US pans ‘brutality’ of Islamic militants in rights report
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US pans ‘brutality’ of Islamic militants in rights report

Iran and Cuba take spotlight in annual human rights abuses overview put out by State Department

Islamic State fighters in a video produced by the group (YouTube screen capture/VICE News)
Islamic State fighters in a video produced by the group (YouTube screen capture/VICE News)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States denounced the “brutality” of Islamic militants Thursday and highlighted a litany of abuses in Iran and Cuba as it unveiled an annual assessment of human rights around the world.

“No development has been more disturbing than the rise of groups such as Daesh,” Secretary of State John Kerry said, referring to the self-proclaimed Islamic State group, as he launched the 2014 report at the State Department.

Even though the report focuses “on the behavior of governments -– which bear responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in their territories –- the year 2014 will be remembered as much for atrocities committed by non-state actors,” the report says.

In a written preface, Kerry said violent jihadist groups had “made it clear that not only do they have zero regard for human rights, they have zero regard for human life, period.”

He noted that “every week brings new examples of just how far the evil of these groups reaches,” cataloging beheadings, people being burned alive, girls being sold into slavery and civilians being “widely and indiscriminately” executed.

The annual country-by-country index, which was delayed by several months this year, gives a stark assessment of the state of human rights in every country around the world — except back home in the United States.

But Kerry said there was nothing “sanctimonious” and “zero arrogance” in the report, adding “we couldn’t help but have humility when we have seen what we have seen in the last year in terms of racial discord and unrest.”

“Every country, including the United States has room to improve,” he said, “and the path to global respect always begins at home.”

Assistant Secretary Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski called 2014 a “tough year for human rights,” listing countries from Africa to the Middle East, eastern Europe, Asia and South America where basic freedoms have been rolled back.

In a break with the past, the 2014 report highlighted the rise of groups such as the Islamic State, along with other established terror organizations like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, its sister branch in the Maghreb and Boko Haram in Nigeria, saying the “brutality of these actors is one of the notable trends” of 2014.

It also turned a spotlight on some countries seen as serial offenders in human rights abuses, including those with whom Washington is seeking to improve ties, like Cuba and Iran.

On the eve of new negotiations on a nuclear deal between Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, the State Department warned: “Iran continued to severely restrict civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, speech, religion and press.”

It pointed to “politically motivated violence and repression” in the country and abuses such as “disappearances, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

And only a day after high-level talks with Chinese officials in Washington, the State Department blasted “repression and coercion by the Chinese government” in 2014 which it said “continued to be routine.”

Highlighting censorship and tight restrictions on freedoms of expression, religion and association particularly in Tibet and for the Uighur people in Xinjiang, it noted that “citizens lacked the ability to change their government and had limited forms of redress against official abuse.”

It also took to task Cuba, just as the US is poised to restore diplomatic ties with the communist-run Caribbean island frozen for half a century.

Cuban authorities “reportedly used threats, physical assault, intimidation” among other methods to halt peaceful assembly and carried out some 9,000 arbitrary detentions — the highest number over the past five years.

Another trend noted in the report was the role of social networks and new technology “in combating as well as carrying out human rights violations,” the report said.

Authoritarian governments overtly sought to crack down on Internet freedoms, with 41 countries seeking to pass laws to punish or restrict online speech.

But at the same time, technology such as satellite imagery, videos and crowd sourcing is becoming a vital tool in documenting human rights abuses in places were it can be hard to get access.

“The message at the heart of these reports is that countries do best when their citizens fully enjoy the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled,” Kerry said.

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