Darfur tops US list for abuse of human rights

The continuing genocide in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region was the world’s worst human rights abuse last year, the United States said on Tuesday in a global report that found freedoms were eroding in numerous other nations, including US allies Afghanistan and Iraq.

In its annual survey of human rights practices, the State Department also criticised Russia for a “further erosion of government accountability” and said China’s human rights record had deteriorated in some areas.

“Genocide was the most sobering reality of all,” the department said in the 2006 “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” noting that mass killings continued to “ravage” Darfur nearly 60 years after the world vowed “Never again!” following the Holocaust.

Just days before senior US diplomats expect to meet Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum, the State Department lashed out at the Sudanese government, blaming its military and proxy militia for the genocide in Darfur, the western Sudan region where more than 200 000 people have died and about 2,5-million have been displaced, according to some estimates.

“The Sudanese government and government-backed Janjaweed militia bear responsibility for the genocide in Darfur,” it said, adding that they, along with indigenous rebels, had and continued to commit atrocities as the four-year-old war rages unabated.

“All parties to the conflagration committed serious abuses, including widespread killing of civilians, rape as a tool of war, systematic torture, robbery and recruitment of child soldiers,” the report said.

Washington first declared the situation in Darfur a genocide in 2004 when then-secretary of state Colin Powell used the word in congressional testimony, but other countries and the United Nations have refrained from using the word and some US officials have recently toned down such language.

Tuesday’s blunt criticism, particularly of Khartoum, comes a day before US special envoy for Sudan Andrew Natsios is to see al-Bashir and a week before Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Barry Lowenkron plans to meet the Sudanese president.

Ahead of those talks, expected to focus in part on the deployment of a hybrid UN-African Union peacekeeping force to Darfur, the State Department also noted that Sudan has continued to give mixed signals about its acceptance of the mission.

In addition to the crisis in Darfur, Tuesday’s report said human rights conditions worsened in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In Iraq, where deadly attacks have surged despite the formation of a democratically elected government following the ouster of Saddam Hussein, “both deepening sectarian violence and acts of terrorism seriously undercut human rights and democratic progress in 2006”, it said.

The Afghan government has made “important” progress on the human rights front, but its performance “remained poor” last year, the report said, attributing lapses to a weak central administration, abuses by authorities, and Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents.

The report noted failures in Fiji and Thailand, where coups brought down democratically elected governments in 2006, and lambasted US foes Cuba, Burma and North Korea for systematic violations of basic human rights.

On China, the report said there were an increased number of high-profile cases involving the monitoring, harassment, detention, arrest and imprisonment of journalists, writers, activists and defence lawyers.

The situation in Russia was highlighted, the report said, by continuing centralisation of power in the executive branch, a compliant legislature, political pressure on the judiciary, intolerance of ethnic minorities, corruption and selectivity in enforcement of the law, and continuing media restrictions and self censorship.

Major problems in Pakistan, a close US ally in the struggle against terrorism, included restrictions on citizens’ right to change their government, extrajudicial killings, torture and rape, the report said.
The country experienced an increase in disappearances of provincial activists and political opponents.

The report had these observations on other countries:

Egypt: There were “serious abuses” in many areas, including torture of prisoners and detainees. Other shortcomings included limits on an independent judiciary, denial of fair public trial and lack of due process and restrictions on civil liberties.

Iran: The country’s poor human rights record “worsened, and it continued to commit numerous, serious abuses”. They included severe restrictions of the rights of citizens to change their government peacefully and unjust executions after reportedly unfair trials.

Syria: “In a climate of impunity, there were instances of arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life, and members of the security forces tortured and physically abused prisoners and detainees.”

Lebanon: There were limitations on the right of citizens to peacefully change their government. In a climate of impunity, there were instances of arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life, torture and other abuse.

Zimbabwe: The government engaged in the pervasive and systematic abuse of human rights. The ruling party dominated control and manipulation of the political process through intimidation and corruption. Unlawful killings and politically motivated kidnappings occurred.

Venezuela: Problems included politicisation of the judiciary, harassment of the media, and harassment of the political opposition. There were also unlawful killings; disappearances reportedly involving security forces; torture and abuse of detainees; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrests; and detentions.

Cuba: There were at least 283 political prisoners and detainees at year’s end. Thousands of citizens served sentences for “dangerousness” in the absence of any criminal activity. Other reported abuses were: beatings and abuse of detainees and prisoners, including human rights activists; and harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care.—Sapa-AP

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