Friday, March 26, 2010

2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

The Department of State's (DOS') Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor has released the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2009. As with 2008, there are a total of 194 country reports.

Human Rights Abuses in Countries in Conflict

According to the information reported, “there still are an alarming number of reports of torture, extrajudicial killings, and other violations of universal human rights” occurring primarily in countries in which conflicts are occurring. The governments of Afghanistan, Burma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Iraq, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka, and Sudan were all cited has having committed such acts. For example, in Nigeria, the report noted that, “[b]etween July 26 and July 29, police and militant members of Boko Haram, an extremist Islamic group, clashed violently in four northern states, resulting in the displacement of approximately 4,000 people and more than 700 deaths, although this figure is not definitive because quick burials in mass graves precluded an accurate count.” Also, although Pakistan's civilian authorities took some positive steps, significant human-rights challenges remain. Major problems included extrajudicial killings, torture, and disappearances as some 825 civilians were killed by militant forces, security operations to repel the militants from Malakand Division and parts of the FATA displaced almost three million persons at the peak of the crisis (although by year's end, approximately 1.66 million had returned to their home areas), and security forces allegedly committed 300 to 400 extrajudicial killings during counterinsurgency operations.

Restrictions on Freedom of Expression, Assembly, and Association (including nongovernmental organizations (NGOs))

Many governments continued to exert control over information that came into and was produced within their countries. This was accomplished by hindering the ability to organize in public, online, or through use of new technologies, by restricting the dissemination of information on the Internet, radio, or television or through print media, and constructing legal barriers that made it difficult for NGOs to establish themselves. According to the National Endowment for Democracy, 26 laws in 25 countries have been introduced or adopted since January 2008 that impede civil society.

The governments of Belarus, China, Colombia, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Uzbekistan were all mentioned in this category. China, for example, increased its efforts to monitor Internet use, control content, restrict information, block access to foreign and domestic Web sites, encourage self-censorship, and punish those who violated regulations. Further, in Colombia, while independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction and all privately owned radio and television stations broadcast freely, members of illegal armed groups intimidated, threatened, kidnapped, or killed journalists, which, according to national and international NGOs, caused many to practice self-censorship; others, 171 to be specific, received protection from the government. In Venezuela, the government's harassment of Globovision, the largest private television network, included raiding the home of the company's president and publicly calling for the company's closure. At year's end, 32 radio stations and two television stations had been closed, and 29 other radio stations remained under threat of closure.

Discrimination Against and Harassment of Vulnerable Groups

Vulnerable groups, including racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, the disabled, women and children, migrant workers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, were marginalized and targets of societal and/or government-sanctioned abuse. Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic were cited as seeing a rise in killings and incidents of violence against Roma, the largest and most vulnerable minority in Europe. Other countries noted for violations included China, Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and Uganda. Anti-Semitism continued to arise, and a spike in such activity followed the Gaza conflict in the winter of 2008-2009. Attacks on Christians rose in Egypt, and, in Uganda, a bill providing the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” and for homosexual “serial offenders” resulted in increased harassment and intimidation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persons during the year.

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