Syrian War ‘Calamity’ Leads U.S. Report on Human Rights

The U.S. described the Syrian civil war as a “human rights calamity,” while citing Russia, China, Egypt, Turkey and other nations for abuses against their citizens in an annual State Department report.

“Too many governments continue to tighten their grasp on free expression, association, and assembly, using increasingly repressive laws, politically motivated prosecutions and even new technologies to deny citizens their universal human rights, in the public square and in virtual space,” Secretary of State John Kerry wrote in the preface to the global human-rights report released yesterday in Washington.

The document, covering almost 200 countries and territories, cited the Syrian government for committing “egregious human rights violations” in a conflict that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and “created an opening for violent extremists that continues to endanger regional stability and our own national security.”

The report also found that “the government and opposition forces both impeded the flow of humanitarian assistance” and that both sides “used civilians, including women and children” to shield combatants.

“In Syria, hundreds were murdered in the dead of night when a disaster occurred at the hands of a dictator who decided to infect the air of Damascus with poisonous gas, and many more have been unfortunately confined to die under a barrage of barrel bombs, Scud missiles, artillery and other conventional weapons,” Kerry told reporters at a State Department briefing.

‘Momentous’ Year

Governments worldwide have sought to quash peaceful protests “from Independence Square in Ukraine to Gezi Park in Turkey,” while Russia has “continued its crackdown on dissent that began after Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency,” according to the report.

The report “comes on the heels of one of the most momentous years in the struggle for greater rights and freedoms in modern history,” Kerry said at the briefing, citing concerns from the deaths of workers in Bangladesh garment factories to discrimination against gay citizens and advocates in 80 countries from Nigeria to Russia and Iran.

The report cited the now-ousted government of Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine for beating detainees, for politically motivated prosecution and detentions, and for “tolerance of increased levels of violence toward journalists.” The report was completed before Yanukovych fled in the face of mass protests against his rule.

On China, which always figures prominently in the annual report, Kerry said in his statement that “a lack of judicial independence has fueled a state-directed crackdown on activists and suppression of political dissent and public advocacy.”

Chinese Detainees

The report cites dozens of detainees including Cao Shunli, who was stopped at Beijing Airport as she was attempting to travel to Geneva to attend a training session in advance of China’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Five weeks after her disappearance, authorities confirmed that Cao had been criminally detained on charges of unlawful assembly, according to the report.

Chen Kegui, a nephew of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, remained in prison, where he allegedly has been tortured, according to the report. His case has been raised repeatedly with Chinese authorities by U.S. officials since Chen, who drew attention for his efforts to expose forced abortions, was given refuge in the U.S.

China’s State Council information office released its own report today on human rights in the U.S., the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The U.S. “carefully concealed and avoided mentioning its own human rights problems,” while commenting on other countries, Xinhua said, citing the Chinese report.

Egypt’s Abuses

The Chinese report cited the U.S. government surveillance program known as Prism, exposed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, as “a blatant violation of international law” that “seriously infringes on human rights,” Xinhua said.

The State Department report said that in Egypt, significant human rights abuses included “the removal of an elected civilian government; excessive use of force by security forces, including unlawful killings and torture; the suppression of civil liberties, including societal and government restrictions on freedom of expression and press and freedom of assembly; and military trials of civilians.”

In Turkey, the government “used excessive force to disperse protests, detained thousands of persons, including many journalists, academics, lawyers, and students, during demonstrations, and charged many under the antiterror law,” the report said.

The report cites crackdowns on civil society by nations including Bahrain, Ecuador, Belarus, and Tajikistan. There have been increasing press restrictions in the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Azerbaijan, the report said.

The report also details abuses by security forces in Sudan, Libya, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.

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