USIA - Text: Introduction -- 1997 Human Rights Report, 98-01-30
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TEXT: INTRODUCTION -- 1997 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT
30 January 1998
(Human rights and prosperity go hand-in-hand) (6550)
WASHINGTON -- Improved human rights conditions in countries like Poland,
Costa Rica, the Philippines and Botswana "demonstrate that the roads to
prosperity and democracy are one and the same," the State Department said
in its annual report to Congress on international human rights.
Released January 30, the report affirms that the 1948 Universal Declaration
of Human Rights remains "a universal yardstick for measuring our progress
and showing what remains to be done."
It also challenges the often-heard argument that economic development must
precede democratization, and observes that authoritarian regimes can only
offer "short-term stability ... purchased at the price of repression."
"These governments lack the ingredients for continued success.... This
involves the freedoms proclaimed in the Declaration, including political
and economic pluralism, a free press, freedom of association, free and fair
elections, and the rule of law," says the report.
The 1997 overview cites limited progress in China in areas such as legal
reform, but also reports continued abuses in the form of "torture and
mistreatment of prisoners, forced confessions, arbitrary arrest, and
lengthy incommunicado detention," among other serious human rights
The list of repressive regimes that came under sharp criticism also include
those in Burma, Nigeria, Libya and Cuba.
Burmese security forces "continued to commit extrajudicial killings,
beatings and rape"; Nigeria maintained restrictions on basic freedoms and
made "no meaningful progress toward democracy"; Libya's "aging dictatorship"
survived another year "through intimidation and the denial of basic
rights"; and Syria made "scant progress" in opening up its autocratic
In Cuba, the government's totalitarian structure remained unchanged, with
the police using excessive force "occasionally resulting in deaths," and
citizens denied basic rights such as freedom of speech, the press, assembly,
association and the right to privacy, the State Department said.
Following is the text of the introduction to the 1997 report:
INTRODUCTION TO THE 1997 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT
I. The Universality of Basic Freedoms
In 1948, in the aftermath of the deadliest war in human history and in the
first chill of a new Cold War, delegates to the U.N. Commission on Human
Rights carefully crafted the language of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights -- the first international agreement on the rights of humankind.
Working under the leadership of the head of the United States delegation,
Eleanor Roosevelt, they came from all continents, representing a broad
spectrum of cultures. The document proclaims the "inherent dignity
and...equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family."
The enduring strength of the Declaration is its universality. Its core
freedoms are the entitlement of all people, not just some groups or
cultures. They are not a new invention. Sophocles wrote about them 2,500
years ago when he had Antigone declare that there were ethical laws higher
than the laws of Theban kings. The Chinese delegation at the time of the
drafting of the Declaration pointed out that Confucius articulated these
values in ancient China. These rights begin, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, in
the "world of individual persons...the places where every man, woman, and
child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without
On Human Rights Day, December 10, 1997, the international community began a
year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the
Universal Declaration by the General Assembly of the United Nations without
a single dissenting vote. In the following half century the Declaration's
principles have entered the consciousness of people around the world,
providing inspiration for laws, constitutions, and numerous efforts to
safeguard basic liberties. They have provided a universal yardstick for
measuring our progress and showing what remains to be done.
Although the world has changed much in the past 50 years, the Declaration's
universal principles remain fully valid. The Cold War is history and
communism has been discredited, but threats to freedom and human rights
persist. As we saw this year in sectarian and ethnic violence in many
places around the globe, people everywhere remain capable of dehumanizing
others while leaders continue to exploit this human failing for their own
ends. Democracy was betrayed by violence in Cambodia, despite the
international community's strong involvement. Political opposition and
individuals belonging to ethnic and religious minorities still face state-
sanctioned discrimination and murder in too many parts of the world. The
universality of the Declaration's principles requires that we "expand the
circle of full human dignity to all people," as First Lady Hillary Rodham
Clinton stated in her speech at the United Nations on Human Rights Day.
Exceptions to the principle of universality threaten to undermine the human
dignity of all. Repressive governments and their apologists always
have rationalized why they should be exempted from the Declaration's
principles. From the tortured explanations for apartheid in South Africa to
appeals to the Burmese Government's slogan of "disciplined democracy,"
repressive governments have sought exceptions for themselves. A perennial
argument is that people in a given society are not yet "ready" for
democracy and human rights. In 1997 the Declaration came under attack when
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir proposed a review of the Declaration,
although he later asserted that it was not his intention to "dilute" the
Some Western scholars have argued that advocates do more harm than good to
press democracy and human rights at the wrong stage of socioeconomic
development. Autocratic governments, so the argument goes, are insulated
from interest group politics and have greater freedom to impose economic
discipline on behalf of long-term development.
While some authoritarian governments may have maintained political
stability and produced economic gain in the short run, this short-term
stability has been purchased at the price of repression. These governments
lack the ingredients for continued success: the open information and
incentives for risk-taking produced by an open society, and the accountability
that comes with political pluralism and democracy -- which fosters
transparency in the management of economic institutions. This involves the
freedoms proclaimed in the Declaration, including political and economic
pluralism, a free press, freedom of association, free and fair elections,
and the rule of law.
The argument that economic development must precede democracy and human
rights ignores evidence from recent history. The experiences of Poland,
Costa Rica, the Philippines, and Botswana demonstrate that the roads to
prosperity and democracy are one and the same. The evolution toward
democracy is a complex process involving many factors, with no particular
order or sequence of events that must be followed. International efforts to
promote democratization and basic freedoms are best addressed to as many
institutions of civil society as possible, including legislatures,
judiciaries, executive agencies, local governments, trade unions, press and
media, and NGOs. Of course, democracy cannot be imposed from the outside.
It must find its own roots within any given society. But as we look around
the world, we see those roots almost everywhere, even starting to develop
under repressive conditions in places such as China, Nigeria, and
Building democratic culture and support for human rights is never easy, and
there are always setbacks. But that is no reason for the international
community to doubt the universality of the Declaration's principles, nor to
hold back from trying to expand the circle of human dignity. Fifty years
after adoption of the Universal Declaration, it is clear that people in all
cultures and at all stages of development want their voices to be heard and
their dignity to be assured. The year 1997 brought several impressive
examples. In places as diverse as Mali, Albania, Guatemala, Kuwait, Yemen,
Oman, Georgia, and South Korea, the actions of people in the advancement of
their own human rights and democracy reaffirmed the viability and
universality of the Declaration's principles.
Several regional organizations also took steps in 1997 that underscored the
universality of human rights. In Asia ASEAN postponed Cambodia's admission
after the democratic process broke down. In Africa the Southern African
Development Community (SADC) was active in supporting the proposed
International Criminal Court. Addressing the SADC, South African President
Nelson Mandela stressed that respect for state sovereignty could not limit
the SADC members' common concern for democracy and human rights. The
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) intervened against a
coup in Sierra Leone.
II. Year in Review
A. Repressive Governments
Strong authoritarian governments in many parts of the world kept themselves
in power through the systematic abuse of the human rights of their
citizens. The dismal scenario is all too familiar.
In China there were positive steps on human rights, although serious
problems remained. Chinese authorities continued to commit widespread and
well-documented human rights abuses, in violation of internationally
accepted norms. Abuses included torture and mistreatment of prisoners,
forced confessions, arbitrary arrest, and lengthy incommunicado detention.
The Government continued to use intimidation, administrative detention,
imposition of prison terms, house arrest or exile to control dissent.
Thousands remained in prison for the peaceful expression of their political,
social, or religious views, or "counterrevolutionary" crimes. In Tibet
repressive social and political controls of ethnic Tibetans risk undermining
Tibet's unique cultural, linguistic and religious heritage.
However, the Government's response to dissent was somewhat more tolerant
than in recent years. A number of dissidents, academics, and former
officials issued public statements, letters or petitions challenging the
Government's policies or advocating political reform. The authorities
released a few political prisoners, including Wei Jingsheng. China also
made progress in legal reform efforts in 1997. As a result of economic and
social changes, average Chinese citizens now go about their lives with more
personal freedom than ever before. However, those Chinese who openly
express dissenting political and religious views still live in an
environment filled with repression.
In Burma the Government changed its name from the State Law and Order
Restoration Council (SLORC) to the State Peace and Development Council
(SPDC) but not its restrictive practices. Security forces continued to
commit extrajudicial killings, beatings, and rape. The Government continued
its restrictions on basic rights of free speech, the press, assembly,
association, and privacy.
In Nigeria despite General Sani Abacha's announced timetable for transition
to multiparty rule, there was no meaningful progress toward democracy. The
March 15 elections were deeply flawed. In April the Government issued
Decree Number 7, which allows for the removal at will of any elected
official by the Head of State. Other elections were postponed. The winner
of the annulled 1993 presidential election, Chief Moshood K.O. Abiola,
remained in detention on charges of treason, as did other prominent
politicians and pro-democracy activists. Abacha announced on November 17
that he would release some political detainees but at year's end he had not
done so. Security forces continue to commit extrajudicial killings, use
excessive force, torture, harass human rights and prodemocracy groups, and
sexually abuse female suspects and prisoners. Prison conditions remain
life threatening. Government tribunals operating outside the constitutional
court system undermine the judicial process. Restrictions on freedoms of
speech, the press, assembly, and association continue.
Cuba attracted positive attention by agreeing to a visit from the Pope in
early 1998. Castro's totalitarian structure, however, remains unchanged.
Police continued to use excessive force, occasionally resulting in deaths.
Freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, and the right to
privacy are denied. North Korea, despite economic catastrophe, still clings
to its totalitarian isolationism.
The aging dictatorship in Libya survived another year through intimidation
and the denial of basic rights. In Syria there was scant progress in
opening up the autocratic system. In Iraq the Government forced the
displacement of tens of thousands of Kurds, Shi'a, and other minorities,
and there were credible reports of mass extrajudicial killings of perceived
political opponents. In Iran serious human rights abuses persisted,
although its new president, Seyyed Mohamad Khatami, has publicly pledged
his support for the rule of law and increased personal freedoms. In Saudi
Arabia restrictions on freedoms, including the basic freedoms of women,
B. Countries in Conflict
Conflict posed an increasing threat to civilians in a number of countries
in 1997. In the Great Lakes region of Africa Hutu insurgents in Rwanda,
Burundi, and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC) have
organized alliances that include the openly genocidal ex-FAR and Interahamwe,
and the Burundian Palipehutu. The security-conscious governments in the
region are sharing arms and intelligence. There are extremely serious
abuses on all sides. In the DROC the human rights situation has remained
extremely volatile, despite the departure of former President Mobutu. Many
serious problems remain, especially allegations of civilian massacres
during President Kabila's campaign to take power, which the U.N. has
sought unsuccessfully to investigate.
The alarming brutality of the massacres and sexual violence against women
in Algeria commanded the world's attention. At the end of the year, as many
as 1,000 civilians were being killed each month. Civil war, as well as
slavery and forced conscription of children continued in Sudan. The
Government continued to use extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture,
and the harassment of suspected opponents to stay in power. Military forces
summarily tried and punished civilians. Afghanistan remains in a state of
near anarchy, with arbitrary and summary law enforced by the armed factions
in territories under their control. The repressive Taliban control the
majority of territory. Human rights for women and girls declined drastically
in Taliban-controlled areas, where they were denied the right to
education; prohibited from working outside the home, except in limited
circumstances in the health care field; and prohibited from appearing
outside the home, unless accompanied by a male family member and wearing a
covering from head to toe.
Colombia has increasing human rights problems. Security forces, paramilitary
forces, and guerrillas all committed extrajudicial killings and kidnapings,
almost always with impunity. Guerrillas disrupted local elections and
threatened and killed candidates. Paramilitaries at times, with the
collaboration or acquiescence of the military, were responsible for
massacring unarmed civilians.
C. Countries in Transition
Countries in transition presented a mixed picture of progress and
backsliding. On the hopeful side, democratic government, despite significant
remaining obstacles, seemed to be taking root in Romania and Bulgaria, as
reforming governments tackled difficult structural economic problems.
As countries emerge from these transitions, women continue to have
particular burdens, leaving their basic needs unmet. In such situations,
women lack shelter, food, and the ability to provide for their children.
These circumstances put an additional strain on women's ability to
participate in the economic and political rebuilding of their country.
When Albania stood on the brink of chaos following the collapse of the
pyramid investment schemes, the international community coordinated an
effective response. The Italian-led multinational force provided security,
while the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
oversaw election preparations. Despite physical danger and other obstacles,
the Albanian people bravely responded to the international community's
assistance by turning out in force for the June 29 parliamentary election.
In a massive protest vote, the opposition Socialists defeated the
increasingly authoritarian President Berisha. Although much still can go
wrong, the international community worked with the Albanian people to help
put the country back on the democratic track, and under the coordination of
the OSCE, remains engaged in the strengthening of human rights and
democratic initiatives in Albania.
Liberia held presidential and parliamentary elections on July 19, which
international observers deemed free and transparent.
Bosnia continued haltingly to put in place elements of the Dayton Accords,
most notably, successful municipal elections in September supervised and
monitored by the OSCE. More indicted war criminals were brought to justice.
In July SFOR members arrested one war criminal and killed another in self-
defense. On October 10, indicted Croat war criminals surrendered to the
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia; the majority of
Croat war criminals are now in custody. The Dayton-mandated Human Rights
Commission strengthened its role, and the International Commission on
Missing Persons continued to help families determine the fate of their
loved ones. The United Nations International Police Task Force expanded its
work of training and vetting multiethnic police units in the Federation and,
to a far lesser extent, in the Republika Srpska, where local authorities
often proved uncooperative. The growing political influence of President
Plavsic and her supporters in the Republika Srpska demonstrated that
indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic does not, in fact, hold the
allegiance of most Bosnian Serbs. Bosnia still has a long way to go,
however, to fulfill the promise of Dayton. The pace of integration remains
disappointingly slow, as mutual suspicions far exceed mutual trust. The
pace of refugee returns remains minimal, as refugees rightly fear to return
to areas where they would be members of a minority. More progress is needed
on freedom of movement, freedom of the media, joint institutions, and the
creation of multiethnic police units. Perhaps the major factor underlying
the slow pace of Bosnia's healing is that the majority of indicted war
criminals are still at large in Bosnia and some, like Karadzic, are
influencing policies in the Republika Srpska. The healing and reconciliation
process can only be slowed by their presence.
There was a marked decline in human rights abuses in Guatemala, but
problems remained in some areas, including extrajudicial killings. Lynching
and mob attacks continued. Haiti's human rights progress continued under
President Rene Preval, its second democratically-elected leader. However,
the political situation remained unsettled following disputed local
elections in April and the June resignation of the Prime Minister, with no
replacement by year's end.
Georgia began a second stage of economic reforms to complete the transition
to a free market economy. Senior government officials openly acknowledged
human rights problems, and the routine abuse and torture of prisoners and
detainees continued. However, increased citizen awareness of democratic
values and the growing assertiveness of the Parliament provided some check
on the excesses of law enforcement agencies.
Egypt made incremental improvements in its human rights situation, although
continuing major problems include restrictions under the Emergency Law (in
response to terrorist activity), mass arrests, torture, limits on press
freedom, and discrimination against women and Christians.
Indonesian authorities maintained their tight grip on the political process
and controlled the May parliamentary elections. Security forces continued
to be responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and torture.
Restrictions on freedom of speech and association, as well as government
influence over the judiciary, are exemplified by the trial of trade union
organizer Muchtar Pakpahan, which still continues after 14 months.
Vietnam's human rights record, although somewhat improved, continued to be
poor, with significant restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly,
association, religion, and the right to privacy.
Some countries took certain steps this year that raise particular concerns.
In Turkey widespread human rights violations continued, including torture,
restrictions on freedom of expression, "honor" murders of women, and the
excessive use of force by security officials in the southeast. The
Government adopted some reforms to address its torture problem and sent
some positive signals on lifting restrictions on free speech. Prime
Minister Yilmaz made significant human rights commitments in a series of
statements in late 1997. Early in 1998, however, the judiciary issued a
ruling banning Refah, Turkey's largest political party.
In contrast with its generally favorable climate for freedom of expression,
Russia took a step backward with the passage of a law restricting freedom
of religion. In another area, Russia still has not adequately addressed
pervasive sexual and domestic violence against women.
A number of countries in transition slid backward toward greater authoritarianism.
Another unfortunate trend for countries in conflict is increased criminal
activity due to the lack of a strong central government. For example, the
deplorable increase in trafficking of women and girls, poses a serious
threat to the social and economic structure of emerging democracies.
Victims are left without adequate legal, economic, and social protection as
this criminal activity expands.
After tremendous efforts by internal proponents of democracy, supported by
the international community, Cambodia reversed course during widespread
violence in July, following which virtually all opposition leaders fled the
country. The Government limited freedoms of the press, assembly, association,
and the right to a fair trial.
The situation continued to worsen in Belarus as President Lukashenko
harassed independent political parties, the media, trade unions, human
rights groups, and NGO's. The Soros Foundation was forced out of the
country. Under sustained international pressure, Lukashenko reluctantly
accepted establishment of an OSCE mission. However, the degree of
government cooperation with the mission remains to be seen.
In Croatia an authoritarian government headed by Franjo Tudjman used
domination of the media and control of the judiciary and the electoral
process to harass and isolate most democratic opposition. The OSCE
monitored and reported on the problems with the elections.
In Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, legislatures and
judiciaries remain subordinate to powerful presidents. Basic freedoms are
curtailed in Uzbekistan, under the personality cult regime in Turkmenistan,
and to a lesser extent in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
III. Early Warning, Preventive Diplomacy, and Justice
The movement to strengthen and expand international institutions of justice
gained momentum in 1997. International organizations, such as the United
Nations and the OSCE, work with states and NGO's to promote the basic
rights of those most vulnerable. Their efforts to deal with violations
track the process of conflict resolution in three different dimensions:
early warning, preventive diplomacy, and justice.
The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)
plays an important role in promoting basic human rights in the emerging
democracies of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. It
is active in monitoring elections and developing national electoral human
rights institutions. The OSCE also monitors implementation of human rights
as set down in the Helsinki Final Act. Helsinki implementation was reviewed
in November at a 3-week meeting organized by ODIHR. In 1997 the OSCE
established a Representative on Freedom of the Media, who will focus on
compliance with OSCE principles and commitments regarding freedom of
expression and free media.
U.N. mechanisms for promoting and protecting human rights include working
groups, special rapporteurs, and experts who investigate and report on
alleged violations. Over the past year, the U.N. has strengthened the
capacity of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to play a major role in
advancing human rights worldwide. As part of his effort to strengthen the
role of the High Commissioner, Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed Mary
Robinson, who was then President of Ireland, to that office following the
resignation of Jose Ayala Lasso of Ecuador. She has committed herself to
advancing international human rights norms through moral persuasion and
practical methods designed to produce tangible results. As part of his
Track Two reforms, Secretary General Annan consolidated the Center for
Human Rights into the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and
has made the High Commissioner a participant in his executive committees.
These moves raise the profile of human rights within the U.N. and
affirm that the High Commissioner is the primary liaison for human
rights mechanisms within the U.N. system. The United States is working
with the international community to strengthen the High Commissioner's
office through more efficient management and additional resources.
Over the past 4 years, early warning activities have been advanced through
the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the office of
the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The two high commissioners have
managed field operations in Rwanda, Bosnia, Burundi, Georgia, Colombia,
Cambodia, Vietnam, Haiti, Guatemala, and elsewhere, which advanced U.N.
early warning capabilities. In Central and Eastern Europe and the countries
of the former Soviet Union, the OSCE, through its field missions and High
Commissioner for National Minorities, plays a similar early warning role.
In addition, the United States and the European Union have taken the lead
on a public awareness campaign to warn potential trafficking victims of
the dangers involved in this criminal activity.
Once forewarned of the possibility of new or renewed violent conflict,
preventive diplomacy can take a number of forms. Measures like visa
restrictions, arms restrictions, denial of access to international
financing, and economic sanctions all can be deployed to contain a conflict
or to put pressure on the leaders who are stimulating it, as was done
throughout 1997 to support the peace process in Bosnia by keeping the
pressure on Pale, Zagreb, and Belgrade. Sometimes conflicts can be ended or
mitigated, such as in Guatemala, Haiti, and El Salvador, where the U.N. and
the OAS helped negotiate an end to conflicts that involved massive human
rights abuses. Such preventive diplomacy often registers successes that go
unreported, as in Estonia, where the OSCE sponsored a series of local open
forums on minority rights that helped generate greater understanding
between Estonians and ethnic Russians.
If early warning and preventive diplomacy fail, appropriate action must be
considered by the international community, especially when large numbers of
civilians are threatened by violence. In 1997 the rapid and effective
intervention of the Italian-led multinational force helped to rescue
Albania from the brink of chaos. With the OSCE playing the leading role,
the international community contributed to a successful election process in
June in which the Albanian people chose a new government to begin to lead
them out of their crisis. This international role was facilitated by the
cooperation of most Albanian political leaders. In contrast, government
resistance prevented international human rights missions from being
effectively deployed in Algeria and played a role in holding up the U.N.
mission in the DROC.
Sustaining peace once it has been restored requires justice. Those guilty
of crimes against humanity must be punished or, at least, exposed if the
victims and their survivors are to be reconciled with their countrymen.
Affixing individual responsibility also serves as an effective warning to
others who might be tempted to engage in similar acts. For this reason, the
U.S. has been the strongest political and logistical supporter of the U.N.
War Crimes Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, including
supporting the inclusion of rape as a war crime.
Although the Tribunals made progress in 1997, both still face major
challenges. In July the SFOR made its first arrest of indicted war
criminals, capturing one and killing another in self-defense. Under
diplomatic and economic pressure from the international community, Croatia
surrendered 10 indicted Croats, thereby placing most of the wanted
Croatians behind bars. However, 52 persons indicted by the Tribunal remain
at large, including Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. The Rwanda Tribunal
has been more successful in gaining custody of indicted war criminals and
made significant progress in 1997 in overcoming administrative, staffing,
and morale problems. The Rwanda Tribunal made history in 1997 when it filed
its first indictment for rape and sexual abuse. These Tribunals are unique
in trying to bring justice to ongoing conflicts as a way of seeking to end
them, something that no other international institution of justice has
ever attempted. Although their work is far from complete, the Tribunals
helped pave the way for progress in 1997 toward a permanent International
Criminal Court (ICC). President Clinton has called for the Court to be
established before the century ends. A treaty establishing the ICC is
expected to be drafted in Rome in the summer of 1998. The ICC would have
its own judges, prosecutors, and investigators to try individuals for
genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity, including crimes of
sexual violence against women, if national courts failed to do so.
Freedom of religion is a universal human right that demands international
attention. Religious persecution not only is an intolerable invasion of an
individual's basic human rights, but it can lead to grave consequences for
political and economic stability. If people lack the freedom to practice
their faith, it is likely that other human rights will be restricted and
that intolerance and violence will be more prevalent. Lack of these rights
also impedes efforts to establish societies that promote liberty and
In Sudan a bloody civil war fueled by religious intolerance against
Animists, Christians, and some Muslims continued unabated. Iran's religious
minorities continue to experience discrimination and persecution,
particularly Evangelical Christians and Baha'is. Burma's persecution of the
Rohingya Muslim minority resulted in refugees fleeing to Bangladesh.
In China nonapproved religious groups, including Protestant and Catholic
groups, experienced varying degrees of official interference and repression
as the Government continued to enforce its 1994 regulations requiring all
religious organizations to register with the Government and come under the
supervision of official "patriotic" religious organizations. There was
evidence that the authorities, guided by national policy, in some areas
made strong efforts to control the activities of unapproved Catholic and
Protestant churches. In some cases, authorities have used detention, arrest,
and reform-through-education sentences to enforce regulations. Despite
this pressure, the number of religious adherents in many churches, both
registered and unregistered, continued to grow at a rapid pace. Citizens
worshipping in officially sanctioned churches mosques, and temples reported
little or no day-to-day interference by the government. In Xinjiang and
Tibet, tight controls on religion continued and, in some cases, intensified.
Evidence of fear and suspicion of minority religions grew in Europe, in
both former Communist countries and those with long traditions of democracy
and tolerance. Motivated in part by fear of deadly movements such as Solar
Temple and Aum Shinri-kyo, some European countries have sought to restrict
freedoms for a disparate group of minority faiths, lumping them all
together as "cults," and have begun to compile lists of "cults" for closer
This trend also has been particularly strong in countries where the
Orthodox Church has lobbied the government to restrict minority religions.
In Russia President Yeltsin signed a law that imposes severe restrictions
on minority religions, including some offshoot Orthodox groups. Some of
these religious communities may be forced to wait up to 15 years before
attaining full legal status, which is a requirement for owning property,
publishing literature, inviting foreign guests, operating schools, and
conducting charitable activities. The law also imposes onerous religious
restrictions on noncitizens and erects barriers against foreign missionaries.
The impact of the new law on religious freedom will be measured, in part,
by the implementing regulations, which are expected to be completed in
early 1998. Already, however, some local officials have seized on the
passage of the law to pressure unpopular religions in their districts.
Bulgaria and Romania also have religion laws. While Bulgaria has implemented
its law in a manner that has resulted in violations of religious freedom,
Romania has done so in a manner more consistent with international norms of
religious freedom. A similar law before the Austrian parliament would be
more restrictive than the Russian law.
Celebrations of the Universal Declaration's 50th Anniversary at the close
of 1997 proclaimed the human rights progress of women worldwide while
calling attention to the many obstacles that remain to be overcome. In 1997
women took action to increase and protect their human rights. The momentum
of the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 continued
to encourage governments to fulfill their commitments to take progressive
actions to secure rights for women. The Conference's call to action
motivated governments and NGOs to increase programs and activities focused
on women's human rights. Women's NGO's around the world led the way in 1997
by taking issues to their governments and to international organizations.
Due to their strong advocacy, governments and international organizations,
such as the U.N., have become more responsive. NGO's, governments
and international organizations formed partnerships to explore women's
issues and bring about change. For example, female democracy builders met
in Vienna for strategic planning in areas of law, leadership, politics, and
business, while workshops in South Asia examined the magnitude of the
problem of trafficking in women and girls. Female political leaders in
Central Asia gathered in Kazakhstan to coordinate approaches to increase
women's political participation in that region. The First Lady gave the
keynote address at that conference.
This year more countries joined the ranks of those placing women's human
rights on their national agendas. The Dominican Republic passed a new penal
code that specifically prohibits domestic violence. The Egyptian Supreme
Court upheld a ban on female genital mutilation, and New Zealand voters
elected their first female prime minister. Bulgaria raised the penalty for
trafficking in women and girls and created an interagency body to address
the issue. Namibian parliamentarians spoke out forcefully in protest of
violence against women, and Mauritania, which continued to maintain many
barriers against the advancement of former female slaves, developed limited
programs to further the education of girls.
Despite this increased willingness to address women's human rights
violations, women around the world continued to encounter barriers of
political, economic, and social discrimination, often codified in the law.
For example, in Bangladesh women still are victims of dowry-related
killings. Women in Tanzania still may be punished for not bearing children,
and women in Guinea-Bissau have limited access to education. Although
Kuwait, Oman, and Yemen have taken important steps toward democratic reform,
Kuwaiti women do not have the right to vote, and women in Oman and Yemen,
as in Saudi Arabia, must obtain permission from a male relative before
applying for a visa or leaving the country. Married women in the United
Arab Emirates cannot obtain employment without their husband's written
consent. In Turkey loopholes in the legal system remain, which result in
lesser sentences in cases of rape if the woman was not a virgin prior to
the rape or the judge deems the woman to have acted provocatively.
Women around the world continue to face enormous obstacles that prevent
their participation in political and economic life. In large part due to
governments' laws and practices, women are disproportionately poor, denied
the right to privacy, discriminated against in employment opportunities
outside the home, and forced into sexual slavery. Throughout 1997 many laws
designed to protect the human rights of women remained unenforced.
Continuing legal obstacles remain to women's fair and open ownership of
land and inheritance rights. Algerian women suffered extreme oppression and
atrocities by militant groups this year, including rape, forced prostitution,
"temporary marriages," and beatings and beheading for failure to wear head
The blatant abuse of women continued in Afghanistan. Women were beaten for
violating increasingly restrictive Taliban dress codes, which require women
to be covered from head to toe. Women were strictly prohibited from working
outside the home, and women and girls were denied the right to an
education. Women were forbidden from appearing outside the home unless
accompanied by a male family member. Beatings and death resulted for
failure to observe these restrictions.
Violence against women, both inside and outside the home, remains a
widespread and entrenched violation of women's human rights around the
world. Domestic violence continues to be a problem in virtually every
country. The continued violent and harmful practice of female genital
mutilation violates women's human rights with devastating physical health
and psychological consequences. Increasing numbers of women and girls are
trafficked and exploited for the purpose of prostitution, domestic
servitude and forced labor. Women's voices often remain silenced. In short,
despite the strides taken by women, governments, and international
organizations in 1997, there is much work to be done to assure that women's
human rights are respected throughout the world.
VI. Worker Rights
An international consensus exists, based on several key International Labor
Organization (ILO) Conventions, that certain worker rights constitute core
labor standards. These include freedom of association--which is the
foundation on which workers can form trade unions and defend their
interests; the right to organize and bargain collectively; freedom from
gender and other discrimination in employment; and freedom from forced and
Notwithstanding this consensus, free trade unions continued in 1997 to face
harassment and repression in many countries. The ILO's annual review of
worker rights complaints led it to adopt "special paragraphs" condemning
violations by Burma, Iran, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan, and Swaziland. The ILO
also expressed grave concern about worker rights violations in a number of
other countries, including Belarus, Colombia, and Indonesia. These
unacceptable practices have taken place as the international community
prepares to strengthen universal recognition of worker rights, with the
anticipated adoption in 1998 of an ILO Declaration on Core Labor Standards.
Much will depend on the mechanisms that ILO member nations devise to
monitor and improve their progress toward compliance with these standards.
In Mexico blatant discrimination against women took the form of mandatory
pregnancy testing during preemployment physicals and the exposure of
pregnant women to hazardous conditions to make them quit.
The ILO also expects to consider a new Convention in 1998 to eliminate the
most intolerable forms of child labor. As the 1997 Country Reports make
clear, the exploitation and abuse of society's youngest and most vulnerable
members continues all too frequently around the globe. Public outrage over
the use of unpaid or cheaply paid children to produce goods for export
prompted a reaction by consumers in several developed countries, including
boycotts and selective buying campaigns. In the United States, public
reaction contributed to congressional enactment of the "Sanders Amendment,"
emphasizing an intent to bar goods made by forced or indentured child labor
from entering the U.S. market. To accelerate international efforts to
end child labor and move children out of harmful work situations and
into education, a growing list of countries contributed to the ILO's
International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor.
Dramatic financial and exchange rate developments in the second half of
1997 battered the economies of several East Asian nations where restrictions
on freedom of association exist. These developments highlighted the problem
of limitations on democratic activity that can preclude the development of
institutional checks on both governmental and private economic decisionmaking,
aggravating the consequences of error.
Over the past half-century the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights have formed a constellation of principles to which all people
can aspire. They have entered the consciousness of people around the world.
They are increasingly invoked in constitutions and courts. They set a
standard by which to measure fundamental rights.
The protection and advancement of the Declaration's principles are in the
interest of all humanity, of nations as well as of individuals.
Men and women from Cambodia to Romania, South Africa to Russia, and Haiti
to India, have shown that, regardless of the economic condition of a nation
or its historical or cultural legacy, basic freedoms are a universal
aspiration. They are not, contrary to what critics of the Declaration say,
a Western luxury or a form of cultural imperialism. As First Lady Hillary
Rodham Clinton put it in her address to the United Nations General Assembly
on Human Rights Day, 1997:
"The beliefs inscribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were
not invented 50 years ago. They are not the work of a single culture or
country. They have been with us forever, from civilization's first
light....The belief that we must respect our neighbors as we would respect
ourselves resides at the core of the teachings of all the major faiths of
the world....If I were to tear up this Declaration, its values would
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
January 30, 1998
From the United States Information Agency (USIA) Home Page at http://www.usia.gov