U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has sent Congress the Department’s assessment of human rights around the world during 2011. The reports, required by law, evaluate the human rights performance of the governments of every country and a number of territories, and lawmakers as well as authorities in the executive branch use the reports to help shape our nation’s foreign policies.
2011 saw some positive trends, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab Spring, held successful, transparent elections for a Constituent Assembly, which in turn elected a former political prisoner as the country’s interim president. In Burma, the government took important steps toward political reform and released more than 200 political prisoners. And in Colombia, the government has been working to improve justice in human rights cases.
But problems persist in many countries and overall there are a number of disturbing trends. Flawed elections, restrictions on the freedom of expression, assembly, or association, censorship or intimidation of the media and attempts to control the activities of civil society and non-governmental groups indicate erosion of respect for human rights in some countries.
As in previous years, human rights conditions in Cuba are a particular concern. Most reported abuses were official acts committed at the direction of a government dominated by the Communist Party, so the perpetrators enjoyed impunity for their actions. Citizens are harassed and intimidated to keep them from speaking out on the island nation’s political conditions. There was an increase in the number of political activists detained for speaking out. The number of short-term detentions in December 2011 rose to the highest level in 30 years.
The Cuban government also placed severe limitations on freedom of speech and press, restricted freedom of movement and limited freedom of religion. Worker rights were restricted as well, particularly the freedom to form independent unions.
The United States is committed to the work of advancing universal rights, building the partnerships that will move us forward, helping every man, woman, and child live up to their potential. In cases of nations such as Cuba, we are also committed to speaking out for those unable to do so for themselves.