US: Human Rights Improving in Burma but Worsening in China, Vietnam

By Matthew Pennington 22 April 2013

WASHINGTON—Human rights conditions are deteriorating in China and Vietnam but improving in Burma as it continues on its bumpy path to democracy, the United States said Friday.

The State Department also said in its annual assessment of human rights around the world that conditions in North Korea remain “deplorable.” The report said defectors reporting extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, arrests of political prisoners and torture.

The department took aim at the continuing crackdown on political activists and public interest lawyers in China during 2012. It pointed to a “systemic” use of laws to silence dissent and punish individuals, and their relatives and associates, for attempting to exercise freedom of expression and assembly.

Authorities increased repression and restrictions on religious freedom in ethnic Tibet regions, where rising numbers of people have set themselves on fire to protest against Beijing, the report said.

The department’s conclusions typically draw a stiff response from the Chinese government, where the Communist Party monopolizes power but has overseen decades of rapid economic growth that has hoisted hundreds of millions out of poverty.

In Vietnam, another one-party state, the report said the government has attacked critical web sites and spied on, fined, arrested, and convicted dissident bloggers. The United States also criticized the imprisonment of dissidents using vague national security legislation, and restrictions on religious and labor rights.

The department said Burma “continued to take significant steps in a historic transition toward democracy” in 2012, with political prisoner releases, relaxing press censorship and allowing trade unions. It also staged by-elections that saw Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi take a parliamentary seat.

But it said the country’s authoritarian structure from five decades of military rule remains largely intact.

Burma also needs to work urgently to overcome deep divisions that have caused outbreaks of inter-ethnic violence, claiming at least 100 lives and displacing tens of thousands in Arakan State in June and October. Those bloody clashes—that have spread this year to the country’s heartland—have mostly targeted minority Muslims.

In Indonesia, which has transitioned from military rule to become one of Southeast Asia’s most robust democracies, the United States said security forces are reporting to civilian authority.

But suppression of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities is a problem, it said. The government applied treason and blasphemy laws to limit freedom of expression by peaceful independence advocates in the provinces of Papua, West Papua and Maluku, and by religious minority groups.

The report said the government of Sri Lanka tightened its grip on power and made little meaningful effort in 2012 toward reconciliation with the Tamil minority community following the end of the country’s long civil war four years ago. Involuntary disappearances continued and the government did not account for thousands who disappeared in prior years.

The United States also criticized the government’s impeachment of the Supreme Court chief justice, and said persons allegedly tied to the government attacked and harassed civil society activists, journalists and purported Tamil rebel sympathizers.