US State Dept’s Human Rights Report 2005 ticks off Belarus and many countries
Speaking at the release of the report in Washignton Asst Secretary of state Lowenkron said countries in which power was concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers tend to be the world`s most systematic human rights violators and these states ranged from closed, totalitarian systems like Burma and North Korea to authoritarian systems like Belarus and Zimbabwe, in which the exercise of basic rights is severely restricted.
He lashed at Iran saying states like Iran that severely and systematically violate the human rights of their own people are likely to pose threats to neighboring countries and the international community.
Lowenkron voiced concern that disturbing number of countries from Cambodia to Venezuela and Russia, Belarus to Zimbabwe and China, passed or selectively applied laws against NGOs and the media. He pointed out that China has not spared the internet.
Excerpts from the press release:
Question: How problematic is it for the Administration that you have to use the practice of renditions to send some U.S. detainees to countries where you know and you cite in the report there are serious violations in detainee practice?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Let me be clear. We do not send detainees to countries if we believe that they will be subjected to torture. That has been our policy.
Question: (Inaudible.) I have a question about the Burma. Since last year, the Burmese regime increased pressure and restriction on the Indonesian NGOs and the UN agency, including the ICRC and the IDO. Do you have any updates or a comment on that situation?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: What I can tell you is that the issue of Burma is very high on the Administration`s list. I testified along with Assistant Secretary Hill last month before the House International Relations Committee. I have just come back from a trip to China and Vietnam where I pressed the issue of Burma. We have had some progress in the United Nations on Burma. We will continue to press on Burma.
This regime is reprehensible and the hardships, the hardships that the Burmese people endure are unacceptable. We will work very hard with our ASEAN partners. We will work very hard with countries in the region and beyond. We have put that on our agenda in our discussions with the EU and we will continue to press in the UN to bring about change that is long overdue in Burma.
Question: Mr. Secretary, any progress to report on the opening of that Halki Theological School of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in Istanbul, Turkey under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the head of the Orthodox Church globally? And how the Turkish Government is treating the Greek minority in Turkey, from the point of human rights, like property rights, education rights, civil rights, et cetera, et cetera?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: No specific issues. Let me get back to you on all of them. I will.
Question: Can I just follow up on the first question? I didn`t realize you had finished your answer before you went to someone else. When you say we -- you`re very clear you don`t send people to countries if you believe they will be abused.
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: If they will be tortured, because this -- this is an obligation under the CAT, the Convention Against Torture of which John Bellinger and I will be answering questions on that report in Geneva later this year.
Question: Okay. But you are sending detainees to countries where, in the report, you say there are abuses. How is that you marry those two things? What can you do to prevent the torture?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Okay. We can send a -- okay, it is done on a case-by-case basis. In some countries that do not have full democratic practices, if we get solid assurances and if there is precedent and we have precedented examples that have occurred, then we feel confident and we do it. If we do not, we do not do it.
Question: Yeah, it`s kind of a two-part question. On Iraq and Afghanistan, how do you respond to charges that this -- you`re holding these countries to a kind of lower standard in terms of human rights violations because of the violence there? And also, how do you respond to critics that say that the U.S. has kind of lost its moral authority to criticize other countries around the world because of issues of the secret prisons, because of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, et cetera?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Okay. Let me take both of those. In the first one, we do not hold these countries to lower standards. What we do and what you will find in the reports on Afghanistan and Iraq is an assessment of the impact of the deadly insurgency on the ability of the Iraqi Government and the ability of the Afghan Government in order to build and sustain and nurture democratic institutions and practices.
On the second one, I have to tell you that I have been in this job for about four or five months, I`ve traveled already, I`ve been to Moscow, I`ve been to -- I was with the Secretary in Bahrain for the BMENA Forum for the Future, as I`ve mentioned, I just got back from China and Vietnam. And in all of my stops and all of my discussions, we continue to have rigorous debate, discussion and advancement of these policies. This in no way -- this in no way has hindered me from my job, hindered me from the efforts to advance the democracy agenda or the human rights agenda. It in no way hindered me from raising issues of Burma. It did not hinder me in any way from raising the problems of the internet in China or the problems of constraints on the NGO activity in Russia.
Question: Back to detainees for one second. From the human rights perspective, why -- in any case even if you are assured in these countries that have spotty records -- why would you not bring the detainees back to the United States where you can guarantee that their human rights would be respected?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Well, on the issue of detainees, some of these detainees when they`re released they go home; it`s as simple as that. For other ones, again, all I can say is when we get the assurances; we send them back.
Question: But I`m asking why you don`t bring them to the United States since you can guarantee that their human rights will be respected in the United States?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: If we get the guarantees that they will not be mistreated, they go home.
Question: Sir, for the Middle East. We didn`t see yet the report in detail, but could you give us from your own perspective, there`s the small issue that my colleague just posed right now, but also overall the Arab world, the Islamic world, what could you say on the state this year in 2005 about the human rights issues? Are they advancing like the United States wants them to or are they, on the contrary, you see setbacks?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: It`s a very good question, but I have to tell you we don`t do a comparative analysis within regions or between states. What we do is we evaluate each of the countries. What I can do is talk to you from my experience outside of the Human Rights Report in terms of traveling with the Secretary to Bahrain where I saw the Forum for the Future; it was the second meeting of the Forum. And it has gone light years from when President Bush first announced it, along with the G-8 partners, and some countries in the Middle East at Sea Island in the summer of 2004.
Question: Is the source of concern primarily to you in the Middle East countries? Could you name them, sir?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: The sources of concern.
Question: Of real concern about human rights.
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Okay. I will list several and then I would refer you to the hardcopy or this, which I have to learn to use myself. Anyway, it`s obviously, problems in Syria and certainly problems in Iran, are two in particular that I would highlight.
Question:What about Saudi Arabia?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: What you`re asking me to do is start making comparisons between them all, which I won`t --
Question: I`m sorry this Administration has said --
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: I`m sorry, he asked the question. Do you want to know about Egypt or Saudi Arabia?
Question: Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Okay. All right. In terms of Saudi Arabia, the President worked out with the King a strategic dialogue, which will --the purpose of the strategic dialogue is to elevate all the facets of our relationship, including the issues of reform, including the issues of developing, including the issues of exchanges. And I regret that I will probably not be able to attend the session devoted to these issues which is supposed to be taking place next week in the Kingdom because I`ll be testifying on the Hill on the Human Rights Report.
In terms of Egypt, the Secretary has been clear. She was clear in her speech that she gave in Cairo. What we would like to do is to ensure that there was breathing space within the Egyptian political system, so secular voices will also be heard. And the Secretary has made her views known both privately and publicly about Imam Noor.
Question: Secretary Lowenkron, Secretary General Kofi Annan was interviewed last night on the Charlie Rose show on PBS. He`s frustrated there needs to be an overhaul of the UN. Now he has stated that most of the power at the UN goes to the Security Council and yet the General Assembly is left without power.
And can you tell us what are our values being interjected to work with some of these rogue-style countries? We, of course -- President Bush has talked about elections and we`ve seen where the rug has been pulled out from various countries, such as in Ethiopia recently and Belarus and so forth. And can you also talk about the religious hatreds? Many times you`re talking only government to government but obviously it`s a religious hatreds that come into some of this.
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Okay. On the last point, the Human Rights Reports do cover the issue of religious hatred because they give you a sense of what is going in the country itself. In terms of the UN, I would say the critical point now when we are at the end game in terms of can we can get an effective human rights council. And let me be clear, we do not want rogue countries. We do not want countries who are systematic gross violators of human rights to be seated on the human rights council.
Who has not had a chance?
Question: The Saudi Arabia section says there`s a lack of religious freedom. A separate report earlier, I guess it was last year, talked about a complete absence of religious freedom. What is the United States doing to try to address that? And -- I mean, I know you don`t make, like, year-over-year analysis, but could you give us your view of how bad that problem is?
,br> Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Me and my colleague, Ambassador at-Large for Religious Affair John Hanford, will be going to Saudi Arabia next week as part of this dialogue -- in fact, this will be his second trip within 30 days -- working with the Saudis to get them off the -- it`s called the Countries of Concern list and the Saudis are there. So all I can say is that we`re involved in negotiations. He`s got the lead on that. But we are involved in negotiations to see how we can push on the issue of religious freedom.
Question: You touched, briefly touched China in your statement. Could you elaborate the major or new concerns of this Administration on China`s human rights situation? And at the same time, we notice that Deputy Secretary of the Labor Department, Steven Law, he testified in the Congressional Executive Commission on China two days ago. He noted that China is stepping forward to address a broad range of human rights and worker rights and the U.S. has provided technical support. Can you share with us the communication or even cooperation between U.S. and China on this touchy issue?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Well, all I can say is that I had a full range of discussions in China several weeks ago. They covered the issues of theinternet and they covered the issues of the work of nongovernmental organizations. They covered the issue of individual cases and they also covered what I would call systemic issues, issues of judicial process, issuesof the right of the accused, the right of defense attorneys, the criminal procedure law. We went through an entire list of issues with China. That`s part of the agenda of our human rights agenda, so it goes beyond talking about an individual case or two. Question : Follow up on China. The first problem you listed in your China report published today is that denial of the rights to change the government. Then you also acknowledged that in Chinese law, the law does not provide citizens with the right to change their government peacefully and its citizens cannot freely choose or change the laws and officials that govern them. So on this kind of issue, which obviously you put very high priority on them, what are you doing on trying to convince the Beijing Government or trying to do on this front?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Well, when I went to Beijing in my discussions with the Chinese, I focused on, roughly, those half-dozen or dozen issues which I think we can help to open up a process and help to provide fundamental rights to all -- to all Chinese.
Way in the back there. Yes.
Question:Assistant Secretary Lowenkron, is there anything new or surprising in the report this year over last year?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: It`d be hard to answer in one broad ----
Question: Or for any country, in particular, anything? I mean, because a lot of it`s just -- it`s every year, it seems the same.
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Pardon?
,br> Question: I mean, every year, the language seems very similar and trying tease out what`s new, you know.
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Well, this is my first year. Several things are new. I mean, I would point to Liberia as a good story. I would point to Sudan as a mixed story because we finally had the end of a 20-plus year crisis. But then of course, we had the issue of genocide in Sudan. I think the issue of the internet is something that`s going to be highlighted more -- much more. The issue of NGOs, because we`re starting to see this appear that pop up all over the globe, so it`s not a problem in Russia of NGOs. You find it in Central Asia, caucuses in China. You find it in terms of Sumate in Venezuela, so it`s spreading. So these are kind of warning signs about where we need to focus our efforts. Who hasn`t had a chance?
Question: You have been saying that there are different types of countries according to the violations of human rights, yeah? Like, for -- the worst are countries like North Korea or Burma, other countries that have --
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: These are -- well, yeah, illustrations, correct.
Question: Which kind of -- group of countries would you put Cuba on as concerning the human rights violations? And also, how do you feel about the new situation of the human rights council in the United Nations?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Okay. In terms of the human rights council in the UN, I`ve already discussed that, but in effect, what we`ll -- our goal is still to ensure a human rights council that is effective, that -- and secondly, that does not include the most egregious violators of human rights. Those two things are very important.
In terms of where I would put Cuba, I would ask you, read the report and make the judgment for yourself. What I can tell you about Cuba is that there are over 300 political prisoners still there. Many of the ones that were snared in the crackdown several years ago still remain behind bars and it is one of the most oppressive regimes.
Who has not --
Question: I would like to add a question to that, the southeastern side of Cuba, Guantanamo Bay. Secretary Rice mentioned the United Nations Convention on Human Rights and according to the UN, Guantanamo Bay or Camp Delta is a human rights violation. How do you respond to the claim that it`s a double standard on the side of the U.S.?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Well, in terms of that report, we had offered to provide the rapporteurs the same access of the members of Congress and over a thousand journalists, both domestic and foreign. As you know, Guantanamo is a prisoner camp under the rules of humanitarian law, the law of war. We are disappointed that the report that was issued did not even -- did not – the people that wrote the report did not even bother to interview doctors. They based the entire report on discussions with defense attorneys.
Now, let`s leave that aside. On the issue of double standards, as I said before, in all of my discussions and all the work that I do, if somebody wants to talk to me about Guantanamo or for that matter, talk to me about Abu Ghraib or talk to me about detainees, I say fine and I`m willing to negotiate -- I`m willing to discuss that with them, because the purpose of a dialogue is everybody brings everything to the table. That`s what I`ve done overseas in my discussions.
At the end of the day, let me tell you something that is the ultimate strength, whether I`m standing here or my successor will stand here, and that is, unlike so many of these other countries, what is it that we have in the United States? We have a robust and vigorous press that reports on these issues. We have a Congress that is elected by the people and a Congress that legislates such issues as the McCain Amendment. We have an independent judiciary that goes all the way up to the Supreme Court that passes laws on these issues. We have all of these self-corrected mechanisms that are built in, whether in times of peace or especially in times of war.
Question: (Inaudible) at the State Department do not certificate Colombia, because of violation of human rights from the army side and also because of violation of human rights from the paramilitaries that are going on in a peace process. How can we explain that the State Department keeps saying that Colombia is doing better in human rights?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Well, I would refer you to the report in terms of the demobilization efforts that are underway and let me say at the outset, they are not finished with that and we still want to see more. We hope that they will be done by March.
The letter also highlights certain units that were particularly egregious human rights violators and we have special provisions in which we`re not going to deal with those units. We single those out. So, all I can say is that this is an ongoing process in terms of certification with the Hill
Question: In recent years -- okay, what criteria of objectivity you employ in preparing this report since you feel -- one feels that there is a positive brush when it comes to countries like Iraq and Afghanistan and a negative one when it comes to Iran and Sudan and Israel is not mentioned at all? Things like that. So, what are the criteria for objectivity in your reports?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: First of all, I would ask you to look at the report this year. We used to have one sentence that kind of tried to capture what the report was all about. This year, what we did was -- we got rid of the sentence, which we found was a little bit too arbitrary, it was hard to capture 12 months of a country. So we have a list of bullets, a list of key items and you will find criticisms of virtually -- of every country. The criteria that we used, this is -- the standards, not the standards, the categories are set and these are the same categories that have been mandated year in, year out. We now add a few more. For example, we`re going to talk -- we talk more about the internet, we talk more about NGOs. I do not want to leave you with the impression that everything is all fine and well in Iraq. That is not the case. If you read the report, you will find out the specific areas where we still need to see serious work to be done. It`s the same with Afghanistan. It`s across the board.
Now let me hasten to add that we do not sit among ourselves and decide this is in or this out. We rely on a tremendous amount of input from the media overseas, from nongovernmental organizations, from academics, from jurists. When there are questions, we go back and we say, "What is the evidence?" We want to ensure that we do not make these blanket statements in the report that aren`t backed up.
Question: Yes, sir, about the Middle East. Again, we didn`t see the report yet. What grade would you give the Palestinian Authority? They had elections. We saw the results. What`s your evaluation here this year?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: The only time I give grades is when I teach part-time American foreign policy and I no longer do that.
Question: I mean, what`s your real evaluation? It`s a major event in the Middle East to see those elections held the way they were held.
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: It is a major event, absolutely. But as the Secretary put it, you can`t have one leg in terrorism and one leg in governance. The way I`ve always put it, you can`t do the ballot Monday, Wednesday, Friday and bullets Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. So there`s some fundamental decisions that Hamas will have to take.
Question: Your last report and also the report in the interim on religious freedoms focused on Israel much more than previous reports had on non-Arab minorities like the Christians among the Russian immigrant population, the workers who come in from countries like the Philippines and Thailand. Is that going to be a new emphasis for you? I haven`t read this year`s Israel report. Is that something that you`re looking at more intensely?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: I`ll get back to you on that. I mean, it`s not something that was kind of the centerpiece of the report, but I`d be happy to follow up on that.
Question: Okay. What is your reading of the situation in Cambodia and then more broadly in Southeast Asia? Can you point to any sort of positive developments? I mean, obviously Burma is not one and --
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Well, I think Cambodia was heading in the right direction and then it slipped back. I think Assistant Secretary Hill had a good trip out there earlier this year and we`ve seen some progress. I think in the case of Vietnam, what you have is a -- I was there, as I said, several weeks ago. You have a country that wants to work on elevating the relationship as the Prime Minister and President Bush agreed to last July. We made it clear that elevating that relationship also included more progress on human rights. We had suspended a dialogue. My predecessor had suspended a dialogue with the Vietnamese in 2002 because he was just -- you know, it`s invective in accusations and it was not terribly productive, not productive at all. And well, I had a very good session with the Vietnamese. It doesn`t mean that all the issues have now been resolved, but were beginning.
I`m required by law as a result of the suspension of the talks of 2002, I`m required by law to provide a report to the Congress, I believe, within 60 days and I probably will be doing it by the end of the month.
Question:On Iran, what is the U.S. doing to pressure Iran since we don`t have direct contact with them? And is there any special thought -- any thought given to a special envoy to -- for Iran, as we do in North Korea?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: What I will do is I will answer the first question by referring you to the testimony today of Under Secretary Burns and Under Secretary Joseph.
Question: I`m missing it to be here with you.
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: I`m honored. I really am. (Laughter.) In terms of the envoy, there`s no -- we are not -- I do not envision that there`s going to be a special envoy along the lines of what we have for Korea.
Question: Well, if not, how can we put effective pressure on them to change their ways, other than rhetoric?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: I made a suggestion at one point when somebody had suggested an envoy for another country and I said, you know, it would make my life a lot easier if you could appoint about 190 envoys and I can go home and come in about once every three months and have a town meeting. The Secretary has asked me. I mean, this is my role as the Assistant Secretary working with Under Secretary Dobriansky and with the NSC.
Question: How (inaudible) do you see the human rights situation in China? Has it deteriorated from last year or has it improved? And when you have discussions with the Chinese authorities, are they within the (inaudible) of the dialogue that the U.S. has with China, which has (inaudible)?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Are they within the (inaudible) of the dialogue?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: Well, what we have done is I went to China to go over a whole host of human rights issues before the visit of President Hu Jintao. And then our hope is that after that visit that we can then sit down and hammer out a new framework for human rights dialogue with the Chinese. Several years ago we laid out a series of conditions and the Chinese had met -- at the end of the day, they finally met the eight conditions. So now we have a blank piece of paper. On the blank piece of paper, we`re going to debate and discuss what we want to put down in terms of the human rights dialogue.
Question: Has their situation improved from last year?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: It depends on what areas.
Question:And what about the dialogue, sir, between U.S. and China? It has been scrapped, right?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: As I said, I mean, I went to China to talk about these issues and our hope is that making progress on these issues, we will have a new set of issues for human rights dialogue with China.
Question: -- President Bush speaking on (inaudible) has any of those issues on that landscape been -- you have seen any results or are you just going to Beijing and give them another list?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: We are working on individual cases and that was (inaudible).
Question: Any result? You don`t go to Beijing just for talk?
Assistant Secretary Lowenkron: No, no. Thank you for saying that. (Laughter.) You know, I am not the official global tourist of the State Department. (Laughter.) All of our discussions, we -- I start by saying these have to be results-based, so no, we are working those individual cases.
Thank you very much.
- Asian Tribune -