The State Department Wednesday accused Russia of major human rights violations and rebuked China for failing to rectify “widespread and welldocumented human rights abuses.”
Russia’s intervention in Chechnya has caused a “major humanitarian and human rights crisis,” according to the State Department’s annual human rights report, which was released Wednesday. Prison conditions throughout Russia are appalling, police abuse widespread and new presidential decrees permit arbitrary arrest, illegal search, seizure and detention, the report notes.
China, meanwhile, was lumped under the heading of “authoritarian regimes,” along with Iran, Iraq, Burma, North Korea and Cuba.
Malawi, Nepal, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil were praised for successful elections, and the State Department registered “dramatic” progress toward solving violent and intractable problems in South Africa, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Sri Lanka and El Salvador. But it also recorded continuing “ethnic cleansing” by the Bosnian Serbs and nightmarish violence in Africa.
The State Department’s criticism of Russia and China, two former enemies who until recently seemed heading for much warmer ties with Washington, is perhaps the most politically sensitive aspect of the report.
The main criticism of Russia centered on the fighting in Chechnya. No estimates of the civilian casualties in the seven weeks of fighting have been have released, but it is widely believed that thousands of noncombatants have died. Up to 400,000 Chechens have been made refugees by the fighting, and few will find their homes intact should they ever return.
In a press conference on the report, Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck praised one of the most forceful critics of the war, Russia’s human rights commissioner, Sergei Kovalev, a former political prisoner.
The report’s assertion that there had been no known political killings in Russia last year, however, would be challenged by many Russian observers. At least one wellpublicized murder - of Dmitri Kholodov, a Russian investigative reporter killed by a booby-trapped bomb last Oct. 17 - is thought to have been politically inspired.
In China, the report noted, widespread arrests of political dissidents continue. Abuses of human right are particularly prevalent in Tibet and areas peopled by ethnic minorities. The allegations of major abuse in China are discomfiting to the administration in view of its decision last year to renew China’s Most Favored Nation trade status.
At that time, U.S. businessmen and Chinese officials seem to have convinced the administration that greater contact with the outside world would alleviate internal abuse. Instead, with political uncertainty growing as the country’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping grows more frail, the Chinese government seems to have decided continued tight political controls offer a more prudent course.
The State Department also documented the growing violence just off the southern tip of Europe, in Algeria. Thousands of people have died there in the conflict between a military-dominated government and a ruthless fundamentalist underground. Abuses were rife on both sides, the report concluded.
One of the bright spots in the report was Haiti. There, the State Department noted, brutality by police and military sharply declined after the ouster of the military junta last September. But, it adds, politicallyinspired violence has now been replaced by a crime wave.
On the other side of the picture, Rwanda was “one of the swiftest, large-scale genocides in modern history,” the report said. Approximately half a million people, mostly from the Tutsi tribe, are estimated to have died there in the space of a few months last spring.
The report praised Mexico’s presidential election last August, but asserted that the government had used widespread brutality in quelling the uprising in Chiapas a year ago.
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