US Rights Report Highlights China, Burma Reforms, Abuses

By David Brunnstrom 28 February 2014

WASHINGTON — The US State Department noted some positive reforms in Burma and China and other parts of Asia in its annual human rights report released on Thursday but said that serious abuses and severe restrictions on basic freedoms persisted.

The report for 2013 said that despite some progress in Burma, conflict-related abuses in ethnic minority areas, politically motivated arrests and widespread discrimination and violence against Muslim populations continued.

It said 1,100 political prisoners had been released in Burma, but that politically motivated arrests continued as a result of “flawed laws.”

“The continuing humanitarian and human rights crisis in Rakhine [Arakan] State remained the most troubling exception and threat to the country’s progress during the year,” the report said. Minority Muslims in the state have been involved in clashes with security forces as well as Buddhist civilians.

In China, while the government had announced the abolition of “Reeducation Through Labor” and relaxed a birth-limitation policy to permit more couples to have two children, it “continued to tighten restrictions on basic freedoms,” the report said.

“China continued its crackdown on human rights activists, increased repression in ethnic Tibetan and Uighur areas, and continued to severely restrict the freedoms of expression, religion, association, and assembly,” it said.

During 2013, at least 26 Tibetans had set themselves on fire in protests and at least 100 Uighurs were killed in clashes with security forces “amid reports of increasing economic discrimination and tightened restrictions on religious and cultural practices,” the report said.

It also highlighted new steps implemented in September to control and censor the Internet and target bloggers.

The report said that although Chinese authorities prosecuted a number of cases of abuses of power, particularly involving corruption, such prosecutions were selectively applied and some citizens who promoted efforts to combat corruption were themselves arrested and detained.

In Bangladesh, the report said, politically motivated violence, attacks on religious minorities and poor working conditions and labor rights remained serious problems.

It also criticized “a flawed and poorly managed electoral process” in Cambodia, which it said disenfranchised a significant number of voters in July national elections.

North Korea Situation ‘Deplorable’

The State Department report said rights conditions in North Korea remained “deplorable,” with the government responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, arrests of political prisoners, and torture.

It said a vast network of political prison camps held about 100,000 people, including family members of the accused, in “harsh and life-threatening conditions.”

The rights situation in Vietnam remained poor, with authorities restricting Internet and press freedoms and the freedom of association. It also persecuted unregistered religious groups, the State Department said.

Positive developments in Vietnam included the government’s signing of the UN Convention Against Torture, improved engagement with international NGOs, and increased Protestant church registrations, it said.

In Afghanistan, where US forces have been fighting an Islamist insurgency for more than a decade, the report said extrajudicial killings by security forces, arbitrary arrest and detention and torture remained problems and pointed to increased “targeted” violence and endemic societal discrimination against women and girls.

In Sri Lanka, the government has not made sufficient progress on post-war reconciliation and ensuring justice and accountability for alleged war crimes, the report said.

“Ongoing serious human rights problems include disappearances and a lack of accountability for thousands who disappeared in previous years, as well as widespread impunity for a broad range of human rights abuses, such as torture by police and attacks on media institutions and the judiciary,” it said.