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2011 U.S. Human Rights Reports Chronicle "Momentous Year"

By Jane Morse | Staff Writer | 24 May 2012
Egyptian woman holding up finger and smiling (AP Images)

A woman shows her inked finger after voting in Egypt’s landmark presidential election.

Washington — The year 2011 was “an especially tumultuous and momentous year for everyone involved in the cause of human rights,” according to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“Many of the events that have dominated recent headlines, from the revolutions in the Middle East to reforms in Burma, began with human rights, with the clear call of men and women demanding their universal rights,” she said at a State Department briefing May 24 for the rollout of the 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

In the Middle East and North Africa, for example, citizens demanded universal rights, dignity, greater economic opportunity and increased political participation. “Those demonstrations sent aftershocks rumbling around the world,” according to a State Department fact sheet on the report. In Burma, the government took important steps toward political reform and released more than 200 of its political prisoners.

Michael H. Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said that among the encouraging developments for 2011 were the free elections in Zambia and Tunisia and the Colombian government’s efforts to improve justice in human rights cases.

In Tunisia, citizens participated in transparent and credible elections for a Constituent Assembly, said the State Department fact sheet. That assembly elected a former political prisoner as the country’s interim prime minister.

According to Posner, “disturbing trends” in many countries in 2011 include flawed elections, restrictions on physical and Internet freedom, media censorship and attempts to restrict the activities of civil society groups. “Such restrictions stymie the efforts of citizens to change their own societies peacefully from within,” he said.

Other disturbing trends include an increase in anti-Semitism and continued persecution of religious minorities, including Ahmadis, Baha’is and Tibetan Buddhists. In many countries there was an increase in abuse, discrimination and violence against members of racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, the State Department fact sheet said.

In the 21st century, according to Clinton, “human rights are not only a question of civil and political liberties, it’s about the fundamental question of whether people everywhere have the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.”

To this end, she said, the United States is “supporting efforts around the world to give people a voice in their societies, a stake in their economies, and to support them as they determine for themselves the future of their own lives and the contributions they can make to the future of their countries. We think this is the way, together, we can make human rights a human reality.”

The 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which review human rights conditions in some 200 countries around the world, are now more accessible to the general public and easier to use.

“This year we’ve made the reports easier to read online, easier to track trends across a region, easier to follow the progress of a particular group, easier to find out which governments are or are not living up to their commitments,” said Clinton.

“These reports,” Clinton said, “which the United States government has published for nearly four decades, make clear to governments around the world: We are watching and we are holding you accountable. And they make clear to citizens and activists everywhere: You are not alone. We are standing with you.”

Last year’s reports, according to Posner, were viewed online by more than a million people. In an effort to make the reports even more accessible to a broader spectrum of readers, the State Department has made them shorter and more concise and easier to search, and each country report now has an executive summary, he said.

“The public can share these reports on social media, and so they can have their own conversations about human rights,” Posner said.

See the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011.