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2/29/04 - PROMOTING HUMAN RIGHTS - 2004-03-01

The U.S. State Department’s just released human rights reports, says Secretary of State Colin Powell, focus attention on abuses -- and improvements -- around the world:

“And we hope that they will further the cause of the courageous men and women across the globe who work for human rights and democratic freedoms within their own countries.”

The past year brought some progress toward respect for human rights -- and hope for more. In Afghanistan, a loya jirga adopted a constitution that recognizes fundamental freedoms, including the rights of women. In Iraq, an international coalition removed Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. Now, Iraqis enjoy freedom of speech, assembly, religion, and many other rights. And some, such as Ibrahim Jabar Hassan, a teacher in Nasiriyah, have already had a chance to vote in local elections. “That was our first taste of democracy,” said Mr. Hassan, who is looking forward to eventual national elections.

Elsewhere, the situation is less promising, and in some cases, even bleak. Communist North Korea has one of the world’s most inhumane regimes, where basic freedoms are unheard of and an extensive system of prison camps is maintained. Burma’s extremely poor human rights record got worse in 2003. In Cuba, Fidel Castro’s Communist regime jailed scores of peaceful dissidents. And the government of Zimbabwe continued its repressive campaign to hold on to power.

In China, there was backsliding on key human rights issues. This included arrests of democracy activists, protesting workers, lawyers defending dissidents, and people seeking to use the Internet for free expression of their views. There have also been significant setbacks for human rights in Iran and Turkmenistan, among other countries.

To counter these trends, the U.S. is supporting programs around the world to strengthen the rule of law and promote independent media, religious liberty, and the rights of minorities and women. The U.S. aim, President George W. Bush says, “is a democratic peace, a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman.”