U.S. criticizes Israel, Russia, China on human rights
State Department releases annual report
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. State Department on Monday released its annual human rights report, criticizing Israel for its treatment of Palestinians during the last several months of violence in the Middle East.
The report also cited Russia for "serious violations" of human rights in Chechnya and China for its poor all-around record on human rights.
The report singled out Israel more so than in recent years for its treatment of non-Jewish citizens. It said Israel's human rights record against Arabs had "worsened" in the past year, mostly because of clashes between the Israelis and Palestinians since October.
"Israel's overall human rights record in the occupied territories was poor" during the last few months of the year, it said.
"Israeli security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses during the year" and "sometimes exceeded their rules of engagement, which provide that live fire is only to be used when the lives of soldiers, police, or civilians are in imminent danger."
"Since the violence began, Israeli security units often used excessive force against Palestinian demonstrators." the report said. Last May, the report noted, Israeli security forces killed six Palestinians and wounded up to 700 at demonstrations in which Palestinians were protesting the continued incarceration of Palestinians in Israeli jails.
West Bank closures cited
The report found that at the time of publication, Israeli forces had killed 307 Palestinians and four foreign nationals and injured at least 11,300 Palestinians, including the targeted killing of a number of Palestinians.
The report also found "numerous credible allegations that police beat persons in detention, which resulted in several deaths. Prison conditions are poor. Israeli security forces sometimes impeded the provision of medical assistance to sick and injured Palestinians."
The report found that due to the ongoing unrest in the occupied territories, Israel imposed 88 days of tightened, comprehensive closure during the year, compared with 15 days in 1999. It said Israeli authorities "frequently treat Palestinians in an abusive manner at checkpoints, subjecting them to verbal and physical harassment" and sometimes "delayed ambulances and medical personnel from entering Arab villages to treat persons."
The so-called "internal closures" of the West Bank, prohibiting most travel between towns and villages within the area, have impeded the flow of goods and have "had a significant negative impact on the economy of the West Bank and Gaza."
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell raised the issue of the Palestinian economy with the government of Israel during his trip to the region this week.
'Indiscriminate use of force' in Chechnya
In the case of Chechnya, the State Department said "Russian security forces demonstrated little respect for basic human rights."
"The indiscriminate use of force by government troops in the Chechen conflict resulted in widespread civilian casualties and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of persons," the report said, citing "credible reports that military forces engaged in extrajudicial killings" in Chechnya.
"During the conflict in Chechnya in February, there were credible reports that the military used indiscriminate force in areas of significant civilian populations, resulting in numerous deaths," it said. Russia's federal forces "reportedly beat, raped, tortured, and killed numerous detainees" in the region, the report said, and Russia has yet to comply with a U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) resolution calling for visits by U.N. monitors to the area.
While the report acknowledged that Russia "generally respected the human rights of its citizens in many areas," it said that "serious problems remain," including limits on the media and the conditions of pretrial detention and torture of prisoners.
It cited reports by human rights groups that estimate about 11,000 detainees and prison inmates die in penitentiary facilities annually, "some from beatings, but most as a result of overcrowding, inferior sanitary conditions, disease, and lack of medical care."
The crackdown on the press over the past year has grown increasingly worse, the report said. In addition to harassing journalists and withholding financial support from state-controlled media operations that exercised independent editorial judgment, journalists were "subjected to threats of physical violence, beatings, and murder."
Beijing slammed for religious intolerance
Once again, the United States took China to task for its all-around poor human rights record. The Chinese government's "poor human rights record worsened, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses," the report said.
It noted that China "intensified its crackdowns on religion and in Tibet, intensified its harsh treatment of political dissent, and suppressed any person or group perceived to threaten the Government."
Beijing "continued to commit widespread and well-documented human rights abuses in violation of internationally accepted norms. These abuses stemmed from the authorities' extremely limited tolerance of public dissent aimed at the Government," it said.
The report singled out China's treatment of members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which it has labeled a cult.
"Hundreds of Falun Gong leaders had been imprisoned, and thousands of Falun Gong practitioners remained in detention or were sentenced to re-education-through-labor camps or incarcerated in mental institutions," it said. It cited sources that report "approximately 100 or more Falun Gong practitioners died as a result of torture and mistreatment in custody."
The report added that China's respect for religious freedom "deteriorated markedly during the year," with crackdowns against underground Christian groups and Tibetan Buddhists and the destruction of houses of worship.
China was also criticized for its lack of freedom of the press, abuse of prisoners and lack of due process, as well as harsh "population control" tactics, which were labeled "intrusive" policies.
U.S. officials are expected to press China further on its human rights practices at the United Nations Human Rights Convention in Geneva next month, when they plan to introduce a resolution condemning China's human rights record.
Both sides come under fire in Colombia
The report also cited acts of violence and human rights abuses in Colombia by both paramilitary and guerrilla groups, including massacres of civilians and the murder, kidnapping and intimidation of human rights workers and journalists as a result of the war between the government and Marxist rebels.
U.S. President George W. Bush is likely to take up the matter with Colombian President Andres Pastrana when they meet in Washington this week.
The report also found freedom of the press "nonexistent" in many countries and that religious repression and discrimination in "every region of the world" continued to be a problem. Burma, Iran, Iraq and Sudan, labeled as countries of "particular concern" by the State Department earlier this year, were again criticized.
The report found trafficking of human beings for illegal purposes has become a "rapidly growing global problem" spanning continents. It cited estimates that 700,000 to 2 million people are trafficked globally each year for use in sweatshop labor, prostitution and domestic servitude.
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