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U.S. Department of State

Overview of Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 1996.

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OVERVIEW

THE GLOBAL STRUCTURE OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Title:  Overview of Human Rights Practices, 1995 
Author:  U.S. Department of State  
Date:  March 1996  
 
 
 
 
OVERVIEW 
 
 
Several distinctive events of 1995 marked progress toward resolution of 
some of the world's most catastrophic human rights crises.  Most 
dramatically, the November Dayton Accords ended the fighting in Bosnia, 
which for the first 6 months of the year was the source of continuing, 
massive, and highly publicized crimes against humanity.  At the heart of 
the Dayton Accords is a framework of commitments and institutional 
mechanisms aimed at restoring human rights and promoting justice, 
without which peace cannot be secured. 
 
Other conflicts which had spawned major human rights violations also 
moved closer to resolution; 1995 saw steps towards peace in Angola, the 
Middle East, and Northern Ireland, with inevitable setbacks along the 
way towards the resolution of long struggles.  In Haiti, continued 
progress toward the restoration of democratically elected government, 
with the assistance of the U.S.-led Multinational Force, marked another 
bright spot for human rights.  In Central and Eastern Europe, as well as 
in Latin American and in parts of Asia and Africa, some new democracies 
consolidated their movement towards more open civil society, and a few 
experienced peaceful transfers of power through democratic elections.  
Internationally, a number of new human rights institutions took root; 
especially noteworthy was the work of the International War Crimes 
Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.  The U.N. 
Fourth World Conference on Women focused global attention on the rights 
and empowerment of one half of the world's people, many of whom suffer 
discrimination and mistreatment in every part of the globe. 
 
In many countries around the world widespread abuses of human rights 
continued unabated.  The pages of this volume document innumerable 
instances of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, arbitrary 
detention, and denial of fair trial in all parts of the world.  
Fundamental freedoms of conscience, expression, assembly, association, 
religion, and movement were routinely violated by many governments.  
Discrimination based on race, sex, religion, disability, language, or 
social status was a pervasive problem in many societies.  Basic worker 
rights were often denied.  While democracy advanced in many countries, 
it registered uneven progress in others; some young democracies were 
snuffed out by violent coups d'etat.  Continuing conflicts in 
Afghanistan, Burundi, Chechnya, Guatemala, Kashmir, Sudan, and elsewhere 
resulted in major human rights violations.  In countries such as Burma, 
China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria and North Korea, governments 
continued systematically to deny basic rights to their citizens. 
 
The Pursuit of Justice and Peace 
 
The post-Cold War world poses new challenges to human rights.   
 
Familiar abuses committed by strong central governments repression of 
dissent, torture, political killing persist.  These are increasingly 
matched, however, by human rights abuses stemming from the dissolution 
of state authority, and from the manipulation by cynical leaders of 
ethnic, racial, and religious differences to incite atrocities against 
civilians.  The experiences of Bosnia, Burundi, Afghanistan, and Liberia 
demonstrate that no area of the world can claim immunity from this 
danger, which has serious implications for the future of human rights 
promotion.  Alongside advocacy and more traditional diplomacy, the 
development of institutions that will carry human rights protection into 
a new century is becoming an increasingly urgent task, as the familiar 
shapes of our world steadily undergo significant change. 
 
Bosnia provides a stark example of a human rights nightmare sparked by 
aggression against civilians based on their ethnicity.  The efforts in 
1995 to end the horrors of Bosnia, however, yielded valuable lessons 
that might be applied in future conflicts.  Intensive U.S. diplomacy 
backed by credible force led to the Dayton Accords which ended the 
conflict. 
 
The drafters of the Dayton Accords recognized the essential relationship 
between peace, justice, and respect for human rights.  The Accords 
provide an interlocking structure of constitutional guarantees; new 
institutions, including a constitutional court, human rights chamber, 
and ombudsman; international monitoring of elections and human rights 
performance, and a mandate for the investigation and prosecution of war 
crimes.  This unprecedented peace agreement synthesizes human rights, 
justice, and conflict resolution, in a framework that has the best 
chance of securing a real peace.   
 
The diplomatic and military efforts to end the human rights crisis and 
restore democratic government in Haiti were an important forerunner to 
the Dayton Accords; in Haiti, as in Bosnia, we saw that international 
support for the reconstruction of civil society, democratic 
institutions, and the rule of law is essential to ending human rights 
catastrophes. 
 
As the promotion of human rights increasingly moves beyond cessation of 
immediate abuses to broader reform of political, legal, and social 
institutions, justice assumes an ever larger role in fostering 
reconciliation.  Individual accountability is a critical element in the 
passage of nations from repression to freedom.  For human rights to take 
hold, leaders must be held accountable to their people and to the 
fundamental norms of the international community as set out in the 
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law. 
 
A successful transition from a conflict-ridden past to democratic 
governance is aided by official efforts to  acknowledge the sufferings 
of victims and honestly reckon with the past.  In settings ranging from 
Chile, Argentina, and El Salvador, to South Africa, Germany, and South 
Korea a variety of institutions rooted in local political cultures has 
arisen to address the need for accountability as a prelude to 
reconciliation.  The U.N. War Crimes Tribunals in the Hague represent 
one of the clearest attempts by the international community to integrate 
justice with reconciliation and peace. 
 
Implementation of the Israeli-Palestinian agreements brought with it a 
continued reduction in the level of violence in the West Bank and Gaza.  
The withdrawal of Israeli forces drastically diminished the 
confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians and resulted in fewer 
Israeli human rights violations.  The Palestinian Authority, for its 
part, took important first steps toward creating institutions of self-
government, though its progress was uneven. 
 
South Africa continued to consolidate its new democratic institutions, 
and to deepen national reconciliation by promoting broader justice. 
 
Familiar Abuses in New Contexts 
 
In a number of countries, familiar patterns of abuse occurred in 
changing contexts in 1995. 
 
The Chinese Government continues to commit well-documented human rights 
abuses in violation of international norms.  Although there was greater 
emphasis on legal reform, by year's end almost all public dissent 
against the central authorities was silenced.  At the same time, robust 
economic expansion produced increased social mobility and access to 
outside information.  The experience of China in the past few years 
demonstrates that while economic growth, trade, and social mobility 
create an improved standard of living, they cannot by themselves bring 
about greater respect for human rights in the absence of a willingness 
by political authorities to abide by the fundamental international 
norms. 
 
In Russia, while Communist totalitarianism has been succeeded by 
electoral democracy, the future remains uncertain.  This year saw 
continued and widespread use of Russian military force against civilians 
in Chechnya, the undermining of official institutions established to 
monitor human rights, and the continued violation of rights and 
liberties by security forces. 
 
The Government of Cuba's behavior regarding human rights remains 
deplorable; human rights activists and dissidents are regularly 
arrested, detained, harassed, and persecuted, while the Cuban people 
continue to be denied the most fundamental rights and freedoms. 
 
Nigeria presents a more classic picture of human rights abuse,  as the 
regime of General Sani Abacha continues ruthlessly to suppress dissent. 
 
The situation in Colombia has not improved, owing to entrenched conflict 
among security forces, guerrilla armies, paramilitary units, and 
narcotics traffickers, compounded by the near impunity of narcotics 
traffickers. 
 
In Guatemala, serious human rights abuses continued to occur, although 
significant progress was made in the peace negotiations between the 
Government and the guerrillas.  Several human rights activists were also 
elected to Congress in the November elections. 
 
Indonesian security forces in East Timor and Irian Jaya were responsible 
for significant abuses, although the Government was willing in some 
cases to prosecute those charged with abuses. 
 
Outposts of unreconstructed totalitarianism remain in Iraq and Libya.  
Severe human rights problems persist in North Korea, despite progress on 
some other issues under the Agreed Framework. 
 
In Burma, the State Law and Order Restoration Council continued to rule 
with an iron hand and to commit a wide range of serious human rights 
violations, although the release from house arrest of democratically 
elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi was a positive development.   
 
While Turkey has instituted significant legal and constitutional 
reforms, it has not yet ended a continuing pattern of serious human 
rights abuses, including restrictions on freedom of expression, torture, 
and the excessive use of force against its Kurdish population in the 
course of the struggle against PKK terrorism in the southeast. 
 
Egypt's long campaign against Islamic extremists has entailed continued 
abuses, including alleged extrajudicial killing and torture. 
 
Saudi Arabia continues to restrict basic freedoms of expression, 
association, and religion, and systematically discriminates against 
women. 
 
The government of Mexico continued its effort to end the culture of 
impunity surrounding the security forces and to initiate comprehensive 
justice reform; serious problems remain, however, such as extrajudicial 
killings by the police and illegal arrests. 
 
Ethnic strife continued to complicate efforts to resolve instability in 
Burundi and Rwanda.  In Sudan, the brutal civil war waged along ethnic 
and confessional lines exacted an  inexorable toll in human suffering, 
while in Somalia, anarchical regional power centers, based on clan 
affiliation, persisted in the absence of a viable central government.  
Tentative signs of progress were evident in efforts to end Liberia's 
long and costly civil war, although final resolution remained 
problematic at year's end. 
 
Rights of Women 
 
This year saw an increased international focus on the human rights of 
women and the advancement of their status.  The World Summit for Social 
Development at Copenhagen in March, and above all the U.N. Fourth World 
Conference on Women, held in Beijing in September, cast a spotlight on 
the broad range of issues related to the human rights, equality, and 
empowerment of women. 
 
At the Beijing Conference, governments reaffirmed the universality of 
human rights and explicitly accepted the principle that women's rights 
are in the mainstream of all human rights. 
 
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action committed governments to 
take specific steps to end violence against women, addressed the problem 
of rape in armed conflict as a human rights violation, called on the 
United Nations to integrate women into decisionmaking, urged an end to 
harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, and 
dealt with issues of gender discrimination. 
 
The Beijing Conference drew attention to the political, civil, and legal 
rights of women, who continue to be significantly underrepresented in 
most of the world's political institutions.  Women in many countries are 
subjected to discriminatory restrictions on their fundamental freedoms 
regarding voting, marriage, travel, property ownership, inheritance 
practices, custody of children, citizenship, and court testimony.  Women 
also face discrimination in access to education, employment, health 
care, financial services including credit, and even food and water.  
Other longstanding violations of women's human rights include torture, 
systematic rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse, harassment, 
exploitation and trafficking, and female infanticide. 
 
The 1995 Country Reports chronicle the many abuses of women's human 
rights which continue around the world and include information on the 
steps some governments are taking to address these problems. 
 
Many countries are making strides towards enabling women to realize 
their human rights.  The Nongovernmental Organization Forum which took 
place in tandem with the formal Beijing Conference vividly illustrated 
the courageous and creative  human rights work that women are 
increasingly undertaking at the grass roots level. 
 
Worker Rights 
 
Failure to respect basic worker rights as defined in several key 
International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions is a growing problem 
in many countries.  These core worker rights 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 discrimination in employment; and freedom 
from child and forced labor. 
 
Despite broad international recognition of these principles, free trade 
unions continue to be banned or suppressed in a number of countries; in 
many more, restrictions on freedom of association range from outright 
state control to legislation aimed at frustrating workers' legitimate 
efforts to organize.  For example, in 1995 Nigeria was cited by the ILO 
for its failure to repeal decrees dissolving unions and denying unions 
the right to elect their own leaders, two of whom in early 1996 remain 
jailed without charges.  For the third time the ILO condemned Burma for 
its refusal to guarantee workers the right to join unions.  Similarly, 
the ILO called on Burma to terminate its forced labor practices.  The 
suppression of worker rights in Indonesia has remained a persistent 
international concern. 
 
The relationships between worker rights, trade, and foreign investment 
remain the focus of ongoing discussions in 1995 in a number of 
international forums, including the Organization for Economic 
Cooperation and Development and the ILO.  Domestically, the United 
States took action that resulted in the suspension of Overseas Private 
Investment Corporation benefits in several countries on worker rights 
grounds.  Concern continues to grow over the practice by several 
countries of curtailing the rights of workers in export processing zones 
(EPZ's).  In South Asia, Pakistan is a case in point, and EPZ's remain 
problematical in several Central American countries.  A failure to 
protect worker rights in EPZ's often has a disproportionate impact on 
female workers, since they are usually the large majority of EPZ 
workforces. 
 
Religion and Human Rights 
 
In some countries, religious differences were seized upon in 1995 as a 
pretext for human rights abuses.  Elsewhere, religious differences 
themselves set groups in conflict, especially when these differences 
were related to ethnic differences as well.  The depth of the passions 
and commitments surrounding religious issues make this an especially 
pressing and sensitive problem. 
 
 Religious ideas and institutions have a major role to play in promoting 
respect for human rights.  All the major religious traditions of the 
world offer deep resources and teachings that speak to the theory and 
practice of peace and justice, and many courageous men and women are 
putting those teachings to work in some of the hardest-fought conflicts 
and deeply persecuted societies of the world. 
 
As new technologies foster increasing communication and contact among 
groups and societies, the religions of the world will have a major role 
to play in helping to articulate ideas and foster institutions that are 
authentic and compelling. 
 
Human Rights Activists 
 
No government, no matter how powerful or well-intentioned, can perform 
the human rights work being done at the grass roots by nongovernmental 
organizations (NGO's), whose members often expose themselves to great 
personal risks.  The grass roots work of NGO's is irreplaceable not only 
because it is effective, but also because it is the strongest proof of 
the universality of human rights.  Precisely because NGO's are deeply 
rooted in local societies and cultures and spring from their own 
communities, their work has an undeniable authenticity and legitimacy.  
Unfortunately, human rights NGO's continue to face impediments, 
harassment, and persecution in many countries of the world.   
 
Looking Forward 
 
With each passing day, we are increasingly at home in the post-Cold War 
world.  That growing familiarity with the new international setting 
brings with it the recognition of what must be done to secure the 
progress of human rights into the next century.  The challenges human 
rights advocates face are significant, indeed greater than one might 
have anticipated during the heady days of the Cold War's end.  Yet the 
new international environment offers opportunities of its own for the 
development of institutions that will protect human rights in sustained 
and structural ways around the world. 
 
These institutions cannot simply emerge of their own accord.  They can 
come about only through the concerted effort of people of goodwill from 
countries and cultures around the globe, united in a commitment to 
reduce human suffering and protect human dignity.  One of history's 
foremost champions of human rights, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, 
Jr., said that "the arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards 
justice."  There is still a long way to go along that arc. 
 
 
 
                            John Shattuck 
                            Assistant Secretary for 
                            Democracy, Human Rights and Labor 

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[end of document]

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