The U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights
was unveiled by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday. Hear summaries
of the report's chapters on Eritrea and Ethiopia on our Horn of Africa language
Clinton's assertion in China last week that human rights
concerns with China "can't interfere" with dialogue with Beijing on
matters such as the world economic crisis and climate change drew some sharp
But at a news conference for the roll-out of the annual
human rights report, the Secretary implicitly responded to the controversy,
saying that human rights promotion is essential to U.S. foreign policy and has
been a personal priority for her throughout her political career.
"Our commitment to human rights is driven by our faith and our moral
values, and by our belief that America must first be an exemplar of our own
ideals," Clinton said. "But we also know that our security and prosperity and
progress is enhanced when people in other places emerge from the shadows to
gain the opportunities and right that we enjoy and treasure."
On China, the State Department report said the Beijing
government's human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas last
year -- citing what was termed "severe cultural and religious
repression" of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Muslim areas of western
The North Korean human rights record was called "abysmal," with
reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances and arbitrary detentions
painting a grim picture of life in the reclusive communist state.
Burma's military-led government was said to be continuing repressive measures
including harassment and imprisonment of human rights and democracy activists.
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights Karen
Stewart says the Obama administration is seeking a new policy approach to the
Burmese government, which has seemed oblivious to sanctions, including a
near-total U.S. trade embargo.
"We will be conducting a review of our U.S.-Burma
policy, again with the notion of looking for: are there any other ways that we
haven't tried, are there more creative ways that we might add to our approach
to push for greater respect for human rights in Burma? And we continue to urge
the regime to heed the calls of the U.N. Security Council -- to release all the
political prisoners and begin a genuine dialogue with the democratic
opposition," Stewart said.
The report said human rights in Russia continued on a
"negative trajectory" with civil liberties under siege and pressure
by the Moscow government weakening freedom of expression and media
The government of Iran was said to have intensified a systematic campaign of
intimidation against reformers, journalists and dissidents through arbitrary
arrests detention and torture.
It also cited a deterioration of human rights in the war-ravaged Democratic
Republic of the Congo, while saying Eritrea's already poor human rights record
worsened with security forces carrying out extra-judicial killings with seeming
The report did not assess the United States' own record but alluded to
international criticism of the Bush administration for detentions without trial
and other practices related to the war against terrorism.
Assistant Secretary Stewart noted that President Obama has rejected the notion
that the United States must choose between safety and preserving its ideals,
and said the new administration welcomes international scrutiny of its rights
"We do not consider views about our performance, voiced
by others in the international community, whether by other governments or
non-governmental actors to be interference in our internal affairs. Nor should
other governments regard expression about their performance as such," She said.
The annual reports are mandated by a 1961 act of Congress to
help legislators determine, among other things, eligibility of countries for U.S.
foreign aid programs. This year's report, covering rights conditions in more
than 190 countries in 2008, was forwarded to members of Congress on Wednesday
as it was being publicly released.