Bahai News - Democracy on the Rise Worldwide, Report Says Saturday, February 26, 2000

Democracy on the Rise Worldwide, Report Says


     WASHINGTON--Despite a 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," she said.
     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 report said.


©Copyright 2000, Los Angeles Times

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