Authoritarian crackdowns on dissent damage the “long-term stability, security, and economic development” of the countries involved, according to the U.S. State Department’s newly-released 2013 Country Report on Human Rights.
The annual country-by-country index was released as the world marks the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but sixty years on “’more than one third of the world’s population still lives under authoritarian rule,” the report notes.
In his remarks launching the report today, John Kerry, US Secretary of State, denounced the suppression of dissent and singled out Syria for the regime’s egregious rights violations. He blasted North Korea over its human rights abuses, describing it as “an evil, evil place”.
Kerry paid tribute to the democracy advocates and rights activists struggling to expand political space and defend individual liberties.
“The truth is that some of the greatest accomplishments in expanding the cause of human rights have come not because of legislative decree or judicial fiat, but they came through the awesomely courageous acts of individuals,” he said, “whether it is Xu Zhiyong fighting for the government transparency that he desires to see in China, or Ales Byalyatski, who is demanding justice and transparency and accountability in Belarus, whether it is Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga (above), who is rapping for greater political freedom in Cuba, or Eskinder Nega, who is writing for freedom of expression in Ethiopia.”
“Every single one of these people are demonstrating a brand of moral courage that we need now more than ever,” said Kerry.
He said he was also “inspired” by the 86-year-old Russian human rights pioneer Lyudmila Alekseyeva, a recipient of the National Endowment for Democracy’s 2004 Democracy Award, who has “spent a lifetime fighting for the basic rights that we take for granted here in the United States.”
The report notes that “transitioning democracies dealt with predictable setbacks in their quest for political change, and new democracies struggled to deliver effective governance and uphold rule of law.”
“Counteracting impunity for security forces will require these countries to invest in independent and effective judiciaries, civilian-controlled and responsible security forces, and transparent and accountable democratic government institutions,” it adds.
“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,” said Kerry. “And it is particularly no coincidence in an age where people have access and want access to more information and the freedom to be able to act – to access information and to be able to act on the basis of that information. That is what has always characterized democracies and free people.”