March 31, 2003

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices  - 2002
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 31, 2003

Spreading democratic values and respect for human rights around the world is one of the primary ways we have of advancing the national security interests of the United States. The defense of liberty is both an expression of our ideals and a source of strength that we have drawn on throughout our history. Democratic values have also been at the heart of America's most enduring and effective alliances, partnerships which continue to help us meet the challenges of tyranny and deprivation.

The U.S. Constitution aims to "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." We realize that liberty is not a finished product, and that the course set out for us by our Constitution requires vigilance. Our history is a narrative of a nation confronting and overcoming obstacles to freedom, and generations to come will also undoubtedly face the question of how to fulfill the promise of our founding documents.

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices reflect America's diligence in the struggle to expand freedom abroad. Together with past reports, and reports to come, this compendium is a snapshot of the global state of human rights that depicts work in progress and points the way to future tasks. It is a statement of our fundamental belief that human rights are universal; they are indigenous to every corner of the world, in every culture and in every religious tradition.

Human Rights and National Security

Governments that rule by force and use violence against their own people often threaten and intimidate their neighbors. Driven by shaky legitimacy, these regimes rule by iron fist, putting their people and neighbors at the mercy of the cruel logic of repression. In an age when the destructive capacities of brutal regimes exceed national and even regional boundaries, addressing human rights violations - whether episodic or systemic - becomes imperative to the assurance of security throughout the international community. On a smaller scale, governments that breach their constitutional obligations and the rule of law place their societies' well-being at risk in their pursuit of stability.

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices call attention to patterns and instances of violations of basic human rights as recognized in such fundamental documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948. They serve as the starting point - not the end - of U.S. policy to advance human rights around the world. The Reports are one of the most significant tools available to the U.S. Government to help determine foreign policy strategies that promote the development of democratic systems and principles, and remedy abuse and disregard for human rights. As President Bush declared in his January 2003 State of the Union address, "We will not permit the triumph of violence in the affairs of men - free people will set the course of history."

Governments can violate rights and punish people for exercising freedoms, but they cannot extinguish the inherent rights of all human beings. People who dare to dream of freedom are setting the course of history not only in democratic societies, but also in the repressive regimes under which many live.

  • Cuba is a place where human rights are violated every day, but the Varela Project, organized by Oswaldo Pay�, has proven a powerful tool for Cubans to express their yearning for fundamental freedoms. Marta Beatriz Roque's Assembly to Promote Civil Society is providing another avenue for Cubans to express their desires for change. These and other efforts by the opposition movement are incrementally eroding the Cuban regime's grip on power and oppression.
  • In Burma, even after years of on-and-off political arrest, harassment and constant surveillance, Aung San Suu Kyi is still wholly committed to bringing democracy and a humane rule of law to the Burmese people. Her tremendous strength of character stands boldly in the face of the military regime's disregard for human rights and democracy, a disregard that extends to abuses such as extrajudicial killings, rapes, disappearances, forced labor and forced relocations.

Their courage points the way to improving human rights - on paths that are as diverse as the countries where they live. U.S. policy is based on supporting individuals and groups committed to following universally accepted paths to freedom, equal protection, due process and the rule of law.

Promoting democratic governance is and will remain the best way to ensure protection of human rights. The United States recognizes that a world composed of democracies will better protect our long-term national security than a world of authoritarian or chaotic regimes. A democratic form of government fosters the rule of law, open markets, more prosperous economies and better-educated citizens and ultimately a more humane, peaceful and predictable world.

The Year in Review: Human Rights, Democracy and Labor

Institutional changes: In Asia, democratic politics continued to develop in East Timor, with the ratification of a constitution, election of a president, and efforts to establish governance based on the rule of law and human rights protections. Taiwan's strides were also notable, with consolidation and improvement of civil liberties catching up to its free and open electoral system.

The push to meet European Union entry requirements resulted in positive human rights developments in aspirant countries. Turkey passed extensive human rights reform packages that covered a broadening of laws on freedom of speech, political activity and association, and fair trial. At the same time torture, although illegal, was still a serious problem and restrictions on freedom of the press remained.

Other positive developments in Europe included the first general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina to be conducted by local (not international) authorities since the Dayton Peace Accords. Macedonia also reaffirmed the strength of its democracy through peaceful elections while its parliament laid the legal groundwork for improving civil and minority rights by completing nearly all of the constitutional and legislative actions related to the Framework Agreement.

In the Middle East, several positive steps were taken. In May, the first open municipal council elections were held in Bahrain, and in October women joined men in exercising their right to vote for the first time in nearly 30 years to elect a national parliament. Morocco saw its first open elections in September, and in Qatar, a new constitution has been drafted and municipal elections are scheduled for April 2003. Female candidates will participate for the second time.

In Russia, a new Criminal Procedure Code that took effect in July permitted for the first time the application of existing Constitutional provisions that only upon a judicial decision could individuals be arrested, taken into custody or detained. The changes appeared to be having an effect on police, prosecutorial behavior and the judicial system, although there were reports of non-compliance in some regions.

The Chinese also continued to carry out some structural reforms in the areas of the rule of law and democracy. Direct elections at the village level took place in several provinces and pressure to move them to higher levels grew. Economic reform has led to legal reform, and legislatures continued experimenting with public hearings to incorporate public opinion into policy.

Political rights: In 2002 six nations in the western hemisphere - The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Jamaica - held elections for their chief of state or government. The Organization of American States, which adopted a democracy charter in 2001, put its collective commitment into action in 2002 with vigorous efforts to resolve the political crisis in Venezuela.

In Africa, Kenya's free election and peaceful transfer of power in December signaled hope for the consolidation of democratic politics there. A political crisis during the first half of 2002 in Madagascar was eventually resolved, and legislative elections were held. In Swaziland, respect for rights and rule of law took steps backward with a government declaration that it would not abide by court decisions.

In 2002 China continued to commit serious human rights abuses in violation of international human rights instruments and at year's end, a spate of arrests of political dissidents and the imposition of the death sentence on two Tibetans, the continued detentions of Rebiya Kadeer, Wang Youcai, Qin Yongmin and others, and restrictions on religious freedom and repression of some ethnic minorities were particularly troubling.

Zimbabwe's government has used a systematic campaign of violence and intimidation against stated and perceived supporters of the opposition, even to the extent of routinely and publicly denying food to these individuals. The Government manipulated the composition of the courts and repeatedly refused to abide by judicial decisions, which undermined the judiciary.

In Eurasia, several republics of the former Soviet Union resisted positive change. In Turkmenistan the human rights situation deteriorated markedly after an attack on President Niyazov's motorcade in November, leading to serious violations of due process under the law including widespread arrests and forced evictions of suspects' families, use of torture, threats of rape and summary trials. In Kazakhstan the government's poor human rights record worsened, including selective prosecution of opposition leaders and a pattern of media harassment suggesting an attempt to silence media critics. While there were positive steps in the first half of 2002, such as registration of the first human rights NGO and abolition of prior censorship of the media in Uzbekistan, there were also setbacks that are a cause of concern, including at least four deaths in detention due to torture. The Kyrgyz Republic held a regional by-election in October, judged by independent monitoring groups to be marred by irregularities such as multiple voting and lax standards of voting eligibility. Harassment of media and civil society continued and police killed six unarmed protesters.

Pakistan's military regime began the process of restoring elected civilian governance at the national and provincial level in October. Observers deemed the elections to be flawed, but the new government seems reasonably representative.

Internal and other conflicts: Throughout 2002, Sri Lanka made progress in implementing a cease-fire agreement between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil-Eelam (LTTE). Prisoners have been exchanged, roadblocks reduced, internally displaced persons returned, and investigations into abuses by security forces have increased. There were unconfirmed reports that LTTE continued to commit extrajudicial killings, but observers believe the number decreased in 2002. There were also reports that LTTE continued to conscript children.

In Nepal, the Maoist campaign included killings, bombing, torture, forced conscription of children and other violent tactics. Government forces were accused of killing civilians and abusing others suspected of Maoist sympathies.

The war in Sierra Leone was officially declared over in January, and the Revolutionary United Front was disarmed. Remarkably peaceful presidential elections were held in May although there were reports of election irregularities.

Elsewhere in Africa, conflicts continued to fuel human rights abuses. In C�te d'Ivoire, a coup attempt and ensuing civil unrest sparked violations by government and rebel forces. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, major abuses continued. Rwanda withdrew its troops by October, and Uganda only had 1,000 troops left in the country at year's end.

After 27 years, peace came to Angola in February. The former UNITA rebel movement has disarmed and is transitioning into an unarmed political party, and the government - working with the opposition - is beginning to move the country toward new elections. The massive human rights violations of the civil war have come to an end, although an increase of abuses in Cabinda Province is worrisome. The primary focus will now be on the civil and political rights necessary for the conduct of free and fair elections as well as the establishment of the rule of law throughout the country.

Eritrea's record worsened through 2002. However, all recorded Ethiopian prisoners of war (POWs) from the former conflict were released. Ethiopia also released the last of the Eritrean POWs during 2002.

In the Chechnya conflict, Russian forces and Chechen rebels continued to commit serious human rights violations. Government forces committed extrajudicial killings and at times used indiscriminate force, which resulted in civilian casualties. A number of government "cleansing" operations involved extensive abuses of civilians. Chechen rebels increased their killings of civilian officials and militia associated with the Russian-appointed Chechen administration. On October 23, approximately 41 members of Chechen terrorist groups took more than 750 persons hostage in a Moscow theater. The terrorists killed one hostage; another 128 hostages died in the rescue effort.

Integrity of the person: Colombia showed signs of progress, with generally good elections and a declaration by paramilitary forces that they would negotiate peace in 2003. But problems remain serious, particularly extrajudicial killings. The Dominican Republic made strides in reducing the number of extrajudicial killings. The police chief was replaced and prosecutions - in civilian courts - of human rights offenders increased.

Not surprisingly, many human rights abuses occurred in nations that have non-democratic forms of government. Testimony to the U.S. Congress in mid-2002 revealed systematic and egregious violations of human rights in North Korea, including torture, summary executions and the use of prison labor under incredibly inhumane conditions.

Iraq's Republican Guard and other members of the security apparatus committed widespread and systematic human rights abuses including killings, torture, disappearances, rapes and imprisonment of Iraqi political opposition and ethnic and religious minorities.

In Cambodia, incidents of extrajudicial killings began to increase as the country prepares for 2003 elections amidst a culture of impunity and with serious shortcomings in the government's investigations.

Freedom of the press: Harassment and vandalism were common tools used to threaten press freedom in 2002. Legal harassment was also common: In the Kyrgyz Republic, opposition newspapers were periodically refused printing services by the government-owned press and journalists faced libel suits filed by government officials. Similar bureaucratic tactics were used to pressure NGOs and opposition political organizations. On the other hand, the Kyrgyz government registered the Media Support Center, which is intended to provide an independent printing facility and training for journalists. In Kazakhstan, violence and harassment of journalists continued, and selective prosecutions of opposition figures chilled the climate of free speech. In Russia, direct and indirect government actions further weakened the autonomy of the electronic media, which is the public's primary source of information. Controls on reporting of the conflict in Chechnya and terrorist incidents elsewhere in Russia raised concerns about the ability of the press and public to have adequate access to information about government actions. In Ukraine, the killing of prominent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze remained unsolved. Although an investigation officially continued, there was a lack of transparency and the authorities refused to cooperate with foreign investigators whom they had invited to assist with the investigation.

The closing down of pro-reform publications and jailing of journalists, editors and publishers in Iran continued. A dissident academic was sentenced to death for questioning the Islamic system, a decision that sparked widespread student demonstrations and finally resulted in the government granting a retrial. When a poll found that the overwhelming majority of Iranians supported dialogue with the United States and almost half agreed with U.S. policy vis-�-vis Iran, the regime closed the polling institutes and arrested the pollsters.

Religious freedom: These issues are discussed in depth in the annual Report on International Religious Freedom, published in October 2002, but the Country Reports also highlight important developments.

In Afghanistan there was dramatic improvement over the past year, but respect for human rights varied widely in different parts of the country. The reappearance of the Taliban's Department of Vice and Virtue, in the form of the new authority's Department of Accountability and Religious Affairs, bears monitoring. Likewise, reprisals against ethnic Pashtuns - albeit with a limited religious dimension - occurred in areas controlled by some local Northern Alliance commanders.

Other internal conflicts have a more pronounced religious dimension. Saudi Arabia continued to deny religious freedom to non-Muslims by prohibiting them from engaging in public worship. In some cases, non-Muslim individuals and private gatherings of worshippers were subject to harassment, leading to arrest, detainment, torture and deportation. Shi'a Muslims faced widespread discrimination, including imprisonment and torture.

Sectarian violence erupted in India's Gujarat Province in February, where as many as 2,000 people - mostly Muslims - died. Elections in Jammu and Kashmir, and in Gujarat, were held successfully despite widespread terrorist violence and the new state government has proposed steps to ease repression and reduce alienation. Throughout India however, light punishment for instigators of violence and perpetrators of abuse remained a stumbling block to further improvement.

In Vietnam, religious (primarily Protestant) and ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands and northwest provinces, which have often been brought to heel by government authorities in Hanoi, reportedly faced intensified repression, including closing of churches and forced renunciations of faith.

Women/Children: In Afghanistan, human rights improvements included women and ethnic minorities serving in the government and an estimated one million girls back in school. In Burma on the other hand, the State Department documented stories of rape of ethnic minority women by the Burmese military that were similar to NGO reports on the issue suggesting that rape continued to be a widespread practice. Also, the conscription of child soldiers in Burma remained a serious problem.

Child labor in the informal sector, especially children forced into the commercial sex industry, continued to be a serious problem in Cambodia, along with trafficking in women and children. In C�te d'Ivoire, child labor remained an issue of concern, and the recruitment of child soldiers in the armed civil conflict was cause for concern. Rebel groups in particular used child soldiers.

Child soldiers were used in other conflicts, including in Colombia, where both paramilitaries and guerrillas recruited children, and there is evidence that guerrillas forcibly pressed children into their forces. In Burundi, the government stated that it would not recruit child soldiers in its war against rebel forces. However, there are unconfirmed reports that children continue to serve in armed forces performing occasional tasks such as carrying weapons and supplies.

Trafficking: In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon acknowledged trafficking in persons as problems in their countries and are taking steps to address it by curbing abuses of foreign workers, regulating camel jockeys as applicable, and combating commercial sexual exploitation.

Awareness about trafficking in persons throughout Africa grew. More African countries participated in time-bound programs designed to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. In addition, many of these cash-strapped governments are increasingly working on creative programs to prevent trafficking and protect trafficking victims. Public awareness was raised at local government levels in many African countries, particularly in West Africa, about traditional practices that are being exploited by traffickers. In Tanzania, children were mobilized to help identify traffickers and other children particularly vulnerable to being trafficked. In Southern Africa, some governments began devoting more attention to the differences between trafficking, smuggling and seasonal labor migration.

In East Asia and Pacific countries, governments in general paid more attention to the problem of trafficking in persons. Indonesia passed two national plans aimed at reducing trafficking in women and children, and police action against traffickers increased. Thailand increased its cooperation with neighboring countries in addressing cross-border trafficking in persons.

In South Asia, governments continued to demonstrate serious collaboration with NGOs to provide protection, legal and medical services, and skills training to trafficking victims. This cooperative effort also extends to law enforcement, with police jointly conducting raids with NGOs.

The push for stronger anti-Trafficking in Persons (TIP) legislation was enhanced in the past year in many European countries. For example, the governments of Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria all passed specific articles on trafficking in their criminal codes. Russia, the Kyrgyz Republic and Kazakhstan continued work on comprehensive drafts that should be finalized and forwarded to their respective parliaments soon. Localized referral systems between NGOs and police and other officials were improved and strengthened in Ukraine and UN-administered Kosovo. Serbia and Montenegro, in addition to their multi-agency national anti-trafficking teams, provided a mobile trafficking unit that brought assistance to victims throughout the country. Croatia began implementation of their National Action Plan, establishing shelters and a hotline, and drafting a law making trafficking in persons a crime.

International cooperation on investigations occurred only sporadically, with Italy and Albania showing concrete results in their joint operations.

Ratification of the UN Protocol on Trafficking was also a focus throughout the world, with several countries depositing their ratification and preparing domestic implementation.

Corruption continued to be a major impediment to successful anti-trafficking efforts. Open police corruption, harassment of returning victims and inertia on reported cases showed the public and civil society that many governments still are not serious about combating trafficking.

Worker rights: In Venezuela, the conflict between the government and labor unions intensified throughout the year. The International Labor Organization censured the government's refusal to recognize the election of Carlos Ortega as the president of the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, citing government interference in independent trade union elections.

Progress was made in Bahrain, where legal protections for the right to organize and collectively bargain were established in new legislation. The government resolved the problem of more than 1,000 "bidoon," long-term residents of the country who were formerly stateless, by issuing them appropriate documents.

Corporate social responsibility: Partnerships among governments, business, labor unions and civil society to promote human rights and sustainable development flourished. The UN Global Compact and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) worked to promote voluntary principles and guidelines that advance corporate responsibility. During the year, positive examples of partnerships and dialogues between the public and private sectors emerged.

Responding to conditions in the agricultural sector, an innovative framework agreement was drafted between a multinational corporation and regional labor unions to address worker rights and corporate responsibility. A June 2002 Roundtable dialogue on the management of supply chains was featured in a report on the annual meeting of National Contact Points for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights gained new participants. ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and the Government of Norway joined the multi-stakeholder dialogue.

Secretary of State Colin Powell presented the Secretary of State's 2002 annual Award for Corporate Excellence at a ceremony that recognized two U.S. firms for their outstanding corporate citizenship and exemplary international business practices by promoting healthcare in China and poverty alleviation programs in Egypt.

NOTE: In many cases, the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices state that a country "generally respects" the rights of its citizens. The phrase "generally respects" is used because the protection and promotion of human rights is a dynamic endeavor; it cannot accurately be stated that any government fully respects these rights all the time without qualification, in even the best of circumstances. Accordingly, "generally respects" is the standard phrase used to describe all countries that attempt to protect human rights in the fullest sense, and is thus the highest level of respect for human rights assigned by this report.

In some instances, this year's Country Reports use the word "Islamist," which should be interpreted by readers as a Muslim who supports Islamic values and beliefs as the basis for political and social life.