Repression, coercion, corruption and persecution are routine tools of China’s government, according to a U.S. human rights report released a day after high-level talks between the countries ended in Washington.
The State Department presented its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014” on Thursday, four months after Congress’s Feb. 25 deadline. Republican critics have suggested the delay was intended not only to smooth the way for the China talks -- which ended with few tangible results -- but also to avoid roiling nuclear talks with Iran that are in their final stages.
Secretary of State John Kerry unveiled the annual report a day before heading to Vienna for efforts to reach agreement with Iranian officials by a June 30 deadline. This year’s version finds that Iran employed arbitrary detention, torture and killings; that its security forces operated with impunity; and that politically motivated violence and repression was rife.
In May, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who’s running for president, and five colleagues wrote Kerry about the delayed report, saying that Iran’s human rights record was “inextricably intertwined” with its nuclear ambitions. “The history of the twentieth century elucidates a dangerous axis between internal suppression of human rights and external aggression,” the senators wrote.
Iran metes out the death penalty for offenses including “outrage against high-ranking officials” and “insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini” who led the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran and ended relations with the U.S., according to the report. Iran defends its use of flogging and amputation as “punishment,” not torture, it said.
The 45-page section on Iran notes that individuals have been arbitrarily killed and detained, but it doesn’t mention Americans by name. Washington Post bureau chief Jason Rezaian, referred to only as “a dual-citizen journalist,” was arrested in July 2014, and has been denied access to consular visits, legal representation and release on bail, the report said.
“With respect to Iran, I can’t say we’ve seen any meaningful improvement” since the election of President Hassan Rouhani, said Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, who briefed reporters on the department’s findings.
The report also repeats criticism of Cuba, despite President Barack Obama’s moves toward normalizing relations with the island nation.
Cuba, the report found, remains a place where human rights abuses are committed with impunity by officials at the behest of the government. The 31-page section describes arbitrary detentions and arrests; restrictions on travel, academic freedom and the Internet; and violent government-organized counterprotests against peaceful dissent.
The U.S. has “not seen a letup in day-to-day harassment” in Cuba, Malinowski said. He and other administration officials have said their decision to engage Cuba eventually will improve the human rights situation there, and that they regularly raise the subject in talks with their counterparts worldwide.
“The United States will continue to stand up for universal human rights and freedoms that all people desire and should enjoy,” Kerry said at the close of the talks with China on Wednesday. “These rights and freedoms are vital to stability and prosperity.”
China, as it has in years past, responded with a rights report of its own, criticizing the U.S. for “showing not a bit of regret for or intention to improve its own terrible human rights record.” Evidence cited by China included gun violence, police discrimination, Central Intelligence Agency torture and the influence of money in politics.
Rights groups praised the U.S. report as an objective assessment of the performance of the country’s allies and enemies. The problem, said John Sifton, an advocacy director at Human Rights Watch in Washington, was that the government “too often disregards its findings in formulating U.S. foreign policy.”
While the report includes summaries on particularly abusive regimes, including Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Sifton said, in places it “allows the emphasis on non-state actors,” such as Islamic State and Boko Haram, “to upstage abuses by governments which are fighting those groups.”
“The U.S. government needs to do a better job incorporating this report’s findings into its relationships with countries around the world,” Sifton said.
The report portrays modern-day China as a ruthlessly repressive political system that regularly deploys extralegal measures to keep dissent in check, particularly among groups such as Uigurs, a Muslim minority group, and Tibetans.
The report noted the disappearance of influential Tibetan monk Tenzin Lhundrup, who advocated for the preservation of Tibetan identity.
Throughout China, officials use “enforced disappearance and strict house arrest, including house arrest of family members, to prevent public expression of independent opinions,” the report said. Attempts to exert control extended to cyberspace, the report found, as China’s “authorities continued to censor and tightly control public discourse on the Internet.”
In Russia, significant human rights problems include restrictions on freedoms of assembly, expression and association, the report said.
President Vladimir Putin’s government has increasingly suppressed dissent, the report said. “The government passed new repressive laws and selectively employed existing ones systematically to harass, discredit, prosecute, imprison, detain, and fine individuals and entities that engaged in activities critical of the government,” it said.