This year's edition of the Department of State's annual Country Reports On Human Rights Practices says 2008 was characterized by 3 trends: a growing world-wide demand for greater personal and political freedom, governmental efforts to push back on those freedoms, and further confirmation that human rights flourish best in participatory democracies with vibrant civil societies.
Although each country must be judged separately, said Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Karen Stewart, certain trends, such as the resistance of governments to demands for greater personal and political freedoms, cut across all lines:
A disturbing number of countries imposed burdensome, restrictive, or repressive laws and regulations against NGOs and the media, including the Internet. Many courageous human rights defenders who peacefully pressed for their own rights and those of their fellow countrymen and women were harassed, threatened, arrested and imprisoned, killed, or were subjected to violent extrajudicial means of reprisal.
Assistant Secretary Stewart noted that human rights abuses are a symptom of deeper dysfunction within political systems, and that the worst abuses seem to occur in countries where rulers are not accountable to the people, or where the government has collapsed altogether. Conversely, human rights are most protected in healthy political systems that enjoyed a free and fair electoral process, where government institutions are representative, accountable and transparent, and responsive to the will and needs of the people.
The annual Human Rights Reports are mandated by the U.S. Congress. They provide a snapshot on human rights conditions in countries around the globe and serve as a tool to help focus attention on human rights abuses by governments around the world, and to encourage adherence to internationally-accepted human rights standards and norms. When introducing the Country Reports On Human Rights Practices, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the promotion of human rights is an essential piece of our foreign policy.
"We will pursue greater respect for human rights as we engage other nations and people around the world," said Secretary of State Clinton:
"I am looking for results. I am looking for changes that actually improve the lives of the greatest number of people."