The United States State Department released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in late February. After examining data from the past year, the U.S. named Syria as the country with the worst human rights violation in 2013 for its chemical weapons attack in August 2013.
In the introduction to the report, Secretary of State John Kerry specifically names Syria, Russia, China, Ukraine, Cuba, Egypt and South Sudan as nations in which extreme human rights violations are taking place.
Kerry also reflects on the fact that this year is the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Kerry notes the commitment of not only the State Department and U.S. government agencies to improving human rights, but also “U.S. citizens, international nongovernmental organizations, foreign governments, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, scholars and others.”
Furthermore, Kerry notes, “As Secretary of State, I meet with many brave individuals who risk their lives daily to advance human rights, in spite of the threat of violence and government attempts to silence their voice.”
There has been a noticeable reaction to the release of the Human Rights Report, especially the emphasis on human rights violations in Syria. The chemical attack on August 21, 2013 resulted in the deaths of over 1,400 people, including about 400 children. These figures are a product of U.S. intelligence, but the British-run Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported data that suggested the death toll may have actually been under 1,000.
The great deal of violence in Syria appears to have become intensified n 2012, after a number of groups boycotted the May 2012 parliamentary elections, sparking a civil war. Syrian President Bashar Asad’s authoritarian regime has used force to put down protests, as well as air and ground military assaults on a wide of range of areas including cities and residential areas.
In terms of the number of the abuses in the country, the reports cites rape and domestic violence against women, genital mutilation, reproductive rights, child abuse, forced and early marriage, sexual exploitation of children, human trafficking, discrimination against persons with disabilities, discrimination against national, racial and ethnic minorities as well as abuses against people because of sexual orientation or gender. Activists also believe that there has been discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS, but that these cases may not be reported.
The Human Rights Report also seems to foreshadow the recent crisis that has broken out in Ukraine, due to the people’s desire to have more of a say in their government and refusal to live under a government so strongly influenced by Russia.
In 2013, the Ukrainian government used violence against journalists and other members of the media. Furthermore, the governments of both countries have recently started implementing a harsher punishment for any peaceful protests against human rights violations.
More recently, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was forced to flee Kiev, the capital, and was reported to have taken refuge at a Kremlin sanatorium located outside of Moscow.
Finally, Kerry highlighted the connection between issues of national security and human rights, citing that, “The places where we face some of the greatest national security challenges today are also places where governments deny basic human rights to their nations’ people, and that is no coincidence.”
– Julie Guacci