WASHINGTON, D.C., MAR. 9, 2001 (Zenit.org).- The United States recently published its annual reviews for the year 2000 in the area of human rights and drugs. The first report, issued Feb. 26 by the State Department´s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, was the latest edition in a series that began in 1977 with the first of Country Reports on human rights.

Since then the scope of the reports has widened and in 1998 Congress stipulated that an annual report should also be published on the state of religious freedom in the world.

In its review of the situation last year the State Department pointed out a number of positive elements: the vote in Yugoslavia that removed Slobodan Milosevic from office; progress in Nigeria; a peace accord signed between Ethiopia and Eritrea; and the election of opposition party candidate Vicente Fox as president of Mexico.

There were some negative trends however. The State Department singled out China for a worsening of its already poor human rights record. Burma and North Korea were also criticized for the suppression of dissent. In Afghanistan "the Taliban continued to be a major violator of human rights," according to the report. Other countries mentioned as particularly repressive were Cuba, Belarus and Turkmenistan.

In the area of religious freedom the State Department referred to last September´s annual report on this matter and noted that there was still repression and discrimination in every region of the world. The most severe violations occurred in Burma, China, Iran, Iraq and Sudan.

A more positive development was noted in the protection of children. More than 50 countries ratified the International Labor Organization´s Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor (Convention 182), the fastest approval for any convention in the group´s 81-year history.

In the field of trafficking in human beings, the State Department observed that it is "a rapidly growing global problem [that] affects countries and families on every continent." Women and children are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. This abuse has grown significantly in recent years and is one of the leading sources of revenue for international criminal organizations ­- in part because it is low-risk and high-profit, observed the report. The number of people affected is difficult to calculate, and reliable estimates "range from 700,000 to 2 million persons trafficked globally each year."

Details on some countries

In its detailed examination of each country the State Department accused China of "numerous serious abuses." The report stated that there had been an intensification of repression of religion and that thousands of unregistered religious institutions had been closed or destroyed. In the case of the Falun Gong movement, hundreds of its leaders were imprisoned and thousands of followers are in detention or were sentenced to "re-education camps" or incarcerated in mental institutions.

In the case of Vietnam the report affirmed that its "human rights record remained poor," despite some improvements. It said Vietnam continued to repress basic political and religious freedoms, and its judiciary is not independent. According to the State Department the government "significantly restricts freedom of speech, the press, assembly and association."

Cuba was also singled out for strong criticism and characterized as having a "poor" human rights record. The report noted that fundamental civil and political rights are not observed and that prison conditions are very bad. In the area of religion the authorities did allow two new priests to enter the country, as professors in a seminary, and another two were authorized to replace two priests whose visas were not renewed. However, the report observed that the applications of many priests and religious workers remained pending, and some visas were issued for only three to six months.

The report also noted human rights faults in countries it considers to be U.S. allies. In Colombia, where the American government has authorized a package of $1.3 billion to fight drug trafficking, the report observed that many have criticized Bogota for its lack of effort in combating abuses committed by paramilitary groups.

The report also stated that the armed forces and the police committed serious violations of human rights, and that the government in general had a poor record in this field.

The State Department also criticized some aspects of the Israeli government´s treatment of minority groups. The report affirmed that excessive violence was used by the police to repress protests, and also said that on several occasions the police failed to protect Arab lives and property from attacks by Jewish citizens.

As well the document noted that little progress was made in reducing legal and social discrimination against Israel´s Christian, Muslim and Druze citizens, who constitute just over 20% of the population.

Reaction to the report

Some countries did not take kindly to the report. China and Vietnam accused the United States of interfering in their internal affairs. China even released a report of its own on the state of human rights in the United States, in which it criticized, among other things, the treatment of racial minorities and the number of gun-related assaults.

In reply, a March 5 editorial in The Washington Post commented that "almost all the sources for China´s exposé are American." It continued: "When Chinese citizens can publicly deplore their own problems, their government´s criticism of others will carry more weight."

The war against drugs

The second report issued by the State Department came March 1 when the annual drug certification review was published. President George W. Bush declared that Mexico, Colombia and 18 other drug-producing countries are cooperating in the effort to suppress drugs, thus enabling government aid to continue to these countries. Only Burma and Afghanistan were declared to be uncooperative and thus ineligible for any aid programs.

The report declared that the year´s most noteworthy accomplishment was to keep the total Andean coca crop from expanding significantly. Dramatic reductions in two major coca-growing countries, Peru and Bolivia, were offset by an 11% increase in cultivation in Colombia. Another major achievement noted was the virtual elimination of opium poppy from Pakistan.

Past reaction to this kind of report by the United States has been hostile. The New York Times noted March 2 that Mexican President Fox "calls the process a sham."

But Rand Beers, chief of the State Department´s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau, defended certification. "Prior to the March 1 deadline for certification each year, we have seen countries introducing legislation, passing laws, eradicating drug crops and capturing elusive drug kingpins," he said, according to the March 2 Los Angeles Times.

Although these U.S. reports reflect one nation´s point of view, they nevertheless contain a wealth of useful information for people and groups active in these fields.