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U.S. Denounces Crackdowns On Dissent

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
In a new report, the U.S. State Department has denounced the use of security forces by authoritarian governments to consolidate power and suppress dissent.

The "2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" says these crackdowns hurt the "long-term stability, security, and economic development" of the countries where they occur.

Launching the annual country-by-country index in Washington on February 27, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, "The places where we face some of the greatest national security challenges today are also places where governments deny basic human rights to their nations' people."

From Ukraine to Syria, Burma to Venezuela, the report says security forces must be held to account for human rights abuses if democratic transitions are to succeed.

Kerry said the use of military might to suppress dissent was particularly egregious in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad's regime was accused of unleashing a sarin-gas attack in August.

Citing Yemen, Tunisia, Burma, and Ukraine, he said countries that embraced human rights "are countries that actually create opportunities."

"In Ukraine, as we all just saw in real time in the last days, tens of thousands took to the streets to demonstrate again the power of people to be able to demand a more democratic and accountable governance and to stand up even against those who would sniper from roofs and take their lives in the effort to have their voices heard," Kerry said.

'Widening Gap'

The State Department report, released as the world marks the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, asserts that more than one-third of the world's population lives under authoritarian rule.

It also says that a "widening gap persists" between the rights conferred by law and the daily realities for many people around the world.

The document notes that rights conditions in North Korea remained "deplorable," with the government responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, and torture.

On China, it highlights a continuing crackdown on rights activists and freedom of expression, and increased repression against ethnic Tibetans and Uyghur Muslims.

The report says Russia continued to "suppress" government critics, while in Afghanistan, it points to increased "targeted" violence and endemic societal discrimination against women and girls.

The report highlights how new and fragile democracies emerging from the Arab Spring, are cracking down on civil society.

Egypt is criticized for "the removal of an elected civilian government and excessive use of force by security forces, including unlawful killings and torture."

It also says that in some 80 countries, including Russia and Iran, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities face discriminatory laws and practices.

But despite the difficulties, the report says the "courageous pursuit of human dignity remains enduring and undeterred."

Praising "awesomely courageous acts" by human rights campaigners, Kerry cited Belarus's Ales Byalyatski, who was sentenced in 2011 to 4 1/2 years in jail on tax-evasion charges that his supporters say were politically motivated.

He said he was also "inspired" by the 86-year-old Russian human rights pioneer Lyudmila Alekseyeva who has "spent a lifetime fighting for the basic rights that we take for granted here in the United States."

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters