US raises concerns about human rights in Pakistan


Washington : Extrajudicial killings by the Pakistani military in the ongoing fight with insurgents have further added to human rights concerns in the country, the US State Department said Thursday.

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The State Department cited reports the military carried out up to 400 killings during counterinsurgency operations against the Taliban in North West Frontier Province and the Swat Valley in 2009, the year covered by the department annual human rights report.

The report said “significant human rights challenges” remain in Pakistan, including abuses in the conflict with the Taliban and other extremists groups, and the displacement of millions of people during the fighting last year.

The report highlighted the increased toll conflicts have inflicted on civilian populations in 2009, including in Afghanistan, Sudan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

The department’s annual human rights report is mandated my Congress to assist lawmakers in determining aid for countries considered to be human rights violators.

Among other countries, the report most critically faulted human rights practices in Belarus, China, Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Syria and Russia.

The report criticised China for crackdowns on Uighurs and in Tibet, as well as increased restrictions to the internet and other forms of information and news.

“The Chinese government’s human rights records remain poor and worsening in some areas, including increased cultural and religious repression of ethnic minorities … and increased detention and harassment of activists and public-interest lawyers,” Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner said.

The State Department focused on Iran and the repression of demonstrators who took to the streets following June’s presidential election. Dozens of people were killed and thousands were detained, some facing prosecution.

“An already poor human rights situation (in Iran) rapidly deteriorated after the June elections,” Posner said. “It is a place where we are continuing to see severe repression of dissent and are continuing to pay great attention.”

The report also raised concerns about discrimination against Muslims in Europe.

The report cited Switzerland’s ban on the construction of minarets on mosques enacted in November, as well as continued bans or restrictions on headscarves and burkas worn by Muslims in France, Germany and the Netherlands.

“Discrimination against Muslims in Europe has been an increasing concern,” the report said.

Germany and the Netherlands have prohibitions against teachers wearing headscarves or burkas while on the job, and France bans the wearing of the religious garb in public, the report said.

The report particularly focused on problems in the Netherlands, where Muslims number about 850,000. The report said Muslims face societal resentment based on the belief that Islam is not compatible with Western values.

“Major incidents of violence against Muslims were rare, but minor incidents, including intimidation, brawls, vandalism, and graffiti with abusive language, were common,” the report said, adding that right-wing politicians play a role in fuelling the resentment.