US slams rights record in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal

By Arun Kumar, IANS

Washington : Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal have come in for criticism for human rights violations in a new US report.

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“Despite President (Pervez) Musharraf’s stated commitment to democratic transition, Pakistan’s human rights situation deteriorated during much of 2007,” said the State Department’s 2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which was released here Tuesday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“After President Musharraf suspended the chief justice in March, lawyers and civil society responded with widespread protests in support of an independent judiciary, resulting in mass detentions,” it noted.

During a state of emergency imposed in November, Musharraf suspended the constitution and dismissed and arrested eight members of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice and 40 provincial high court judges.

Under emergency provisions, Pakistani authorities also arrested approximately 6,000 opposition political party workers, human rights advocates, lawyers, and judges.

At the end of the year, there still were 11 suspended judges and three lawyers under house arrest, and media outlets were required to sign a code of conduct that prohibited criticism of the government in order to operate, the report noted.

In Bangladesh, the government’s human rights record worsened, in part due to the state of emergency and postponement of elections, it said.

The anti-corruption drive initiated by the government, while greeted with popular support, gave rise to concerns about due process. For most of the year the government banned political activities, although this policy was enforced unevenly.

While there was a significant drop in the number of extra-judicial killings by security forces, these forces were accused of serious abuses, including custodial deaths, arbitrary arrest and detention and harassment of journalists.

In Sri Lanka, the government’s respect for human rights continued to decline, as armed conflict created an increasing cycle of violence to which both sides of the conflict contributed, the report said.

Credible reports cited unlawful killings by government agents, assassinations by unknown perpetrators, politically motivated killings and child soldier recruitment by paramilitary forces associated with the government, disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, and numerous other serious abuses.

Extra-judicial killings in the government-controlled Jaffna peninsula increased sharply. There were numerous reports that the army, police, and pro-government paramilitary groups participated in armed attacks against civilians and practised torture, kidnapping, hostage taking, and extortion with impunity.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a recognized terrorist organization which maintained control of large sections of the north, continued to engage in attacks on civilians and in torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, and other abuses, the report said.

“In 2007, insecurity due to internal and/or cross-border conflict continued to threaten or thwart gains in human rights and democracy,” the report said. “By the same token, improvements in the security situation created conditions more conducive to progress in these areas.”

In Nepal, the interim government twice postponed elections for a constituent assembly after the November 2006 peace agreement ended the decade-long insurgency, the report noted.

While abuses by security forces did decrease significantly, members of the Maoist and the Maoist-affiliated Young Communist League, as well as other small, often ethnically-based armed groups, committed numerous grave human rights abuses and engaged in attacks against civilians, government officials, members of particular ethnic groups, each other, or the Maoists.

Lacking political backing, police were often reluctant to intervene, particularly against the Maoists, it said.

The government took a positive step by appointing commissioners to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in September, but it did not release the whereabouts of approximately 700 disappeared persons identified in 2006 by the NHRC and the UN.

Impunity for human rights violators, threats against the media, arbitrary arrest, and lengthy pre-trial detention were serious problems, the report said.