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US: Syria leads human rights violations in 2013

Palestinian residents of Syria’s Yarmouk refugee camp wait in line to receive food aid on Jan. 31, 2014

Source : Al Jazeera and AP / 28 Feb 2014

A chemical-weapon attack in Syria last summer that the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people was the world's worst human rights violation of 2013, the Obama administration concluded Thursday.

The report, an annual survey by the State Department of global human rights abuses, also foreshadowed the unrest that has gripped Ukraine in recent weeks and toppled its government.

The survey singled out many of the usual suspects: Iran, for manipulation of elections and civil liberties restrictions; North Korea, for rampant reports of extrajudicial killings, detentions, and torture; and Belarus, for beatings of protesters and a lack of checks and balances by its authoritarian government.

“The fundamental struggle for dignity…is a driving force in society,” said Secretary of State John Kerry. “This year’s report, we think is especially timely. It comes on the heels of one of the most momentous years for human rights in modern history.”

In a press conference, Kerry called out Syria, Venezuela, North Korea and Uganda among a handful of other countries for their extensive human rights violations in the past year, but the department said the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb was "one of many horrors in a civil war filled with countless crimes against humanity, from the torture and murder of prisoners to the targeting of civilians with barrel bombs and Scud missiles, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives."

"The tragedy that has befallen the Syrian people stands apart in its scope and human cost," the report concluded.

At least 1,429 civilians, including over 400 children, were killed in the chemical-weapons attack in the midst of Syria’s on-going civil war, which the report called one of the “most egregious human rights problems” of 2013.

Kidnappings, targeted killings of journalists, protesters, torture of women and children and deplorable prison conditions are among a litany of major issues in Syria, according to the report.

The report also highlighted government crackdowns on peaceful protests in Ukraine and Russia's refusal to punish human rights abusers during 2013.

Those findings showed the brewing unrest in Ukraine over the past year that erupted this month, forcing President Viktor Yanukovich to flee the capital, Kiev. On Thursday, Russian news agencies reported Yanukovich was staying at a Kremlin sanatorium, outside Moscow, for protection.

In Ukraine, according to the report, parliamentary elections did not meet international standards for fairness or transparency, and security forces beat protesters with batons and employed other forms of force at a peaceful Nov. 30 demonstration against the government in Kiev's main square.

But the report said the most egregious abuse in Ukraine last year was the government's crackdown on media, including violence against journalists. It criticized Yanukovich's government for increasing pressure on civil-society activists and non-government organizations.

The report said Ukrainian security forces beat detainees, maintained unhealthy prisons, fostered corruption in the courts and across the government, and harassed or otherwise discriminated against ethnic minorities and gay people.

Kerry also called out Uganda over its recently enacted anti-gay law, and the more than 80 countries that have criminalized homosexuality.

Kerry called the laws an "affront" to human dignity and said "The United States will continue to stand up for equal rights for our LGBT brothers and sisters."

In nearly every area of the globe — from hazardous labor conditions in Bangladesh, where a factory collapse killed more than 1,100 workers, to Egypt, where a government crackdown on political dissent killed 600 protesters and resulted in the imprisonment of journalists, including some of Al Jazeera’s own — the department's survey found human rights abuses.

While the United States was not listed in the report, rights group Human Rights Watch recently took the country to task in its own report for overly harsh prison sentences, racial disparities in criminal justice, a need for reform in the nation's drug policy, issues related to LGBT and women’s rights, domestic surveillance and more.


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