The U.S. State Department blasted China’s human rights record in an annual report Friday, saying the situation is “worsening” as Beijing ramps up efforts to rein in political activists through a variety of extralegal measures.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington has been concerned by the unrelenting crackdown on dissidents by Chinese authorities since February, in remarks to the media during the release of the State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report.
“In China, we’ve seen negative trends that are appearing to worsen in the first part of 2011,” she said.
“Dozens of people, including public interest lawyers, writers, artists, intellectuals, and activists have been arbitrarily detained and arrested.
"Among them most recently was the prominent artist, Ai Weiwei, who was taken into custody just this past Sunday.”
“Such detention is contrary to the rule of law, and we urge China to release all of those who have been detained for exercising their internationally recognized right to free expression and to respect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all of the citizens of China,” Clinton said.
The State Department wrote in its report that Chinese individuals and groups continued to face restrictions on their freedom to assemble, practice religion, and travel.
Meanwhile, the central government continued to curtail the cultural and religious rights of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, it said.
The report cited extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture of prisoners, as well as a lack of due process in the judicial system in China, and noted a failure to protect refugees as well as cases of discrimination against women, forced abortions, and lack of protection for workers.
Abuses in Tibet
In the Tibet Autonomous Region, the report noted that the central government had committed “severe” human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, and extrajudicial detention.
“The preservation and development of Tibet's unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage remained a concern.”
The State Department said a number of Tibetans, especially monks, remained incarcerated for their role in March 2008 protests and riots, and that the region is still tightly controlled by People’s Armed Police and security forces.
Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell met with Chinese Foreign Ministry officials Thursday to discuss U.S. concerns about the human rights situation in China, the State Department said.
In Burma, the report said that despite the release of pro-democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, authorities continue to hold thousands of political dissidents and civil society activists in prison.
The State Department remains “very concerned about the situation in Burma,” Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, told reporters.
"I would say, about the continued detention of more than 2,000 political prisoners, we continue to call for their release—but also the very harsh and very unreasonable restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi and her party.”
The State Department report said the Burmese government “routinely infringed on individual privacy and restricted the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement.”
Additionally, domestic human rights NGOs were barred from functioning independently, while international NGOs encountered obstacles to their work.
The government also did little to rein in abuses by military forces in the country, including rape, torture, forced relocation, and forced labor, the report said.
The State Department reported significant concerns over Cambodia’s new draft Law on Associations and NGOs, which it said could “seriously constrain the ability of NGOs to operate” if adopted.
“These laws often are burdensome restrictions on registration, or the right to receive foreign funding,” Posner told reporters.
The draft law, which was released in December, would require NGOs to file cumbersome reports with the government, prevent association with fewer than 11 members from attaining legal status, create obstacles for foreign NGOs and outlaw unregistered civil society organizations.
The report also detailed “acts of impunity” by members of Cambodia’s security forces, including arbitrary killings, as well as arbitrary arrests by authorities and prolonged pretrial detentions, and highlighted a “weak judiciary.”
The government maintained restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and speech, including against the media, and frequently made use of defamation and disinformation lawsuits to target members of the political opposition, it said.
The State Department also lashed out at North Korea’s “severe and systematic human rights abuses … throughout the country’s extensive network of prisons and detention centers.”
“The situation in North Korea is grim, grim, grim. It is a highly controlled, closed society where any notion of dissent, any notion of public debate, any notion of free press or free assembly is simply not tolerated,” Posner told reporters.
The report said the North Korean regime denies its citizens the right to due process and arbitrarily arrests and detains individuals, including for political crimes.
It added that the regime maintains strict restrictions over the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement, as well as worker rights.
No independent domestic human rights monitoring organizations are permitted to operate inside the country, and the government refuses access to foreign NGOs and international organizations, severely limiting their ability to carry out an accurate assessment of the scope of human rights abuses there.
“We are really dealing there with a government that has really tried to shut itself off from the world, and [has] in a large measure succeeded,” Posner said.
Reported by Joshua Lipes.