State department highlights its own human rights failings

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The US State Department issued its annual report detailing human rights shortcomings around the world yesterday - and for the first time referred to its own failings in that field.

As usual, the study focuses on foreign countries, highlighting a familiar list of transgressors, headed by North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe, and Burma as well as China, where harassment and harsh treatment of people seen as threats to the government increased in 2005.

But after massive international criticism of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and other secret CIA-run detention centres, and the US practice of "extraordinary rendition" of terror suspects, the State Department has had little choice but to turn the spotlight - however briefly - closer to home.

The US, it noted, had found that "its own journey towards liberty and justice for all has been long and difficult" and was still "far from complete". The report also cited widespread abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, both client states of the US.

The most striking section deals with China, whose human rights record is described as "poor". Censorship of the press, radio, television and the internet had grown last year, as had the suppression - "at times violent" - of protests by those attempting to secure redress of grievances.

Russia too is censured for the increasing "erosion of the accountability of government leaders to the people". Just four months before the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, hosts the G8 summit in St Petersburg, the State Department singles out continuing corruption, the selective use of the law as a political weapon by the authorities and the political pressures on the judiciary.

Another target is the United Arab Emirates, at the centre of the controversy over the planned takeover of US port management operations by a Dubai company. The UAE, says the report, has no democratic institutions and no general elections. It also curtails personal liberties, as well as freedom of speech and assembly.

Pakistan, billed as a key US ally in the war on terror, also comes in for strong criticism. Its security forces routinely carried out unauthorised killings and indulged in torture and rape, the State Department said.