U.S. eases criticism of China, targets Russia

WASHINGTON Wed Mar 12, 2008 1:15am IST

The U.S. Presidential Seal seen at Queensridge in Las Vegas, Nevada in this January 31, 2008 file photo. The United States took aim at Russia on Tuesday in its annual report on human rights, accusing the government of corruption and electoral abuses, but seemed to ease criticism of China ahead of the Olympic Games. REUTERS/Larry Downing

The U.S. Presidential Seal seen at Queensridge in Las Vegas, Nevada in this January 31, 2008 file photo. The United States took aim at Russia on Tuesday in its annual report on human rights, accusing the government of corruption and electoral abuses, but seemed to ease criticism of China ahead of the Olympic Games.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States took aim at Russia on Tuesday in its annual report on human rights, accusing the government of corruption and electoral abuses, but seemed to ease criticism of China ahead of the Olympic Games.

In examining human rights in more than 190 countries last year, the State Department also criticized its usual targets Pakistan, Afghanistan, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Sudan, China, Nepal, Syria and Zimbabwe.

"Countries in which power was concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers remained the world's most systematic human rights violators," said the report, which is widely resented by foreign governments that come under fire.

In a gesture likely to annoy human rights groups, the State Department did not include China among the world's worst offenders like last year but Beijing's record on the issue was described as "poor."

China's human rights record has come under increased scrutiny ahead of this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing with some groups pressuring the Bush administration to boycott the games unless there is an improvement.

Detailing human rights violations in Russia, the report cited numerous government and other abuses throughout 2007, including harassment of the media and reported killings and torture by the security forces.

The continued centralization of power in the executive branch eroded the government's accountability, with opposition parties restricted and the December elections to the Duma marked by problems during the campaign and on election day.

"Security forces reportedly engaged in killings, torture, abuse, violence and other brutal or humiliating treatment, often with impunity," the report said of Russia.

The report did not cover this year's presidential election in Russia, which was criticized by Western observers and the United States. The election was won by Dmitry Medvedev, a protege of outgoing President Vladimir Putin. Medvedev said he would ask Putin to be prime minister.

OWN RECORD UNDER SPOTLIGHT

Relations between the United States and Russia have been rocky during Putin's tenure with the two countries clashing over a range of issues from Kosovo's independence to U.S. plans to build parts of a missile defense shield in Europe.

While slamming Russia, the State Department said it was "mindful" of world criticism over America's own rights record. There has been strong criticism over U.S. treatment of terrorism suspects held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"The U.S. government will continue to reply forthrightly to concerns about our own practices, including the actions we have taken to defend our nation from the global threat of terrorism," said senior State Department official Jonathan Farrar. The report itself does not formally review the U.S. human rights record.

In Pakistan, a key U.S. ally and major recipient of American aid, the report said the human rights situation had deteriorated in 2007 despite President Pervez Musharraf's "stated commitment to democratic transition."

In Iraq, which the United States invaded in 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein, sectarian, ethnic and extremist violence coupled with a weak government performance, resulted in "widespread, severe human rights abuses."

Similar problems were logged in Afghanistan where the United States helped oust the Taliban in 2001. There, a deadly insurgency, weak government, drug trafficking and corruption contributed to its generally "poor" record.

During last year, more than 6,500 people died as a result of the insurgency in Afghanistan, including by suicide attacks, roadside bombs and combat-related violence, the report said.

While softening criticism of China ahead of the Olympic Games, the report complained of tightened media and Internet curbs and increased controls on religious freedom in Buddhist Tibet and Muslim Xinjiang in 2007.

In Africa, Sudan's human rights record remained "horrific," and last year was the worst ever for human rights in Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe's government stepped up its assault on opponents and critics as well as ordinary citizens.

In reclusive North Korea, the State Department cited extrajudicial killings, disappearances and arbitrary detention, including of political prisoners. Myanmar's "abysmal" human rights record also deteriorated further, the report said.

On the positive side, the report noted improvements in Ghana, Mauritania, Morocco, Colombia and Haiti, among others.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Arshad Mohammed and Paul Eckert)

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