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US charges Russia, Iran with serious rights abuses in annual report

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo delivers remarks on the release of the 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, in the Press Briefing Room, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 13, 2019. (Michael Gross/State Department)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States has charged Russia and Iran with committing a range of serious human rights abuses both domestically and abroad in an annual State Department report.

In its Country Reports On Human Rights Practices For 2018, the State Department said Russian authorities had committed or been implicated in “severe” human rights abuses at home and in foreign countries, citing in particular Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and eastern Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who presented the report in Washington on March 13, highlighted the abuses, also saying that China was “in a league of its own when it comes to human rights violations.”

Within Russia, the report said abuses included extrajudicial killings of members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community in Chechnya and forced disappearances, arbitrary or unjust arrests, and the “severe repression” of freedom of expression and media.

Externally, it said Russia played “a significant military role in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine” and added that its forces continue to occupy Crimea, which Russian annexed in 2014.

The report accused Iran of rights’ abuses that included executions for crimes not deemed “most serious” by international standards, unlawful and arbitrary killings, forced disappearances, and torture by state agents.

Pompeo said the Iranian government had killed more than 20 protesters and arbitrarily arrested thousands of others simply for demonstrating for better rights.

He added that those actions continue “a pattern of cruelty the regime has inflicted on the Iranian people for the last four decades.”

It added that Iran had jailed hundreds of political prisoners, restricted freedom of expression, the media, censored and blocked the Internet, and criminalized libel, among other things.

Abroad, the report said Iran had contributed to rights abuses in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. It was accused of rights violations by giving military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and by supporting Shi’a militia groups in Iraq, and the Huthi rebels in Yemen.

Pompeo’s comments echoed those from the report, which said the Chinese government had in the last year intensified a campaign of detaining members of Muslim minority groups in the western Xinjiang region and forcing them into reeducation camps.

It said between 800,000 and 2 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims had been caught up in the campaign.

Torture, Arbitrary Arrests

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the report said abuses included torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings, and restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the Internet.

It added that in Afghanistan there was “widespread disregard for the rule of law” and that those accused of committing rights abuses often enjoy official impunity as the state does not effectively prosecute officials or those in the security forces.

The report also highlighted the major attacks by armed insurgent groups on civilians and “targeted assassinations by armed insurgent groups of persons affiliated with the government,” citing the Taliban and other extremist groups.

It noted that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) attributed about “65 percent of civilian casualties during the first nine months of the year (1,743 deaths and some 3,500 injured)” to the insurgent groups.

The report also blamed the Pakistani government for discrimination against religious minorities and attacks against journalists and media organizations.

In Belarus, the state was accused of torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, bad prison conditions, unlawful interference in citizens’ private matters, and “undue restrictions” on freedom of expression.

Turkmenistan was criticized for “alleged torture,” arbitrary arrests and detentions, involuntary confinement, imprisonment of political prisoners, severe corruption, lack of free and fair elections, and restrictions on freedom of religion, assembly, and movement.

The report cited Uzbekistan for torture, arbitrary arrests, and abuse of detainees by the security forces. The government was also charged with holding political prisoners, restricting freedom of speech, the media and the Internet, among other things.

In Ukraine, the report noted rights failures that included enforced disappearance, civilian casualties, torture, and other abuses in the conflict in the eastern Donbas region.

It also cited the government’s failure to prosecute officials accused of criminal activities, a failure to investigate alleged human rights abuses that included torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and other violations by security forces.

The document was the 43rd report on human rights issued by the State Department.