U.S.: Ouster of Taliban was a human rights triumph
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The State Department's annual report on global human rights released Monday called the liberation of Afghanistan from the Taliban "a triumph for human rights in 2001," although it cited some U.S. allies in the war on terrorism for abuses.
Despite finding "Israel's overall human rights record in the occupied territories was poor," the State Department went to great lengths to explain Israeli military actions in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza in the context of Palestinian terrorism, a departure from previous reports.
The report noted that Israeli security forces killed at least 501 Palestinians and one foreign national and injured 6,300 Palestinians and other persons last year, including many civilians.
But it went on to say that "historically, Israel's main human rights problems have arisen from its actions in response to terrorist threats," the report said.
Because of attacks on Israeli forces by Palestinian terrorist groups, including some members of Yasser Arafat's Fatah security service Tanzim, Israel has "sometimes used excessive force," the report said, noting that Israeli forces were "responding to what they stated were violent, or potentially violent situations."
The report also cited Israeli incursions into Palestinian controlled territories, targeted killings of Palestinians, abuse of Arab detainees and citizens at checkpoints and economic embargoes of the Palestinian areas as contributing to its poor treatment of Arab citizens.
In Saudi Arabia, the report noted the government's "human rights record remained poor," noting the Saudi government "views its interpretation of Islamic law as its sole source of guidance on human rights and disagrees with internationally accepted definitions of human rights."
Freedom of religion, the report said, "does not exist" in Saudi Arabia, and in accordance with the strict brand of Shari'a law applied there "women have few political or social rights and are not treated as equal members of society."
According to the report, the Saudis have begun to approve "limited measures" to participate in international human rights mechanisms, but "citizens have neither the right nor the legal means to change their government.
"Security forces continued to abuse detainees and prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and detain persons, and hold them in incommunicado detention," the report said. In addition, there were allegations of torture by security forces.
The report also cited Saudi Arabia's legal system as unfair, noting that most trials are closed and defendants usually appear before judges without legal counsel. Again, the report said, most courts base judgments largely on interpretation of strict Islamic laws.
As in previous years, the report criticized China's human rights record across the board, focusing on the lack of religious freedom.
In addition to the suppression of Falun Gong followers, the report accused China of using the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism as justification in cracking down on Uighur Muslims in the country's Xinjiang autonomous region.
In January, the Chinese government released a report alleging Uighur separatists in Xinjiang receive funds and training from Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terror network.
The United States has so far refused to link the Islamic separatists in Xinjiang to the war on terrorism.
"The fear of spillover from the antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan and a perceived opportunity to legitimize measures against Muslim Uighur activists under the antiterrorism umbrella led to an intensification of a crackdown in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China late in the year," the report said.
"Chinese Government officials asserted that some persons engaged in legitimate political or religious activities were, in fact, involved in terrorist activities or had ties to al-Qaida."
As in previous years, the report cited Russia for abuses in Chechnya under the guise of fighting terrorism, noting "indiscriminate use of force by government troops in the Chechen conflict" that "resulted in widespread civilian casualties and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of persons."
"Russian forces in Chechnya continued to root out separatist fighters during the year," the report said, noting the "sweeps often were accompanied by credible reports of disappearances, extrajudicial killing, extortion, torture, and arbitrary detention.
"Attempts by government forces to regain control over Chechnya were accompanied by the indiscriminate use of air power and artillery," the report said, noting numerous reports of attacks by government forces on civilian targets, including the bombing of schools and residential areas.
Even with the human rights "triumph" in Afghanistan, the report criticized -- although not harshly -- some of the new U.S. allies in Central Asia that have assisted in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. These countries have widely documented human rights abuses, according to human rights groups.
In Uzbekistan, the report found government security forces tortured, beat and harassed persons, especially Muslims, under the guise of combating terrorism.
It called the country under President Islam Karimov "an authoritarian state with limited civil rights," which held successive elections perpetuating his presidency which were considered neither free, nor fair.
"The police routinely planted narcotics, ammunition, and Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets on citizens to justify their arrest. For example, in August a Jizzakh court convicted six young men (ages 20 to 30) and their 83-year-old host for holding prayers in the older man's home. The police allegedly planted drugs and Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets," the report said.
President Bush must certify that Karimov, who visits Washington next week, is making progress on human rights in order to continue giving Uzbekistan millions in U.S. assistance.
"The security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, on false charges, particularly Muslims suspected of extremist sympathies, frequently planting narcotics, weapons or banned literature on them," the report said, adding that "prison conditions were poor, and pretrial detention can be prolonged."
In Pakistan, where the Bush administration has heaped praise on President Pervez Musharraf for his commitment to the war on terrorism, the State Department's report found the "government's human rights record remained poor."
It cited numerous extrajudicial killings by police, whom the report said arrested numerous citizens arbitrarily and abused and raped citizens with impunity.
It also noted that Musharraf, who seized power in a coup, continued to deny citizens the right to a national election and said "the functioning of the Government after the coup was 'monitored' by military commanders."
The report listed countries with frequent reports of torture on detainees. They are Israel, Saudi Arabia, China, Indonesia, Kenya, Myanmar (Burma), Uzbekistan, Turkey and Mexico.
The trafficking of persons was cited as "one of the most serious human rights problems facing the world," with more than 700,000 men, women and children each year in almost every country affected.
Women and children from Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Southeast Asia, the report noted, have become the primary targets of transnational criminal elements, including traffickers.
Although the report cited more than 3,000 deaths in Colombia -- mostly the work of paramilitary groups -- it said the government of Colombia continued to work to end the collaboration between security forces and paramilitary groups.
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