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U.S. cites China, Israel, Saudi Arabia for poor human rights

Palestinians, Colombia, Central Asian nations also criticized

From Elise Labott

Powell: "Where human rights and freedoms flourish, terrorists and tyrants do not thrive and conflict and chaos do not reign."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Although noting some improvement, the State Department's annual human rights report once again accuses China of numerous, serious human rights abuses.

Israel, Iraq and the Central Asian states were also accused of human rights abuses.

While citing the release of several well-known Chinese dissidents, the report accused China of numerous "instances of extrajudicial killings, torture and mistreatment of prisoners, forced confessions, arbitrary arrest and detention, lengthy incommunicado detention, and denial of due process."

The United States usually introduces a resolution criticizing China's human rights record at the annual meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. The Bush administration has not said whether it plans to censure China in this year's meeting, which is now under way.

The report makes a connection between human rights and national security, noting that "governments that rule by force and use violence against their own people often threaten and intimidate their neighbors."

Powell links human rights and foreign policy

"Where human rights and freedoms flourish, terrorists and tyrants do not thrive and conflict and chaos do not reign," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday at the rollout of the report. "America's democratic values, our national interests and our obligations to the international community demand that the defense and promotion of human rights are an integral and active part of our foreign policy."

As expected, the State Department also criticized Iraq's human rights record, citing "widespread and systematic human rights abuses including killings, torture, disappearances, rapes and imprisonment of Iraqi political opposition and ethnic religious minorities" by the Iraqi Republican Guard and other members of Saddam Hussein's security forces.

When asked why the U.S. felt it could have countries who were criticized in the report as members of its coalition against Iraq, Powell said, "We do not believe it is inconsistent to work with nations who are willing to assist in this effort who themselves have some problems with respect to human rights that we candidly talk to them about and encourage them to change."

The report said that while Saudi Arabia made some improvements, "the government's human rights record remained poor."

'Serious problems' in Saudi Arabia

Citing continued abuses by security forces, the lack of freedom of speech, movement and religion, the report said "serious problems remained" in Saudi Arabia.

Although the Saudi government has taken some measures to participate in human rights activities, such as allowing a visit by the U.N. Human Rights envoy, it continued to view its interpretation of Islamic law as its "sole source of guidance on human rights," and does not follow international standards on the issue, the report said.

Accordingly, the government punished criminals according to its interpretation of Sharia law with methods considered torture by international standards.

The report said Israel's human rights record in the Palestinian territories remained poor, and in some areas even worsened, as "numerous, serious, human rights abuses" were committed by Israeli forces, it said.

"At year's end, the government held approximately 6,700 Palestinians in custody, three times as many (as) during the previous year," the report said.

Israel and Palestinian Authority criticized

It added that at least 990 Palestinians were killed and another 4,382 were injured by Israeli forces. While the report said Israeli forces made efforts to minimize civilian casualties, they often undertook targeted killings in civilian areas that resulted in innocent bystanders being killed.

The Palestinian Authority's human rights record was also criticized in the report, which alleged that members of the Palestinian security services and Fatah party were involved in terrorist attacks against Israel.

While the report did not provide evidence that the senior leadership of the Palestinian Authority was involved in planning the attacks, it suggested that such action was endorsed through public speeches and interviews.

The report said that the Central Asian countries of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan "resisted change"

In Kazakhstan, the report said, the "government's poor rights record worsened," including prosecution of opposition leaders and media harassment. Turkmenistan's human rights situation "deteriorated markedly as well, including arrests and torture of suspects following an attack on President (Saparnurat) Niyazov last November."

While the report said that Colombia showed "signs of progress," with fair elections and a commitment by paramilitary forces to negotiate peace with the government, it noted that "problems remain serious, particularly extrajudicial killings."

In Afghanistan, the report found "dramatic improvement" over the past year, but noted "respect for human rights varied widely" in different parts of the country. In particular, the report warned about the Department of Accountability and Religious Affairs and about reprisals against ethnic Pashtuns in the country.

The report also emphasized a growing awareness of trafficking in persons, and credited countries in the Middle East, such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon as taking steps to address the problem.

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