dismaying catalog of government-sanctioned murder, torture and repression,
respect for individual liberty and democracy has never been greater, with
more people living under elected governments than ever before, the State
Department said Friday in its annual report on human rights around the globe.
"We are blessed to live at a time of
broader respect for basic human rights than ever before in history,"
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told reporters.
With newly elected governments in
Indonesia and Nigeria--two of the world's most populous countries--the
number of people living under at least partial democracy increased more
last year than at any time in recent history, surpassing 1989, the year
the Berlin Wall fell and communism began to crumble.
Nevertheless, the 6,000-page report
documented harrowing abuses: slave raids in Sudan; often violent repression
of political dissent in China, North Korea, Yugoslavia and elsewhere;
widespread religious persecution; and pervasive discrimination against
women in Afghanistan and other societies.
As in previous years, the report was
scathing in its assessment of human rights in many countries with which
Washington also has other significant differences, including Cuba, Iraq
and Myanmar, formerly Burma. Critics say the administration often tempers
its criticism of countries with which it enjoys generally good relations.
But this year the department denounced Russia for the killing of civilians
during its war in the southern republic of Chechnya.
"For those who devastate whole
neighborhoods through indiscriminate attacks, as in Chechnya, brutality is
a choice," Albright said.
For the first time this year, each
country report contains a section about the international trade in human
beings for prostitution, domestic service, forced labor in sweatshops and
other forms of "modern-day slavery." It said victims are lured by false
promises of employment, sold by impoverished parents or held in bondage to
pay off smugglers who take them to the United States or Western Europe.
Harold Koh, assistant secretary of
State for human rights, said that virtually every country in the world is
touched by the human traffic, as a country of origin, transit or destination.
"The most reliable estimates place the
level of trafficking at 1 [million] to 2 million persons" annually, the
report said. It called human trade "one of the fastest-growing and most
lucrative criminal enterprises in the world," ranking behind only drugs
and guns in terms of the money it generates.
Unlike many of the abuses documented
in the report, governments are not directly involved in human trafficking.
However, the department said governments do too little to stop it.
President Clinton has made promotion
of human rights a top priority, and Albright was quick to claim that
administration policies have produced improvements in the global climate.
"There was a time, not that long ago,
when it would have seemed beside the point to raise the issue of human
rights in a diplomatic or foreign policy setting," Albright said. "Today,
promoting democracy and human rights often is the main point, and the world
is far better for it."
Albright asserted the right of the
United States and its allies to intervene anywhere in the world to stop
rights abuses, underscoring the rationale for last year's North Atlantic
Treaty Organization air war against Yugoslavia and the U.N.'s intervention
in East Timor, where citizens voted for independence from Indonesia.
"Sovereignty carries with it many rights,
but killing and torturing innocent people are not among them," she said.
"Serious and repeated abuses of human rights are everybody's business."
Albright said the administration
cannot adopt a "cookie cutter" response to abuses. So while U.S. pilots
dropped bombs on Yugoslavia, and Washington imposed economic embargoes
against Iraq, Myanmar and Cuba, the administration continues to support
China's entry into the World Trade Organization.
"The human rights situation in China will
not be transformed overnight, but joining the WTO will add to the pressures
welling up from within China for greater personal and political freedom,"
According to the department, two of the
most widespread human rights abuses are religious persecution and
manipulation of the news media through censorship and intimidation.
"Throughout the world, Bahais, Buddhists,
Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and other believers continue to suffer
for their faith," the report said.
And it said murder is "the leading
cause of death among journalists worldwide."
At the same time, the report said
democratic governments, businesses, nongovernmental organizations and
individuals--communicating through the Internet--have created an informal
alliance in support of universal human rights.
"E-mail, the Internet, cell phones and
other technologies have helped activists from around the globe to connect
with one another in ways that were impossible only 10 years ago," the
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