Wed, May 19, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Washington points to rights efforts

GOOD DEEDS The Department of State released a report on Monday touting the US government's efforts to promote freedom and democracy in 101 countries

AP , WASHINGTON

Facing international criticism for American abuse of Iraqi prisoners, the Bush administration is highlighting its efforts to advance human rights and democracy in 101 countries, Iraq included.

The Department of State on Monday released its second annual report on the US government's activities to promote freedom of the press and religion, foster vibrant, stable democracies, and halt torture and child labor, among other abuses.

The report was to have been released May 5, during the same week when much of the world was reacting with indignation to the disclosure that Iraqi prisoners in US custody were being mistreated.

The State Department withheld the report in hopes that additional time would create a more receptive climate for the chronicling of American good deeds overseas.

But Secretary of State Colin Powell said the prisoner abuse issue was a key item in his weekend discussions with foreign leaders at an international economic conference in Jordan.

"In their disappointment about America right now, I told them, `Watch America, watch how we deal with this, watch how America will do the right thing,'" Powell said.

Powell, who delivered the commencement address Monday at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said he had promised other leaders "multiple investigations" to get to the bottom of the scandal.

In Iraq, the report said, the US, working with other countries and international organizations, has sought "to address the effects of decades of political repression and human rights violations.

"The US human rights and democracy strategy has promoted Iraqi efforts to account for past atrocities, prevent future human rights abuses and support institutions conducive to a successful transition to democracy," it said.

Lorne Craner, the State Department's top human rights official, said the foreign reaction to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal has not been uniformly negative.

Some Web sites in China have noted that American leaders have apologized for the wrongdoing and have not interfered with the freedom of the US media to report developments, Craner told reporters.

He said the Abu Ghraib incidents have not robbed the US of the moral authority to expose excesses by undemocratic governments.

"Who would be better off if we self-consciously turned inward and ignored human rights abuses elsewhere -- in places like Burma and Zimbabwe and Belarus?" Craner asked as he released the report.

The report attempts to show what the administration has been doing in response to rights abuses outlined in an annual country-by-country study.

The most recent edition of that study was issued in late February. Both reports are mandated by Congress.

In China, the report says, "the United States supports a wide range of activities designed to improve human rights conditions by strengthening the judicial system and furthering the rule of law, encouraging democratic political reform, promoting freedom of religion, protecting human rights, including worker rights and women's rights, improving transparency in governance and strengthening civil society."

Craner cited Georgia as an example of a country where, with US help, a democratic breakthrough occurred earlier this year.

A freely elected government took power in Georgia in January after a popular uprising forced the removal of the predecessor government, accused of staging a fraudulent parliamentary election last fall.

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