Last year saw a global “backsliding” of human rights conditions, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Monday.
His department released the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which documents human rights practices in nearly 200 countries.
“Some of the reports highlight record violations and abuses that are appalling in their scale and severity,” Blinken wrote in the report’s preface.
During a press conference Monday, he told reporters about specific countries that had especially troubling records last year.
Following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s morality police last year, the country initiated a brutal and violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, contributing to the country’s declining record on human rights over the past year.
The State Department notes that security forces killed more than 500 people and arrested more than 19,000 protesters — with some awaiting the death penalty.
Recently, more than 100 people in Iran were arrested in connection to the poisoning of thousands of school girls, which activists claim were to oppose girls’ education and stifle their participation in protests.
Part of the government’s campaign to quash dissent was to periodically disrupt the internet and communications online.
The Taliban’s move to restrict women and children from receiving an education has been “relentless,” the State Department said. Barring women who work at NGOs from the workplace also “imperils tens of millions of Afghans” who rely on humanitarian aid for their livelihood.
“No country can achieve peace and prosperity when half its population is cut off from society and the economy,” Blinken said.
The report details how Myanmar’s military junta has continued to brutalize citizens since the Feb. 2021 military coup. Nearly 3,000 people have been killed while 17,000 have been detained. The junta also executed four pro-democracy leaders last year, despite widespread international condemnation.
In March 2022, Blinken formally said that the military has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya — a stateless, majority Muslim ethnic minority group.
Blinken said China’s ongoing crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang qualifies as “genocide and crimes against humanity.” He also cited the crackdown on basic rights in Hong Kong and the targeting of protesters on China’s mainland as concerning.
Widespread protests late last year criticized the government’s strict COVID-19 controls, leading to reports that authorities detained protesters.
Courts in the Caribbean nation “have issued draconian jail sentences for hundreds of people for protesting for their rights,” Blinken said.
Over a year after country-wide protests demanded a change in living conditions, at least 904 protesters had been prosecuted, according to the State Department. Several, including children, were charged with crimes like assault and sedition, and at least 171 were sentenced to an average of over 10 years in prison.
While human rights conditions have improved since Ethiopia’s government and rebel forces from the Tigray region signed a ceasefire agreement in November, Blinken said it was also important to acknowledge the atrocities committed by all sides during the two-year conflict.
Blinken said he concluded that Ethiopian and Eritrean troops as well as rebel forces committed war crimes, including murder, sexual violence, deportation, and ethnic cleansing. He said communities were targeted during the war based on their ethnicity.
Since the peace agreement was put in place, “fighting has stopped, humanitarian assistance is flowing, services are being restored,” Blinken said.
The View From China
China has often accused the U.S. of imposing “double standards” when attempting to hold other countries accountable for democratic backsliding.
In a recently published report from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs titled “US Hegemony and its Perils,” officials accused the U.S. of acting boldly to interfere in the “internal affairs” of other countries under the guise of “democracy, freedom, and human rights.”
“It has taken a selective approach to international law and rules, utilizing or discarding them as it sees fit, and has sought to impose rules that serve its own interests in the name of upholding a ‘rules-based international order,’” the report says.
The ministry also recently published a report on drug usage in the U.S., where officials noted that 12% of drug users come from the country.
“They pushed for the social acceptance of cannabis abuse on the grounds of human rights and liberty, and called for its legalization,” the report said.