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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 for 2003

Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC
February 25, 2004

Secretary Powell's Opening Remarks
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Throughout your time as Secretary of State, your words have been very supportive and effective in our fight to expand human rights and freedoms around the world.

In my travels, and in meetings I've had here in Washington, I often hear first hand from champions of human rights and democracy a great appreciation for what the Secretary and the President have said. Those dissidents and those people who fight for liberty overseas know that they have allies at the highest levels here in the United States. Words are important, and we have close to two million of them in today's Human Rights Report. But for many years, even as its quality improved, the use of the words in the annual Human Rights Reports, some believed, ended on the day they were published. That is no longer the case.

More and more over the past few years, the Human Rights Reports are a basis for the policy process: For congressional certifications; for diplomatic demarches; for long-range policy direction; and in designing aid programs, policy makers working to improve human rights are increasingly turning to this volume to close gaps between principles and practices.

These reports are key to our advancing freedom around the world. The link between reporting and policy has never been greater. And as we move forward with some of the initiatives mentioned by the Secretary -- The Millennium Challenge Account, the Middle East Partnership Initiative among them -- this volume promises to become even more important.

I should mention I will be up here again in about two months presenting a kind of sequel volume, which is called Supporting Human Rights And Democracy. Some of you may remember, we put out the first edition last year, and whereas today's volume reports on problems around the world, that volume will report on how we're trying to fix those problems.

Writing and assembling today's volume is a huge endeavor undertaken initially by U.S. diplomats abroad. They seek out, often under trying and even dangerous conditions, the truth about repression and freedom overseas.

Within my Bureau of Human Rights, Democracy and Labor, I owe a special thanks to Cynthia Bunton who runs the Office of Country Reports. She heads a dedicated and very, very bright team committed to preserving and presenting the facts as accurately and objectively as possible.

The report also contains information obtained from domestic and international human rights groups, academics, jurists, international organizations and domestic and international media, many of whom also work to protect and report on human rights under very threatening conditions.

The reports were delivered to Congress earlier today. They'll be posted on our W eb site after this briefing.As I've learned f rom authoritarians, Democrats and dissidents overseas, this is the most widely read of all the reports issued by the State Department. We welcome the debate generated by them, believing that such discourse can only serve to advance the cause of universal human rights.

I'd be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary --


QUESTION: The report has some negative things to say about China. The UN Commission on Human Rights meets next month. Are you planning a China resolution?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: We're heading in that direction. We are still talking to China, but we have, over the past year, not had much progress in our own dialogue. And that has come against a backdrop of continued arrests within China, but now arrests of people taking advantage of the political, the structural space that has been opened up in China these past couple of years. So that's where we are at the moment.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Yes. In your report, you are saying that Turkey has passed extensive human rights reform packages. And a day or so ago, Dr. Genefke, a Danish neurologist and veteran human rights specialist, testified to the human -- Congressional Human Rights Caucus, and she says that torture is still going on.

When you issue your report, is there anything -- I realize it can't be as extensive as a Web site -- but is it ongoing? Do you change --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: Do we change it day by day?

QUESTION: Well, or month by month?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: No. We -- the reports cover the period of January 1 through December 31, 2003, this year's reports.

You noted what we said in terms of legislation passed on human rights issues, including torture in Turkey. You should also note that the report contains multiple references to the continued practice of torture in Turkey. And when we talked about the legislation passing, we said that it was clear that much of it had not yet been implemented.

We think it's very good, when a country starts these kind of institutional changes, to get at these kind of problems. But we think it's even better when they start to get eradicated, and that, obviously, there are still ongoing issues in Turkey about torture, as we've said in the report.


QUESTION: In some of the countries like Egypt, you know, you note that these organiza-- that the government has created a kind of organization to investigate abuses, human rights, and you said it was reported as largely window dressing.

Do you think that these organizations being created are -- in some of these Arab governments -- are window dressing, or do you see a trend among governments to kind of really get at the roots of some of the practices that you've been criticizing over the years?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: Well, let me take this one as an example. There were a lot of commentators in Egypt who said, when the announcement was made that there was going to be a human rights council, “that's just window dressing.”

Given the appointment of some people with high integrity, starting with Boutros-Ghali as the Chair of the Commission and others on that Commission, a lot of people have very high hopes that it won't just be window dressing. But as, you know, as I was just pointing out, these kind of institutional changes need to actually affect people who are walking the streets, people who are in prison cells, people who are getting dragged in by the police, or they are just form and not substance. So in this case, I think people have higher hopes today than they did three months ago, but I think it remains to be proven that the Commission will actually be able to achieve its work.

QUESTION: If I could just follow up on Saudi Arabia as another example.


QUESTION: I mean, also there was a commission created to investigate abuses against women and minorities and -- in Saudi Arabia where you also say that there is a lot of serious abuses of human rights, do you see the government committed to putting an end to these abuses with its --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: I'll tell you a story. I went through, many years ago – I was with a democracy-building organization -- I went through the Gulf, and I stopped in Oman and a couple of other countries. And they were kind of moving ahead with their changes in their countries. In Oman they had created a prototype legislature. And I said to them, "What do the Saudis think of what you're doing?" And they said, "They don't like it." This was in the mid-1990s.

I was through again a year, last summer, in Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, and they continue their democratic development on the institutional changes, much of which we've noted in this report. I said, "What do the Saudis think of what you're doing?" They said, "They're really, really interested in it." And I said, "Why the difference since I last came through?" And they said, "The difference is you were the country most affected by September 11, but the Saudis were the country second-most affected." And they said it will take time, but they said there are many elements in the Saudi royal family that would like to move ahead.

Since I was told that, you have seen a number of steps. You referred to some of them. The Saudis have gone after trafficking more. They've begun to issue identity cards to Saudi women. They welcome the UN Special rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, welcomed a delegation from Human Rights Watch. We believe it would be good if they could make another trip.

Crown Prince Abdallah announced the outlines of reform initiatives for the Arab world. They approved the first press body. There was an increase in press freedom, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Have all of these made Saudi Arabia a democracy? No, they have not. Are all of these effective moves? Have they really changed the situation on the ground in Saudi Arabia? Not yet. But you do see a lot more in Saudi Arabia over the last two years, I would contend, than you have probably seen in the previous 10 or 20.

It remains to be seen what will happen as a result of that, but clearly there are people -- and I've met many of them; I was in Saudi Arabia this past summer -- who understand that Saudi Arabia needs to become more participatory and more open on human rights issues. We'll see what happens.

At the back, sir.

QUESTION: Sir, torture and human rights violations are -- can take different forms, and in Israel, the Palestinians, their daily life is exposed to new form of torture. The small kids in the second grades, third grade, they're trying to find holes in the wall of separation. They walk few hours to get to their school. Woman are giving birth at the checkpoints. Hundreds of houses of civilians are destroyed.

Could you please elaborate on the United States' efforts in order to put an end to this kind of torture?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: Well, I think -- you know, I think everything you have outlined is covered in the Human Rights Reports, and the President and the Secretary of State have all made comments about this -- the Secretary, just yesterday, in Al Hurra about the wall.

These are issues that we're always addressing, but clearly, the majority of these issues are going to be solved when there is peace between a Palestinian state and in Israel. And until you have that, the majority of these human rights violations, on both sides I should add, are going to continue.


QUESTION: On Cuba you mentioned that the human rights situation has worse dramatically, and this is in spite of all the initiatives that the President had, all those efforts for the Projecta Varela and nothing seems to have improved. Is there any thought of adding more pressure or doing some changes? Because you don't -- apparently, there is no improvement registered here.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: No, you -- clearly, you've seen the situation turn downwards when you arrested -- What you began to see a year ago, was -- almost more than a year ago now -- was an increase in the space available to civil society in Cuba, nascent civil society, to begin to operate.

What you saw almost a year ago today was a complete shutdown of that. 75 people were arrested. There was an article about two weeks ago in The Washington Post talking about the conditions under which they're being held.

What has also changed over the past two or three years, however, is the international tenor of the discussion about Cuba and the international approach to Cuba. For many years, if you were in Latin America or you were in Europe, the story on Cuba was: “America has sanctions on Cuba, and there are some human rights violations in Cuba.”

Now the story is: “There are a lot of human rights violations in Cuba.” This is partly because a lot of these new democracies, like the Czech Republic, really explain from their own experience what this is like. But you're also beginning to see, for example, in Latin America at the Commission on Human Rights, it's no longer the United States that proposes the resolution on Cuba. It's new Latin American democracies which say, “We want a better neighborhood, and we don't want this kind of dictatorship in this new democratic neighborhood.”

You begin to hear more and more from Western and also Eastern Europe: “This is not about the U.S. embargo; this is about Cuba being just another dictatorship. And just as we don't like dictatorships here, and we've freed many of them in the 1990s, we think Cubans ought to be free to express their point of view and elect their own government.”

So, yeah, I would also -- I would contend that the Cuban Government is getting this a little bit of reaction to the changing international climate.

But, clearly, when more and more people and more and more countries are saying -- are changing the terms of the debate and saying, “Cuba is just a dictatorship; we want to see it free,” that's a big step towards making it free.

QUESTION: As a follow-up, please, just -- you mentioned this Commission on Human Rights, here is in the report saying there is all those countries that are there. Is there anything new this report has written about this possibility of making the kind of caucus of countries that promotes democracy?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: It's something that we did at the United Nations. We had a first meeting of kind of a democracy caucus, and we want -- we would like to see that continue.

But more importantly, Chile, which is the head of a group called, "The Community of Democracies," that brings together the hundred-and-some democracies around the world today, I think, is going to convene that meeting in Geneva so we can come together as a group of democracies from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, et cetera, to talk about exactly these kinds of issues.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Yes, now I would like to ask you about Slovakia. The report about Slovakia shows problems mainly in one area. It's Roma, sterilizations, skinhead attacks, police abuse or brutality towards Roma.

So my question: One is, this looks like the problem remained. I check it with the last report. How would you evaluate effort of government, Slovak Government, to solve these problems?

And then, very currently, the government had deployed police and army against rioting by Roma, protesting government welfare cuts. Can you also comment on this please?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: Sure. For those of you who don't know, this week the Slovak Government deployed about 2,000 troops to Central and Eastern Slovakia in response to civil disorder by Roma protesting government welfare cuts. The deployment was largely peaceful.

More importantly, I think President Dzurinda, who, I think, is very dedicated to finding solutions to these issues, visited the area this week. And if you don't know, the Slovak cabinet today adopted a package of measures to try and address their concerns. We -- this issue did come up a year ago and clearly it's not an issue that has been solved. But I think it's also clear that it's an issue the Slovak Government is working to solve.


QUESTION: About Iran.


QUESTION: Some reports suggest that the regime has started to pursue mental torture instead of physical torture, especially in the case of political prisoners and the students, in particular, what's called in Iran as “white torture.” How would the U.S. react to this kind of torture if it's widely practiced by the regime?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: I think to any kind of torture, we react poorly, and we don't want to see that go on. But you -- the report covers a lot of these issues in Iran, and I would refer you to it.

QUESTION: Can I, can I follow up on that? According to the report, Iran has been in violation of many -- like all kinds of human rights -- and the report has worsened from last year. What's your overall reaction?

Is the United States going to ask international pressure maybe on some of these violations, especially the war prisoners, the journalists in jail, the political prisoners?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: We have been -- this is a case a bit like Cuba, where we have been talking to and working with other countries, many of whom have closer relations with Iran than we do, but asking them to pursue these issues with the Iranians.

It's another issue that we've tried to pursue, both in the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights. Canada proposed the resolution on Iran at the -- condemning these kinds of practices -- on Iran at the General Assembly last fall. And it's our hope that they'll do that again at the upcoming Commission. But, clearly, it's an issue where we alone can solve it or can't bring democracy. Clearly, it's an issue where the international community is now engaged in trying to improve the situation of human rights and democracy in Iran. And clearly, as you have seen from recent events, that's very much needed.


QUESTION: Two questions, one on Cambodia and one on Vietnam.

There has been a spate of killings of opposition leaders, labor leaders, in Cambodia. Could you evaluate the situation for us there? And what is the United States doing to put pressure on the Hun Sen government?

And on Vietnam, is Vietnam going to be designated a CPC this year?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: On the second one, you'll have to ask John Hanford because he does CPCs. John is our Ambassador for International Religious Freedom. I think he presented his report right before Christmas.

On Cambodia, you have a situation there where they have been unable to form a government; where this alliance of democrats -- two parties, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party, have come together and they are negotiating with Hun Sen.

But it has been quite a bit of time since the elections occurred. There were some disputes surrounding those elections. And the political forces in the country have not yet been able to come together to form a government.

Into the middle of this has been thrown the assassinations of two labor leaders, which clearly doesn't improve the prospects for people coming together as they should be in Cambodia to be able to form a government. And it also -- it leads one to question the efficacy of the Cambodian judicial system that they appear to be unable to deal with this. So then you get into questions about how are they going to deal with war crimes in Cambodia.

But clearly those two assassinations were obviously arbitrary killings and don't improve the situation at all in Cambodia, and we would like to see it get much, much better. And we would like to see people with democratic tendencies be able to take part in governing the country.

QUESTION: But just to go back to Vietnam very quickly --


QUESTION: How would you evaluate the situation on human rights in Vietnam? I mean, religious freedom is one aspect of the human rights basket, and I was just wondering if you think that Vietnam's record last year has been bad enough that it should be designated?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: The CPC is strictly for religious freedom --

QUESTION: Is on religious freedom. I understand.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: And again, I would direct you to John.

What do I think of their general human rights situation? I think it's very poor, as we describe it in the report. Obviously, citizens have no right to change their governments. There's torture. There's arbitrary arrests, et cetera. There's very little freedom of assembly, very little freedom of the press.

So it's a very, very sorry human rights situation. But it's something that both our Embassy, me, and others, are constantly addressing with the Vietnamese. But they have not yet chosen to do what other countries are doing right now to become -- to be more open -- to be more open economically they are doing to a degree -- but to be more open politically, which is what is expected in today's world. It was not expected in the world of 40 years ago. They are not doing that right now.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Secretary Powell mentioned that many of these countries hold back some of the most basic rights of its citizens. Georgia's new President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is in town today meeting with the President, has been accused by many human rights groups of, for example, not allowing freedom of assembly. He also was criticized for passing through constitutional amendments without public debate. They're saying that these are violations of basic human rights.

Yet, in your report, you don't mention any of these and you said it was looked at objectively. Shouldn't, at least, because --


QUESTION: I'm sorry?


QUESTION: According to this report, they've occurred since Mr. Saakashvili has taken over.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: Which was after December 31st, which is the cutoff date for the reports.

QUESTION: But what about before then? Shouldn't have there been some mention of some of these violations, even before Mr. Saakashvili came into office? But there are no mentions in this report about either the pros or the cons of what's happening. You are mentioning the pros of the Georgian Government.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: No, we were very -- we describe the situation, first of all, we describe the situation in Georgia as being poor. That's not a good grade, number one.

Number two, we describe the situation that existed throughout the year leading up to the elections and what we saw in Georgia that we thought was poor.

On these issues, this is something that Mr. Saakashvili, as a dedicated democrat, which I think he is, is going to address. You often see people coming into power and they have a bit of a shakedown cruise. And I think -- you know, I think some of these criticisms are justified and some are not.

But clearly, when you're new in government and you're trying to figure this through, this kind of thing can happen. If these are happening in a year, I think we'd be very, very worried.

Okay? Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Can you give more details about Colombian human rights situation?



ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: Yeah. Again, this is a country we described as poor. You have an impunity for high-ranking military. You have a lot of terrorists attacking civilians. You have massacres. You have torture. You have child soldiers.

But you also, you will note in this year's report, we said there had been -- and we had not said this before -- significant improvements. Why did we say that? We said that because we think kidnappings are a violation of human rights; that's called arbitrary detention. They are down 39 percent. Forced displacements -- another violation of human rights -- down almost 50 percent. Murders down 20 percent.

These are -- you know, these are all areas where things had been getting worse and worse and worse for many years in Colombia, and in this case, the Uribe government -- last year we described, as I said before, institutional changes that they were undertaking to try and get at these problems. This year, those institutional changes produced results.

So that's why we said on some -- that I just outlined to you -- on some of these issues there had been significant improvements. Clearly, the situation remains poor and there remains many, many, many areas that need improvement, as I just outlined. But you really hadn't seen this kind of decline on those kinds of issues in a long time in Colombia. And where we see things that are bad, we describe it. But where we see things that are getting better, I think we also should describe that.

Yes, ma'am. Yeah.

QUESTION: On North Korea, have you seen any flexibility in the leadership to improve the human rights condition? And also, is that -- the human rights problem -- the last problem you're going to solve during the whole nuclear talk package?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: In terms of problems that we're going to solve during these talks, I'll leave that to others.

This is an issue that is being addressed during those talks. And clearly, the situation there for human rights is very, very poor. You have widespread prison camps, 150,000 to 200,000 people in prison, a lot of torture, et cetera. But it's an issue -- an issue, again, we're trying to address multilaterally, just as we're trying to address the nuclear issue multilaterally, and we'll be working with others to try and solve it. But we're certainly talking to the North Koreans about it and not letting it slide.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Coming to the Balkans.


QUESTION: Can you tell us what are the lingering problems, I mean, the major problems in the Balkans, and specifically with Serbia-Montenegro and Kosovo. Serbia is up for certification next month, and does it qualify for this certification?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: That's something we'll be discussing and we won't know until we make the certification.

What do I think of the problems? I think there are a lot of lingering ethnic issues that are left over from the war. I think there are a lot of issues, still, of people missing from the war -- many, many thousands of people and that's something that the ICMP, this International Commission on Missing Persons, is trying to address.

You clearly also have problems with crime, as you saw in Serbia this year -- of gangs and organized crime within Serbia that does not lend itself to good governance.

The situation is clearly better than it was five or six or seven or ten years ago. But it's also a situation where these new democracies are having to solve problems that many other democracies around the world have.

QUESTION: Can you just say a couple of words for Kosovo?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: Yeah, this is, I mean, you -- again, you have many of the same problems of people still missing, of ethnic tensions, both on the Serbian and the Kosovar side that need to be worked through, and that's something that the international community is working quite closely with them on.

One or two more.


QUESTION: Sir, do you know how large is the Greek community in Albania and if you are satisfied in the way that it has been treated by the Albanian authorities from the human rights point of view?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: I think Albania is a country where you saw a lot of conflict a couple of years ago. It's clearly going through a lot of problems. On this issue, I think that you can see it in the report how we have referred to it, and I would refer you to the report.

One more.

QUESTION: Do you know how large is the Greek community in Albania?


QUESTION: How large is the Greek minority in Albania?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: Offhand, I could not tell you that, no. I could not tell you that offhand. But if you want, I'll get back to you on it. Do you know?


QUESTION: Yes, of course, I would like to know.


QUESTION: Yes, of course, I would like to know. It's a question (inaudible) pending on since last year, but there is no answer so far.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: So you're interested in knowing the size of the Greek community in Albania?

QUESTION: That's exactly.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: I guess we'll try and get back to you on that. She'll find out for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: We should probably make this the last one.


QUESTION: Can you take a look at the Central Asian republics?


QUESTION: Any trend? They all have similar political histories, and Azerbaijan as well?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CRANER: Let me take the Central Asians -- Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, et cetera. This is something I've talked about in the two years I've been here. I came -- I delivered the first of these reports not long after 9/11.

I think in -- you can perceive some positive trends in the area. For example, the situation of civil society, other than in Turkmenistan, civil society has developed quite well over the last two years, certainly better than it had for many years before that.

In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, you see authorities addressing prison reform, the very, very sorry state of prisons. In some of these countries, particularly I think in Kyrgyzstan, you see three independent newspapers and radio stations being opened. I was, in November, at the opening of a printing press, the first independent printing press in Kyrgyzstan that we had funded, and Foreign Minister Aitmatov, who is here today, is actually on the board of that printing press.

You are beginning to see convictions of officials for torture of prisoners in both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. You are beginning to see freedom of assembly being granted in some of these countries. And in Kazakhstan, and to an extent in Kyrgyzstan, I think there is less religious discrimination.

But clearly, as you see in the reports, there are many, many problems. And it was -- the upcoming elections in all these countries were the subject of much discussion in a trip that Beth Jones and I took in November through the region. And by elections, I don't just mean casting ballots on election day; I mean election laws, the formation of political parties, that they are allowed to operate, media being allowed to operate, independent NGOs being given more freedom to operate.

So I think there are some good trends in some countries, but I think there's clearly still an enormous amount to do, and we'll be discussing it with those governments.

Thank you all very much.



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