‘Yearning for change’ in Arab states inspirational: U.S.

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 24, 2012 17:51 EDT
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WASHINGTON — A US report released Thursday hailed the “yearning for change” in Arab nations and moves toward openness in Myanmar, saying they may inspire a push for freedom in other dark reaches of the world.

But the State Department said in its 2011 human rights report that the situation in China was “deteriorating” and highlighted alleged abuses in Sudan, Iran, Eritrea, Russia, Syria, Pakistan, Honduras, Cuba and Venezuela.

In presenting the annual report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “this has been an especially tumultuous and momentous year for everyone involved in the cause of human rights.

“Many of the events that have dominated recent headlines from the revolutions in the Middle East to reforms in Burma (Myanmar) began with human rights, with the clear call of men and women demanding their universal rights.”

The report said “the yearning for change we have witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria is inspirational, and yet change often creates instability before it leads to greater respect for democracy and human rights.”

It recalled the high cost to demonstrators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, where thousands have been killed and many others abused by security forces.

“But the images of demonstrators who had seemingly lost all fear, risking their lives to oppose governments they deemed illegitimate, inspired people around the world,” it said.

The report then turned to the changes in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where the military-backed regime of President Thein Sein has surprised many observers with a spate of reforms designed to break decades of isolation.

“Burma offers an example of a government moving towards a model of greater openness, democracy, and liberty, attributes that can lead to greater innovation, prosperity, and inclusion,” it said.

“Much remains to be done to implement reforms and especially to address the legacy of decades of violence against ethnic minorities,” the report said.

“But the size of the task ahead does not diminish the excitement of these first steps, or the sense of possibility they may inspire in other closed societies, such as Iran, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Eritrea, or Sudan,” it added.

The report said that China’s human rights record was “deteriorating,” with authorities stepping up efforts to silence activists and stifle public debate.

The report said that Chinese forces “reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings” and has held activists in unknown circumstances including human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng and ethnic Mongolian campaigner Hada.

The report was also particularly critical of Syria, and Clinton herself singled out President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for staging an assault not just on basic freedoms like that of expression but on “the very lives of citizens.”

Also coming under fire was Eritrea, where it said “widespread” human rights abuses continued.

“Security forces tortured and beat army deserters, draft evaders, persons attempting to flee the country and members of certain religious groups,” it said.

In Sudan, government forces staged air raids on civilian areas on the border with South Sudan, while human rights abuses “went unpunished,” the report said.

The Iranian government “continued to deny its citizens human rights, including the freedoms of expression, assembly, association, movement, and religion,” it said.

In Pakistan, security forces, extremists and separatists were implicated in “extrajudicial killings, torture, and forced disappearances,” it said. “These affected thousands of citizens in nearly all areas of the country.”

In Russia, “attacks on and killings of journalists and activists continued,” while there were reports of “significant irregularities and fraud” during parliamentary elections in December.

Honduras, it said, had the highest homicide rate in the world — 82 murders per 100,000 inhabitants — due in part to “arbitrary or unlawful killings” committed by security forces.

In Venezuela, the government used the judiciary to “intimidate and selectively prosecute political, union, business and civil society leaders who were critical of government policies or actions,” it said.

The report also highlighted persecution of the opposition in Cuba, where arrests of dissidents doubled last year and rose to 800 in December alone, the highest monthly figure in 30 years.

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
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