The State Department's annual
report on human rights conditions worldwide issued Wednesday includes sharp
criticism of China despite a suggestion last week by Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton that the issue was secondary to broader concerns in the U.S. dialogue
with Beijing. Clinton told reporters the promotion of human rights is
"essential" to U.S. foreign policy.
Clinton's assertion in China last week that human rights
concerns with China "can't interfere" with dialogue with Beijing on matters such
as the world economic crisis and climate change drew some sharp editorial
But at a news conference for
the roll-out of the annual human rights report, the Secretary implicitly
responded to the controversy, saying that human rights promotion is essential to
U.S. foreign policy and has been a personal priority for her throughout her
"Our commitment to human
rights is driven by our faith and our moral values, and by our belief that
America must first be an exemplar of our own ideals," she said. "But we also
know that our security and prosperity and progress is enhanced when people in
other places emerge from the shadows to gain the opportunities and right that we
enjoy and treasure."
On China, the State
Department report said the Beijing government's human rights record remained
poor and worsened in some areas last year - citing what was termed "severe
cultural and religious repression" of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Muslim
areas of western China.
The North Korean human rights
record was called "abysmal," with reports of extrajudicial killings,
disappearances and arbitrary detentions painting a grim picture of life in the
reclusive communist state.
government was said to be continuing repressive measures including harassment
and imprisonment of human rights and democracy activists.
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human
Rights Karen Stewart says the Obama administration is seeking a new policy
approach to the Burmese government, which has seemed oblivious to sanctions,
including a near-total U.S. trade embargo.
"We will be conducting a review of our U.S.-Burma policy, again
with the notion of looking for: are there any other ways that we haven't tried,
are there more creative ways that we might add to our approach to push for
greater respect for human rights in Burma? And we continue to urge the regime to
heed the calls of the U.N. Security Council - to release all the political
prisoners and begin a genuine dialogue with the democratic opposition," she
The report said human rights
in Russia continued on a "negative trajectory" with civil liberties under siege
and pressure by the Moscow government weakening freedom of expression and media
The government of Iran was
said to have intensified a systematic campaign of intimidation against
reformers, journalists and dissidents through arbitrary arrests detention and
It also cited a deterioration
of human rights in the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of the Congo, while
saying Eritrea's already poor human rights record worsened with security forces
carrying out extra-judicial killings with seeming impunity.
The report did not assess the United States' own record but
alluded to international criticism of the Bush administration for detentions
without trial and other practices related to the war against terrorism.
Assistant Secretary Stewart noted that President Obama has
rejected the notion that the United States must choose between safety and
preserving its ideals, and said the new administration welcomes international
scrutiny of its rights practices.
"We do not consider views
about our performance, voiced by others in the international community, whether
by other governments or non-governmental actors to be interference in our
internal affairs," she said. "Nor should other governments regard expression
about their performance as such.
The annual reports are
mandated by a 1961 act of Congress to help legislators determine, among other
things, eligibility of countries for U.S. foreign aid programs. This year's
report, covering rights conditions in more than 190 countries in 2008, was
forwarded to members of Congress on Wednesday as it was being publicly released.