In its Human Rights Report released February 25th, the U.S. Department of State notes positive trends in South Asia with successful elections in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Nonetheless, the report also observes that South and Central Asia experienced "significant attacks on basic rights, including the freedoms of expression, religion, and association" during 2008.
According to the report, human rights in Afghanistan have improved significantly since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. However, Afghanistan's record remained poor due to weak central government institutions and a deadly insurgency. The Taliban, Al-Qaida, and other extremist groups continued attacks against Afghan government officials, security forces, non-governmental organizations and other personnel, and unarmed civilians. There were continued reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings, torture, and poor prison conditions. Government repression and armed groups prevented the media from operating freely.
In Bangladesh, levels of violence declined markedly and the Caretaker government oversaw successful elections, but the government's human rights record remained a matter of serious concern. The state of emergency, lifted on December 17, 2008, curtailed many fundamental rights. Extrajudicial killings, custodial deaths, arbitrary detentions and the harassment of journalists decreased.
Despite reports of voting irregularities and political violence, Nepal's national elections were considered by observers to reflect the will of the people. Violence by the Maoist, Maoist-affilated groups and other, often ethnically-based, armed groups continued. In Sri Lanka, the democratically elected government's respect for human rights declined as armed conflict escalated the country's 25-year civil war. The government failed to investigate and prosecute security forces for human rights violations.
Pakistan returned to civilian democratic rule during 2008. Opposition parties prevailed in the February parliamentary elections and formed a coalition government. A number of positive steps were taken but the human rights situation remained poor. Military operations in the country's northwest killed approximately 1,150 civilians; militant attacks in that region killed another 825 civilians. Sectarian violence across the country killed an estimated 1,125 people. Suicide bombers killed more than 970. Ongoing battles with militants left approximately 200,000 persons displaced at the end of 2008.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the promotion of human rights is essential to U.S. foreign policy. The United States is mindful of its own human rights performance as it continues to work with the governments and the peoples of South Asia and Central Asia to support every person's right to freedom and dignity.