The U.S. State Department’s 2015 report on human rights explores rights issues around the world.
Many of the issues are linked to long-term problems, such as crises in governance or authoritarianism. Others relate to violence and threats of brutality by terror groups. Yet, the report, presented to U.S. lawmakers this week, notes signs of progress.
The major subject in the report is the Islamic State group's campaign against minorities in Syria and Iraq.
The group’s campaign of violence has fueled a refugee and humanitarian crisis in Europe and the Middle East. The report says that just within Iraq alone, 3.2 million people have been displaced.
In Syria, where fighting began in 2012, the situation is worse. An estimated 250,000 people have been killed since the country’s civil war began. Islamic State fighters are blamed for more than 2,000 deaths in Syria. The report says the militants have sought to kill or expel rights activists and civil society groups.
Secretary of State John Kerry said some of the world’s worse rights violations last year took place in Syria.
“The most widespread and dramatic violations in 2015 were those in the Middle East, where the confluence of terrorism and the Syrian conflict caused enormous suffering,” he said.
The human rights report also noted violence by extremists in African countries, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. It said that good governance would go far in stopping militant groups such as Boko Haram and al-Shabab.
The report accused security forces in Nigeria of using heavy-handed tactics to make the country’s civilians to feel threatened. It called on the Nigerian government to put military reforms in place to better protect human rights.
The State Department also accused the governments of China, Turkey, Russia, Iran, and Cuba of targeting media workers, civil society groups, and their critics.
The first part of the report sought to answer concerns that civil society groups present a threat to government power. These non-governmental groups deal with social issues and often demand change.
“Civil society organizations do not have that power – all they can do is to propose policies and ideas, something that people should have a right to come together to do,” the report says.
The U.S. report criticized China for a campaign against rights lawyers. It said the government’s actions against lawyers and legal groups were severe, adding that the campaign was marked with “repression and coercion.”
The report also criticized North Korea for severe human rights abuses. The U.S. government and South Korea have each announced measures to punish North Korea and its leadership. The United Nations Security Council also has approved sanctions against the country.
The State Department report noted that, in Myanmar -- also called Burma, discrimination against the Rohingya minority continues. The report noted heavy-handed actions against activists in Vietnam. And in Cambodia, it said, 55 people were tried “in an unfair manner and for largely political reasons.”
However, Secretary Kerry noted political gains in many countries, too.
“We have seen important democratic gains in such countries as Tunisia, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, and Burma, though in each there are challenges that still need to be overcome but we are working closely with each of those countries in efforts to help meet those challenges.”
This is the 40th year that the U.S. government has released its Human Rights Report, which is mandated by Congress.
The report offers information to help guide policy on foreign assistance, said Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski.
"You can be certain that whenever we have credible evidence that a unit or an individual member of a foreign security force has committed gross violations of human rights, we do not and we will not provide assistance to those units and individuals."
Some observers say human rights issues should carry more influence in shaping U.S. foreign policy.
On Wednesday, Secretary Kerry told reporters that the often repeated purpose of the report is simple. “Respecting human rights isn’t just a moral obligation; it’s an opportunity to harness the full energy of a country’s population in building a cohesive and prosperous society,” he said.
Kerry noted that human rights are not opposed to order. He added, “And it doesn’t jeopardize stability; it enhances it.”
Sarah Margon is the Washington Director of Human Rights Watch. "I think one of the concerns we have at Human Rights Watch is that even though this document is so accurate and so clear-eyed about what's going on in many of these countries, it isn't often used in the way that it should be."
I’m Mario Ritter.
Nike Ching reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English with additional material from RFE/RL and RFA. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
authoritarianism – n. government that demands obedience to laws without allowing for personal freedom
brutality – n. severe cruelty, violence
confluence – n. a place where two things come together
heavy-handed – adj. with too much force, something that is overdone
coercion – n. to cause someone to do something by force or threat
jeopardize – v. to put in danger
enhance – v. to increase or improve
accurate – adj. correct