I'm Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.
This week, the State Department released its "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.” American officials use these yearly reports to develop policies, carry out diplomacy and decide about aid and other assistance.
The first ones appeared in nineteen seventy-seven as required by Congress. They began with eighty-two countries which all received American aid. Now, there are reports on one hundred ninety-six countries.
The reports are based on rights described in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These include individual, civil, political and worker rights.
Others are freedom from torture or cruel punishment and from long terms in jail without charges. They also include freedom from secret imprisonment and from other violations of the right to life, liberty and personal security.
The new report says countries ruled by a single person or a small group are often the "most systematic human rights violators." Seven countries are listed as examples: North Korea, Burma, Iran, Zimbabwe, Cuba, China and Belarus.
It says nations that violate the rights of their own people are likely to be threats to other nations as well. Here the examples given are Burma, North Korea, Iran and Syria.
Some of the most serious violations take place during armed conflicts. One example listed is the continued violence in the Darfur area of Sudan. Others are the conflicts in Nepal, Ivory Coast, Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia's Northern Caucasus area, and countries in central Africa.
In Columbia, human rights violations continued but fewer killings and kidnappings were reported.
The report also names countries that used laws against the media and non-governmental organizations last year. Examples listed are Cambodia, China, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Belarus and Russia.
The State Department report praises nations that held democratic elections in two thousand five. The examples given are Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Indonesia, Lebanon and Liberia. Nations where serious problems were reported in elections included Egypt, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.
The report says many countries had mixed progress last year on democratic reform and human rights. For example, it notes that President Pervez Musharraf has stated his support for democratic change in Pakistan. But it says that country's human rights record continued to be poor.
The Chinese government now reacts to American criticism with its own reports on the United States. China's report called American democracy "a game for the rich." It says the United States has a high murder rate, spies on its own people and violates the rights of prisoners in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
China defines human rights in terms of a right to things like food, clothing and housing.
IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Steve Ember.