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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor > Releases > Special Briefings 2001-2005

Special Briefing: Release of Human Rights Reports

Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC
March 31, 2003

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I am very pleased to be here today to release the State Department's 27th Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

Before I discuss the contents of the report, I hope you'll give me a moment to thank all of those who have worked to produce them. This report on almost 200 different countries, millions of words in all, requires an enormous amount of research and information gathering by diplomats both here and overseas.

That process requires our Foreign Service Officers abroad to go to great lengths, often under trying and even dangerous circumstances, to investigate abuses and aid individuals at risk. The report also contains information obtained from domestic and international human rights groups, academics, jurists, international organizations and international media, many of whom also work to protect and report on human rights under very threatening circumstances.

I owe a special thanks to Cynthia Bunton, who heads the Office of Country Reports within my Bureau. Her staff, like others in my Bureau, is a dedicated and talented group of people committed to presenting the facts as accurately and objectively as possible.

This is the 27th edition of the Human Rights Reports. When they were first issued, there were perhaps three dozen democracies in the world, concentrated in North America, Western Europe and a few in Asia. Last November, the Community of Democracies met in Seoul, South Korea with more than 100 participants from every continent. The Human Rights Reports have chronicled the development of those new democracies, and in the midst of the war on terror, they also chronicle abuses in dictatorships.

Secretary Powell said last year that freedom fights terror, instability and conflict. We continue to believe that the quality of the Human Rights Reports must remain high, in part, because they serve as a guide to ending abuses. Let me give you a few examples.

Many in Central Asia had great hopes that with the fall of the Soviet Union, we would see improvements in democratic practices and respect for human rights. Those hopes were slowly extinguished throughout the 1990s.

September 11th necessitated renewed contact with Central Asia's five nations. We determined that if we were to rely on them as allies, we could not ignore their human rights practices. To remedy the abuses chronicled in past editions of the Human Rights Reports, in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan our spending to advance human rights and democracy has doubled, and in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan our spending to advance human rights and democracy has quadrupled since September 11th. We have also sharpened our human rights and democracy programs in all of those countries.

Decades of Soviet-style political culture will not be changed overnight. This edition of the Human Rights Report states that human rights observance remains poor in all five countries. But in a number, we've seen accelerated progress over the last 18 months when compared to the previous five years.

In the Middle East, the democracy gap between many countries and the rest of the world is huge. For decades there has been what some called "a democratic exception for the Middle East." As our report notes, Iraq was 2002's primary offender when it came to human rights, but we've chronicled violations across the region.

In December, Secretary of State Powell launched the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative, or MEPI, with the aim of comprehensive reform and a prosperous future for the region. The initiative acknowledges the economic, political and educational challenges facing the Arab world and reflects the U.S. Government's resolve to address them. The initiative reinforces programs already begin after September 11th, 2001 -- programs that are aiding democratic experiments underway in countries such as Morocco, Bahrain and Qatar. MEPI will help extend them into countries where democracy has not yet taken root.

The regions democratic experiments along with the experience of millions of Muslims living in established democracies offer hope that working towards democracy in this region, while not an overnight process, is an achievable goal.

Our report details, as was noted, China's serious human rights abuses, from systematic abuses of political and religious freedom to the jailing of dissidents. On an individual level, we have condemned recent political arrests, the slippage that Secretary Powell referred to, the execution of Tibetan Lobsang Dhondup and the continued detentions of Rebiya Kadeer, Jiang Weiping, and others. We are pleased by this weekend's release of Ngawang Sangdrol.

But the reports also notice increased pressure inside of China for political reform. This year, the Bush Administration, for the first time ever, is not only supporting dissidents outside China, we are supporting those Chinese inside China who are trying to advance structural reforms. Again, we will not see change overnight, but over the long term, these processes offer, perhaps, the best hope for a democratic China.

Around the globe, one of our highest priorities is to reshape the incentives for democratization. The President's Millennium Challenge Account, MCA, does just that by creating a new, innovative and accountable framework for how foreign assistance is delivered.

The MCA increases the importance of reporting on human rights and democracy and is yet another example of the practical integration of human rights monitoring and foreign policy implementation. Establishing standards of democratic governance, economic freedom and development objectives for health and education, the MCA will provide a gap -- a vehicle for reducing the gap between human rights, ideals, and the actual practices in, among other regions, Africa. The country reports help us identify those challenges.

Encouraging democracy and human rights is no longer the exclusive purview of the United States. I mentioned earlier the Community of Democracies, which met last November in Seoul. Participants from more than 100 nations affirm democracy as the best weapon to fight terrorism, saying, "Democracy provides a solid foundation for peaceful, thriving societies by empowering people, holding governments more accountable and responsive to the people's needs, and facilitating sustainable economic development."

The proclamation credited democracy for, above all, enhancing respect for protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. One of our goals is to see more nations join that community through diplomacy and by aiding democrats through existing mechanisms and the new MCA.

The reports were delivered to Congress earlier today. They will be posted on the State Department website and be immediately available after this briefing. We appreciate the discussion and debate generated by them and we believe that such discourse can only serve to advance the cause of universal human rights.

I would be happy to take your questions. Let me start on Laos, where we've seen incremental progress on religious freedom. This is something that Ambassador John Hanford, who is our Ambassador for Religious Freedom, has spent a great deal of time on.

We have also seen, obviously, acts that we don't like, acts that you usually see in an authoritarian society. As far as PNTR goes, what we have told them over and over again is you can only increase the chances for PNTR if you loosen up in your society; whereas, if you continue to tighten up in your society, the chances for PNTR will decline.

Let me go to somebody else.

QUESTION: Yes. I'm interested -- you spoke about Central Asia and said that decades of Soviet-style rule will not disappear overnight. What makes you think that decades of Ba'ath Party-style rule in Iraq will disappear overnight, and how does invading Iraq contribute to the kind of atmosphere that makes human rights easy to achieve?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: I think if you look at the nations where this kind of thing has taken place before, if you look at Panama, if you look at Kuwait, if you look at Afghanistan, and you ask the people in those countries, are they better off today than they were before the United States invaded in terms of human rights, I think they would all probably give you a yes answer. And I would expect the same thing will happen in Iraq after the government there is removed.

QUESTION: I'd like to ask you something about China. If, as you and the Secretary, and pretty much everyone else has said, there has been this slippage with the Chinese, why is it that you guys haven't yet made up your mind about a resolution in Geneva?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: I detailed some of the abuses there. You do see numerous, serious abuses, quickness to suppress human rights there. It is a country of particular concern and we have obvious great concerns about Xinjiang.

We did two things last year. We decided that the dialogue that we had with them was going to have to be results-based or it could not continue. And the second I referred to in my statement, where we started programs to try and aid internal development inside of China.

The question is: What is the future of our human rights relationship with China? Is it what happened in 2002, or is it what has happened over the past couple of months -- the slippage that the Secretary referred to? In 2002, we saw more individuals released than ever before. There were four rapporteurs, UN special rapporteurs, the human rights mechanisms invited.

Lodi Gyari was invited to China, the Dalai Lama's brother went -- both for the first time in 20 years. The Commission for International Religious Freedom was invited to China. A year ago they wouldn't even talk to them. And we've also, as I mentioned, been able to start our programs.

Over the past couple of months, as the Secretary said, we've seen a lot of slippage. And I referred to that in my statement. So the question we have not yet figured out is: What is the future? Is 2002 the future or is the last couple of months the future?

QUESTION: Well, then, is it fair to say that as of, say, December 31st, or, you know, early January of this year, you had -- the prevailing feeling was that you would not look to sponsor such a resolution in Geneva, but then as it got closer and you saw this slippage, you are now moving away from the idea that you're not --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: No. We hadn't -- we didn't really go -- hadn't really gone through the arguments at that time, so I can't tell you what people thought. We went through the arguments as we got closer to the time after we had seen the slippage. And this is where we are right now, that we have not yet decided.

QUESTION: And have you gotten -- is there -- have you gotten indications from the Chinese that if you go ahead with this, what progress that you saw last year -- I'm sorry. If you do go ahead with the resolution, that the progress and the resumption of the human rights dialogue from last year would stop, and that the slippage, in your -- from your point view -- I don't think the Chinese would say that -- but from your point of view, the slippage would get worse? Have they given signs like that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: They haven't stated that. I think it's a fair assumption that if we did the resolution -- the question about resolutions is: What's the purpose of a resolution? It's not just to put a resolution on the table, it's to elicit progress in a country whether we do it about Turkmenistan, which we're also involved in, Belarus, whatever.

The question in China is: Is that going to elicit more progress or not? And the second question, as I said to you is: What is the future? And that's what we're wrestling with right now.

Yeah. In the red.

QUESTION: I'm Olga Bakovan (ph), correspondent of Slovak Radio. I look at this report about my country and I compare it with the last year and basically the problem, it seems to me that the problems remain the same: violence and discrimination towards Roma minority, trafficking, domestic violence. How do you see? Did it improved or not?

And then, part b, about Roma. It appeared many times, even in newspapers in America, that there is a problem with the sterilization of Roma women. And I didn't see it in these papers, so can you also comment on the second point of my question?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: I would say, in general, you see a good improvement under Mr. Dzurinda's government in general democratic practices and institutional practices.

I think you always have problems in terms of societal attitudes, and you have that across Central Europe in terms of the Roma. Those attitudes take a while to change. They take a while to change in any country.

On the specific question of the sterilization of Roma, that has been address by us with the Slovaks at the highest levels. We're very, very concerned about it and we think that whether or not it is an ongoing practice, it's an abhorrent practice, even if it was in the past, and there need to be investigations. And if it is currently going on, it needs to be ended. And that's what we have said at the very highest levels to the Slovak Government.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have two questions. First of all, I don't know, I could be wrong, but I don't remember a focus -- not a focus, but even a, you know, kind of mention in such a way of the correlation between national security and human rights. And I was wondering if you could relate that to the current, kind of, war in Iraq, because it does seem as if that's where the mention is being made in terms of countries that use violence or force against its own population is likely to use it against one of its neighbors.

And then, also on trafficking in persons, it seems that there's also an increased focus on trafficking in persons. Do you think that's because you're just becoming more aware of the problem or the problem has grown in the last few years? And if you can talk about some of the countries where you've seen the greatest improvement in that over the last year.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: On trafficking, I think it is a problem that, frankly, was unrecognized. People didn't understand the scale of it or how it was done or where it was done until the mid- to late 1990's. And this was a discussion that the State Department and the Congress had that resulted in an anti-trafficking law where we have to do that report that we put out in June. It'll be forthcoming quite soon. So I think to be honest, it was something that we hadn't paid enough attention to up until that point. We're certainly doing that now.

The one country that I would point to that I think has done a stellar job, started out in Category III. There is Category I, II, and III, III, being the worst. South Korea did an outstanding job. They were horrified at the thought that they were in Category III, especially with Kim Dae Jung as their president, given that he's a longtime human rights activist and a Nobel Prize winner.

And so they, over the last year and half, have taken enormous steps, both in terms of their legal, institutional protections, but also in terms of what they are doing in the field to try and help women and children who are involved in trafficking.

On the national security aspect of human rights, the reason that we state that countries that oppress their people often take it overseas is generally you do not see, in general, you do not see aggressive towards their neighbors democracies. You generally do not see two democracies fighting each other. It is a very rare exception when that happens.

For a number of reasons, you often see dictatorships doing exactly that, partly because they have grander ambitions, partly because they want to distract attention at home for a variety of reasons. So that's part of the connection, we think, that exists. The other part is that we believe, on terrorism in particular, as the Secretary and President have often stated, that in countries where human rights are greatly respected, people in those countries don't necessarily feel frustrated. They feel like they are part of the political system within their country and that's something, as I mentioned in my statement, that we're trying to encourage in a number of countries throughout the Middle East and Central Asia and elsewhere in the Muslim world, as well.

At the back.

QUESTION: Yes, on Latin America. Six out of 18 Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America were termed as having a poor performance in human rights and in what seems to be the worse scenario in many years. Do you have any idea what happened in Latin America in human rights last year?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: Yeah, I would say two things. Number one, this is a region 20 years ago in which very few democracies existed. Today, the people in almost every country in Latin America are choosing their leaders in free and fair elections. What you have not yet seen in most Latin countries is the economic benefits of democracy, and that's part of why you see people in Latin America, I think, beginning to search out different kinds of leaders. That is the institutional part of democracy.

On the human rights side, you can often see a lag between democracy institutionalization and human rights practices. The best example I can think of, which continues to improve, was Peru, where Mr. Toledo came in. There have been elections, not national but other elections there since, and their human rights practices continue to improve. But it has not yet reached the point where we will put them in the exceptionally good category, but they're working very, very hard, I think, to get there and I think they deserve a lot of credit for doing that.

QUESTION: Also in Latin America, in the introduction to the report you say that Colombia has shown some signs of progress, but it seemed that last year there was a lot of killing in Colombia. I mean, there were a lot of civilians targeted by both sides and terrible massacres by the guerrillas.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: I think all those things exist. I think the improvement -- you continue to see improvement by the army in their human rights practices. In terms of collusion between the army and paramilitaries, I think they are beginning to get a handle on that problem.

But I think perhaps most important of all is that President Uribe has been very, very focused on trying to end the war in his country, realizing that the war is at the root of a lot of the country's problems. He is trying to extend government authority into areas where it has not previously existed. And I think that is what I would say has been the main improvement is that that effort to begin negotiations with both the ELN and the AUC to try and improve the situation for human rights in that country.

QUESTION: I have two questions. The first is regarding the information freedom. Do we think that should be included also in the Human Rights Report? Because, for example, China is still does not allow the World Health Organization to send investigation team to Guangdong Province where the starts begin. That's the first question.

And second is we know that a U.S. citizen who practiced Falun Gong was recently sentenced to three years, and according to Chinese reports from Chinese Government, it seems that his case is related to efforts to breaking this information blockage. And do we have any comments on this case?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: Yeah. Number one, we've tried throughout the Human Rights Reports to get at this issue of information freedom, particularly where there is, as there is in some countries, blockage of the Internet, for example. And certainly, on press freedom we address that in all of the reports.

On the case you're referring to, Charles Lee, we obviously condemn that. We're very upset about it, and I and others have addressed that with the Chinese Government. We believe he should be released.

Thank you.


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