Friday, February 28, 2014

Human Rights: 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

Source: US Department of State


In the early morning hours of August 21, 2013, artillery and mortar shells equipped with sarin gas exploded amidst the agricultural neighborhoods of Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus. Those exposed to the nerve agent foamed from the nose and mouth, convulsing, desperate for air. Rows of victims, covered in white burial shrouds, soon lay motionless on hospital floors. At least 1,429 Syrian civilians, including 426 children, and many of the brave activists who had raced to the scene with video cameras to show the world what had happened, died on that day. The poisonous gas attack, perpetrated by the Syrian army, marked the most lethal chemical weapons attack in decades. It is one of many horrors in a civil war filled with countless crimes against humanity, from the torture and murder of prisoners to the targeting of civilians with barrel bombs and Scud missiles, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives. The tragedy that has befallen the Syrian people stands apart in its scope and human cost. But it is not the only major human rights calamity of 2013 – some born of negligence and others of malice, some committed by physical force, and others by legislative abuse.

In April, amid growing concerns about the hazardous labor conditions and fire safety standards in Bangladesh, the collapse of an eight-story factory building killed more than 1,000 garment workers and injured more than 2,500, leaving hundreds more with permanent disabilities, making it one of the world’s worst garment industry tragedies in recent memory. In August, according to most nongovernmental organizations, Egyptian security forces killed approximately 600-900 protesters in breaking up two sit-in demonstrations, making them by far the most violent disruptions of protests in 2013.

Three years ago, the promise of the Arab Awakening gave hope to millions. In different ways, from Libya to Tunisia to Yemen, governments and their people have made progress along the inevitably long and arduous path of building democratic institutions checked by the rule of law. Just as inevitably, in the Middle East and beyond, those threatened by demands for pluralism have pushed back.

From Independence Square in Ukraine to Gezi Park in Turkey, authorities resorted to violence to disperse peaceful protests around the world, seriously injuring scores of people. Cuba continued to organize mobs to physically assault peaceful marchers, China tightened controls on the internet and stepped up a crackdown on anti-corruption protesters and other activists, Vietnam continued to use vague national security laws to curb freedom of expression and association both online and offline, and Russia continued to suppress those critical of the government.

More than six decades after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a widening gap persists between the rights conferred by law and the daily realities for many around the globe. More than one third of the world’s population still lives under authoritarian rule. Serious human rights violations continue to occur, often unchecked and en masse, in closed societies. Millions are denied civil liberties, persecuted, harassed or silenced for their beliefs, subjected to torture, detained arbitrarily and unlawfully, or labor in harsh or coercive conditions, often without mechanisms for redress or accountability.

And yet, as demonstrated this past year, the courageous pursuit of human dignity remains enduring and undeterred. At the end of 2013, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were braving violence and political repression to demand their rights and freedoms. Libyans risked their lives, marching to replace the rule of militias with the rule of law. The world came together to mourn the passing of human rights icon Nelson Mandela and saw a new generation celebrate a new champion, Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. We witnessed the continued release of political prisoners in Burma and the implementation of a law that prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in Haiti.

The Congressionally mandated annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices reflect continued U.S. interest in, and support for, human rights worldwide. As in years past, the reports chronicle the triumphs and trials, as well as the progress and perils that characterized the state of human rights across the globe in 2013.

The past 12 months have seen notable human rights developments in five key areas:
  • a continued crackdown by governments on civil society and the freedoms of association and assembly;
  • growing restrictions on free expression and press freedom;
  • accountability deficits for security force abuses;
  • lack of effective labor rights protections; and
  • marginalization of vulnerable groups, in particular:
    • religious and ethnic minorities;
    • women and children;
    • LGBT persons and communities; and
    • persons with disabilities
To view the new 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices visit