US says Asia's rights record poor in 2013

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 28 2014 08:59 AM | Updated as of Feb 28 2014 05:04 PM

WASHINGTON - From China's crackdown on activists to flawed elections in Cambodia and widespread violence against Muslims in Myanmar, Asia's human rights record in 2013 remained poor, US officials said Thursday.

Releasing its annual Human Rights report, the State Department documented a litany of abuses across the continent, with especially strong criticism of North Korea, where it said conditions "remained deplorable."

An estimated 80,000 to 200,000 people are in prison camps and detention systems in the isolated communist state, facing "harsh and life-threatening" circumstances, as well as "systematic and severe human rights abuses."

And despite minor successes in China, such as the abolition of labor camps and a change to the one-child policy, the economically-resurgent country of more than one billion people remained "an authoritarian state."

"Repression and coercion, particularly against organizations and individuals involved in civil and political rights advocacy... were routine," the report said.

"The government systematically used its laws to silence dissent and punish individuals, as well as their relatives and associates, for attempting to exercise their right to free expression," the report said.

It also noted Beijing's continued repression of ethnic Uighurs and Tibetans.

Many governments meanwhile were tightening controls on the Internet despite a thirst among their populations for greater openness.

"In Vietnam, the government strengthened monitoring and surveillance of the Internet, further limited privacy rights, and continued to restrict political rights, imprisoning and prosecuting activists under vague national security law," the report noted.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy Uzra Zeya said Washington continues "to call on the government of Vietnam at the highest levels to make progress to comply with its international human rights obligations and commitments."

Washington had also raised the fate of Hanoi's political prisoners including the November conviction of 13 Roman Catholic bloggers.

'Human rights bring 'peace, prosperity'

US Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted concerns about the lack of accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka "where attacks on civil society activists, journalists and religious minorities sadly still continue."

And he insisted that countries that embrace human rights can become more stable and "stronger partners for peace and prosperity."

He pointed to Myanmar, referring to it as Burma, as an example of a government now seeking to take a different path and in return seeing international embargoes lifted.

"In Burma, we continue to see a country that was isolated for so many years slowly moving away not just from dictatorship, but toward a more productive partnering with the United States and the international community," Kerry told reporters.

However the report pointed out that "significant human rights problems" across Myanmar "persisted, including conflict-related abuses in ethnic minority border states."

The same was true for Afghanistan where the report listed "widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity" as well as "increased targeted violence and endemic societal discrimination against women and girls."

In Bangladesh, where a factory collapse in April killed 1,000 garment workers, "politically motivated violence, official corruption.... as well as poor working conditions and labor rights remained serious human rights problems."

And in Cambodia, "a flawed and poorly managed electoral process disenfranchised a significant number of eligible voters during the July 28 national elections," the report noted.

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