an atmosphere of impunity,” it said.
“Government officials used special antiterrorism legislation to justify the excessive use of force while combating terrorism and several regional insurgencies,” it said. It cited serious abuses by separatist guerrillas and “terrorists” in Kashmir.
In Thailand, the report noted the interim government held a referendum on a new constitution, calling it “an important benchmark in Thailand’s return to democracy” after the 2006 coup that ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
It said parliamentary elections held in December “were generally considered free and fair.” In Indonesia, it noted that the government under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who became the country’s first directly elected president in free and fair elections in 2004, “generally respected the human rights of its citizens.”
But it said “weak legal institutions, limited resources, and insufficient political will prevented accountability for serious abuses that occurred in the past.”
In the last year, it cited, among other things, “killings by security forces; vigilantism; harsh prison conditions; impunity for prison authorities; arbitrary detentions; corruption in the judicial system.”
The report said the Malaysian government “generally respected the human rights of its citizens.” But it added that the government “abridged citizens’ right to change their government. No independent body investigated deaths that occurred during apprehension by police or while in police custody.”
In the Philippines, “arbitrary, unlawful, and extrajudicial killings by elements of the security services and political killings, including killings of journalists, by a variety of actors continued to be a major problem,” it said.
Wealthy democracies showed lesser respect for women
The wealthy democracies of Japan, South Korea and Australia fared well. But in South Korea, it said, there remained “societal discrimination” of women, disabled people, and minorities.
In Japan, there were some cases of violence and other abuse against women and children as well as reports of job discrimination against women and ethnic minorities.
In Australia, the report mentioned “domestic violence against women and children, particularly in Aboriginal communities, and societal discrimination against Aboriginal people.”