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US handslaps Kuwait on rights Poll free, fair

WASHINGTON, Feb 28, (Agencies): A chemical weapons attack in Syria last summer that the US says killed more than 1,400 people was the world’s worst human rights violation of 2013, the Obama administration concluded Thursday. On Kuwait, the State Department’s annual review on global human rights said, the National Assembly elections in July 27, 2013, which were boycotted by some opposition groups, were generally free and fair. Although the authorities have maintained an effective control over the security forces, they have occasionally committed human rights abuses. The main human rights problems included limitations on citizens’ right to change their government; restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, especially among foreign workers and the stateless Arabs (the so-called bedoun); trafficking in persons within the foreign worker population, especially in the domestic and unskilled service sectors; and limitations on workers’ rights.

Other human rights violations included reports of securitymen abusing prisoners and protestors; arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial deportation of foreign workers; limitations on the freedoms of the press, association, and religion; and restrictions on freedom of movement for certain groups, including foreign workers and bedoun. This is in addition to persistent domestic violence against women, and social and legal discrimination against women, bedoun and foreigners. The government has also taken steps to prosecute and punish officials who have committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity was sometimes a problem in corruption cases.  

The State Department, said the Aug 21 chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburbs in Syria was “one of many horrors in a civil war filled with countless crimes against humanity,” including the torture and murder of prisoners, and the targeting of civilians with barrel bombs and Scud missiles. “The tragedy that has befallen the Syrian people stands apart in its scope and human cost,” according to the report. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war. The chemical weapons attack, which Washington blames on the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, killed at least 1,429 people, including more than 400 children, according to the US. The US cites intelligence reports for those totals, but has not provided specifics on how they were obtained.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from a network of anti-regime activists in Syria, has reported a far lower death toll of below 1,000. The report also highlighted government crackdowns on peaceful protests in Ukraine and Russia’s refusal to punish human rights abusers during 2013. The unrest in Ukraine over the past year erupted this month, forcing President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the capital, Kiev. On Thursday, Russian news agencies reported Yanukovych was staying at a Kremlin sanatorium, outside Moscow, for protection.

In Ukraine, according to the US report, parliamentary elections did not meet international standards for fairness or transparency, and security forces beat protesters with batons and other forms of force at a peaceful Nov. 30 demonstration against the government at 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 Yanukovych’s government for increasing pressure on civil society activists and nongovernment 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.

Secretary of State John Kerry described Ukraine as just one example of a nation where overbearing governments and corruption have met a sharp public backlash and demands for democracy. He said Venezuela, where anti-government protests this month have left 16 dead, is another. “The struggle for rights and dignity couldn’t be more relevant to what we are seeing transpire across the globe,” Kerry told reporters. “The places where we face some of the greatest national security challenges today are also places where governments deny basic human rights to their nations’ people, and that is no coincidence.” He added: “We have seen how national dialogue and democratic progress can make countries more stable and make them stronger partners for peace and prosperity.” In Egypt, where the government was overthrown for the second time in three years, the State Department criticized security forces for failing to respect assembly and religious rights, and for using excessive force.

The report concluded that neither former President Mohammed Morsi nor the interim government of Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi had done a good job in upholding human rights. Assistant Secretary of State Uzra Zeya, who oversaw the survey, cited “persistent concerns and deficits” about both. “These concerns certainly continue,” Zeya said. Zeya also said the US has “seen little meaningful improvement” in Iran since the June election of President Hassan Rouhani, who is widely seen as a more moderate leader in the Islamic republic’s cleric-run government. Kerry also criticized Iran, along with Russia, Nigeria, Uganda and as many as 80 nations worldwide where gay people face discriminatory laws and violence because of their sexual orientation. The State Department noted some positive reforms in Myanmar and China and other parts of Asia in its report but said that serious abuses and severe restrictions on basic freedoms persisted.

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