Human-rights violations rising in several countries, State Department says

Human-rights violations rising in several countries, State Department says

The last two years have been miserable for basic human rights in several countries around the world, according to a new report by the U.S. State Department.

China, Iran, and Russia, which U.S. officials frequently call out as human-rights abusers, got notably worse. But some U.S. allies, including Israel and Ukraine, were cited for increased reports of human-rights violations, particularly in the treatment of prisoners. 

Some of the worst abuses cited in the “Human Rights Report” were performed by Russian troops in Ukraine. 

“Russian forces employ violence against civilians as a deliberate tool of warfare,” the report states.

Their practices include mass surveillance of individuals and the use of “filtration” operations in occupied areas, defined as “a process used to seek to identify possible affiliation with or support for the Ukrainian armed forces or authorities and to collect information regarding residents in occupied territory.”

Journalists, public officials, humanitarian volunteers, teachers, and even priests are arbitrarily detained; many vanish or are baldly killed. The text cites a March 2023 report that documented 77 “summary executions of civilians by Russia’s forces during arbitrary detention between February 2022 and May 2023, as well as the death of one detainee due to torture, inhuman detention conditions, and denial of necessary medical care.” 

That is in addition to 996 cases of detention between February and July 2022 that resulted in 80 deaths “with signs of violence.”

The total number of detentions going back to 2014 is in the tens of thousands, according to the report, which separates detentions from abductions, which are also very common in occupied areas.

“Ukraine’s national police registered more than 29,000 missing persons reports since Russia launched its full-scale invasion,” the report says. 

The report says the Kremlin intends to violate one of the key tenets of the Geneva Convention by pressing Ukrainians in occupied territories into the Russian military to fight their countrymen. This comes after years of forced conscription in Crimea, where as many as 60,000 Crimean residents were forced to serve in the Russian military, the report says, citing another source. 

Russia has also forcibly deported some 6,000 Ukrainian children into Russia, a violation of international human rights law, the report notes. 

But the war, now in its third year, has not been favorable for human rights in non-occupied Ukraine, either. 

“There were also significant human rights issues involving Ukrainian government officials, although not comparable to the scope of Russia’s abuses,” the report notes.

These include reports of cruel and unusual punishment, arbitrary arrests, and restrictions on media.

“Some of these human rights issues stemmed from martial law, which continued to curtail democratic freedoms, including freedom of movement, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly, and legal protections.”

The report doesn’t let the Ukrainian government off the hook, saying it “often did not take adequate steps to identify and punish officials who may have committed abuses.”

In other places Russian forces have been active, such as Niger, human rights also continued to backslide. 

“The military council took steps to enhance some civil liberties, including freedom of assembly, by permitting demonstrations that had been prohibited under the Bazoum administration, but prohibited all political party activities,” the report said.

Iran, an ever-closer ally of Russia, launched a crackdown on dissidents across the country.

“A total of 798 citizens were executed during the year, marking a 37 percent increase from 2022,” the report says, noting the citizens were primarily protestors and dissidents. 

Arrests also increased, and many of those who were released “were later rearrested. Restrictions on religious freedom [also] intensified during the year, particularly against members of the Baha’i community, who were arrested and sentenced in large numbers.”

In Hong Kong, the human-rights situation continued to deteriorate following China’s crackdown in 2020. But these abuses were much less severe than reports emerging from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, according to the State Department.

“Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary arrest and detention; serious problems regarding the independence of the judiciary; political prisoners,” the report said. 

China’s mistreatment of ethnic minorities in western China also continued.

“There were multiple reports from Uyghur family members who discovered their relatives died while in internment camps or within weeks of their release from causes related to their detention,” it reads.

The report also describes allegations of Israeli forces commiting serious human-rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza, including arbitrary killings, enforced disappearances, torture, restrictions on the media and persecution of journalists, and “conflict-related sexual violence or punishment.” 

But it points out that Palestinians in these places face the same treatment from Hamas. 

“There were no legal or independent institutions capable of holding Hamas in Gaza accountable for acts of terror, and impunity was widespread. Several militant groups with access to heavy weaponry, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, also operated with impunity in and from Gaza.”

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