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The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released online from January 1, 1997 to January 20, 2001. Please see www.state.gov for current material from the Department of State. Or visit http://2001-2009.state.gov for information from that period. Archive sites are not updated, so external links may no longer function. Contact us with any questions about finding information. NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.
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U.S. Department of State

Overview to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1997

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.

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INTRODUCTION TO THE 1997 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT

I. The Universality of Basic Freedoms

In 1948, in the aftermath of the deadliest war in human history and in the first chill of a new Cold War, delegates to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights carefully crafted the language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights--the first international agreement on the rights of humankind. Working under the leadership of the head of the United States delegation, Eleanor Roosevelt, they came from all continents, representing a broad spectrum of cultures. The document proclaims the "inherent dignity and...equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family."

The enduring strength of the Declaration is its universality. Its core freedoms are the entitlement of all people, not just some groups or cultures. They are not a new invention. Sophocles wrote about them 2,500 years ago when he had Antigone declare that there were ethical laws higher than the laws of Theban kings. The Chinese delegation at the time of the drafting of the Declaration pointed out that Confucius articulated these values in ancient China. These rights begin, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, in the "world of individual persons...the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination."

On Human Rights Day, December 10, 1997, the international community began a year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration by the General Assembly of the United Nations without a single dissenting vote. In the following half century the Declaration's principles have entered the consciousness of people around the world, providing inspiration for laws, constitutions, and numerous efforts to safeguard basic liberties. They have provided a universal yardstick for measuring our progress and showing what remains to be done.

Although the world has changed much in the past 50 years, the Declaration's universal principles remain fully valid. The Cold War is history and communism has been discredited, but threats to freedom and human rights persist. As we saw this year in sectarian and ethnic violence in many places around the globe, people everywhere remain capable of dehumanizing others while leaders continue to exploit this human failing for their own ends. Democracy was betrayed by violence in Cambodia, despite the international community's strong involvement. Political opposition and individuals belonging to ethnic and religious minorities still face state-sanctioned discrimination and murder in too many parts of the world.

The universality of the Declaration's principles requires that we "expand the circle of full human dignity to all people," as First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton stated in her speech at the United Nations on Human Rights Day. Exceptions to the principle of universality threaten to undermine the human dignity of all. Repressive governments and their apologists always have rationalized why they should be exempted from the Declaration's principles. From the tortured explanations for apartheid in South Africa to appeals to the Burmese Government's slogan of "disciplined democracy," repressive governments have sought exceptions for themselves. A perennial argument is that people in a given society are not yet "ready" for democracy and human rights. In 1997 the Declaration came under attack when Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir proposed a review of the Declaration, although he later asserted that it was not his intention to "dilute" the Declaration.

Some Western scholars have argued that advocates do more harm than good to press democracy and human rights at the wrong stage of socioeconomic development. Autocratic governments, so the argument goes, are insulated from interest group politics and have greater freedom to impose economic discipline on behalf of long-term development.

While some authoritarian governments may have maintained political stability and produced economic gain in the short run, this short-term stability has been purchased at the price of repression. These governments lack the ingredients for continued success: the open information and incentives for risk-taking produced by an open society, and the accountability that comes with political pluralism and democracy--which fosters transparency in the management of economic institutions. This involves the freedoms proclaimed in the Declaration, including political and economic pluralism, a free press, freedom of association, free and fair elections, and the rule of law.

The argument that economic development must precede democracy and human rights ignores evidence from recent history. The experiences of Poland, Costa Rica, the Philippines, and Botswana demonstrate that the roads to prosperity and democracy are one and the same. The evolution toward democracy is a complex process involving many factors, with no particular order or sequence of events that must be followed. International efforts to promote democratization and basic freedoms are best addressed to as many institutions of civil society as possible, including legislatures, judiciaries, executive agencies, local governments, trade unions, press and media, and NGOs. Of course, democracy cannot be imposed from the outside. It must find its own roots within any given society. But as we look around the world, we see those roots almost everywhere, even starting to develop under repressive conditions in places such as China, Nigeria, and Burma.

Building democratic culture and support for human rights is never easy, and there are always setbacks. But that is no reason for the international community to doubt the universality of the Declaration's principles, nor to hold back from trying to expand the circle of human dignity. Fifty years after adoption of the Universal Declaration, it is clear that people in all cultures and at all stages of development want their voices to be heard and their dignity to be assured. The year 1997 brought several impressive examples. In places as diverse as Mali, Albania, Guatemala, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Georgia, and South Korea, the actions of people in the advancement of their own human rights and democracy reaffirmed the viability and universality of the Declaration's principles.

Several regional organizations also took steps in 1997 that underscored the universality of human rights. In Asia ASEAN postponed Cambodia's admission after the democratic process broke down. In Africa the Southern African Development Community (SADC) was active in supporting the proposed International Criminal Court. Addressing the SADC, South African President Nelson Mandela stressed that respect for state sovereignty could not limit the SADC members' common concern for democracy and human rights. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) intervened against a coup in Sierra Leone.

II. Year in Review

A. Repressive Governments

Strong authoritarian governments in many parts of the world kept themselves in power through the systematic abuse of the human rights of their citizens. The dismal scenario is all too familiar.

In China there were positive steps on human rights, although serious problems remained. Chinese authorities continued to commit widespread and well-documented human rights abuses, in violation of internationally accepted norms. Abuses included torture and mistreatment of prisoners, forced confessions, arbitrary arrest, and lengthy incommunicado detention. The Government continued to use intimidation, administrative detention, imposition of prison terms, house arrest or exile to control dissent. Thousands remained in prison for the peaceful expression of their political, social, or religious views, or "counterrevolutionary" crimes. In Tibet repressive social and political controls of ethnic Tibetans risk undermining Tibet's unique cultural, linguistic and religious heritage.

However, the Government's response to dissent was somewhat more tolerant than in recent years. A number of dissidents, academics, and former officials issued public statements, letters or petitions challenging the Government's policies or advocating political reform. The authorities released a few political prisoners, including Wei Jingsheng. China also made progress in legal reform efforts in 1997. As a result of economic and social changes, average Chinese citizens now go about their lives with more personal freedom than ever before. However, those Chinese who openly express dissenting political and religious views still live in an environment filled with repression.

In Burma the Government changed its name from the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) but not its restrictive practices. Security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings, beatings, and rape. The Government continued its restrictions on basic rights of free speech, the press, assembly, association, and privacy.

In Nigeria despite General Sani Abacha's announced timetable for transition to multiparty rule, there was no meaningful progress toward democracy. The March 15 elections were deeply flawed. In April the Government issued Decree Number 7, which allows for the removal at will of any elected official by the Head of State. Other elections were postponed. The winner of the annulled 1993 presidential election, Chief Moshood K.O. Abiola, remained in detention on charges of treason, as did other prominent politicians and pro-democracy activists. Abacha announced on November 17 that he would release some political detainees but at year's end he had not done so. Security forces continue to commit extrajudicial killings, use excessive force, torture, harass human rights and prodemocracy groups, and sexually abuse female suspects and prisoners. Prison conditions remain life threatening. Government tribunals operating outside the constitutional court system undermine the judicial process. Restrictions on freedoms of speech, the press, assembly, and association continue.

Cuba attracted positive attention by agreeing to a visit from the Pope in early 1998. Castro's totalitarian structure, however, remains unchanged. Police continued to use excessive force, occasionally resulting in deaths. Freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, and the right to privacy are denied. North Korea, despite economic catastrophe, still clings to its totalitarian isolationism.

The aging dictatorship in Libya survived another year through intimidation and the denial of basic rights. In Syria there was scant progress in opening up the autocratic system. In Iraq the Government forced the displacement of tens of thousands of Kurds, Shi'a, and other minorities, and there were credible reports of mass extrajudicial killings of perceived political opponents. In Iran serious human rights abuses persisted, although its new president, Seyyed Mohamad Khatami, has publicly pledged his support for the rule of law and increased personal freedoms. In Saudi Arabia restrictions on freedoms, including the basic freedoms of women, continued.

B. Countries in Conflict

Conflict posed an increasing threat to civilians in a number of countries in 1997. In the Great Lakes region of Africa Hutu insurgents in Rwanda, Burundi, and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC) have organized alliances that include the openly genocidal ex-FAR and Interahamwe, and the Burundian Palipehutu. The security-conscious governments in the region are sharing arms and intelligence. There are extremely serious abuses on all sides. In the DROC the human rights situation has remained extremely volatile, despite the departure of former President Mobutu. Many serious problems remain, especially allegations of civilian massacres during President Kabila's campaign to take power, which the U.N. has sought unsuccessfully to investigate.

The alarming brutality of the massacres and sexual violence against women in Algeria commanded the world's attention. At the end of the year, as many as 1,000 civilians were being killed each month. Civil war, as well as slavery and forced conscription of children continued in Sudan. The Government continued to use extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, and the harassment of suspected opponents to stay in power. Military forces summarily tried and punished civilians. Afghanistan remains in a state of near anarchy, with arbitrary and summary law enforced by the armed factions in territories under their control. The repressive Taliban control the majority of territory. Human rights for women and girls declined drastically in Taliban-controlled areas, where they were denied the right to education; prohibited from working outside the home, except in limited circumstances in the health care field; and prohibited from appearing outside the home, unless accompanied by a male family member and wearing a covering from head to toe.

Colombia has increasing human rights problems. Security forces, paramilitary forces, and guerrillas all committed extrajudicial killings and kidnapings, almost always with impunity. Guerrillas disrupted local elections and threatened and killed candidates. Paramilitaries at times, with the collaboration or acquiescence of the military, were responsible for massacring unarmed civilians.

C. Countries in Transition

Countries in transition presented a mixed picture of progress and backsliding. On the hopeful side, democratic government, despite significant remaining obstacles, seemed to be taking root in Romania and Bulgaria, as reforming governments tackled difficult structural economic problems.

As countries emerge from these transitions, women continue to have particular burdens, leaving their basic needs unmet. In such situations, women lack shelter, food, and the ability to provide for their children. These circumstances put an additional strain on women's ability to participate in the economic and political rebuilding of their country.

When Albania stood on the brink of chaos following the collapse of the pyramid investment schemes, the international community coordinated an effective response. The Italian-led multinational force provided security, while the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) oversaw election preparations. Despite physical danger and other obstacles, the Albanian people bravely responded to the international community's assistance by turning out in force for the June 29 parliamentary election. In a massive protest vote, the opposition Socialists defeated the increasingly authoritarian President Berisha. Although much still can go wrong, the international community worked with the Albanian people to help put the country back on the democratic track, and under the coordination of the OSCE, remains engaged in the strengthening of human rights and democratic initiatives in Albania.

Liberia held presidential and parliamentary elections on July 19, which international observers deemed free and transparent.

Bosnia continued haltingly to put in place elements of the Dayton Accords, most notably, successful municipal elections in September supervised and monitored by the OSCE. More indicted war criminals were brought to justice. In July SFOR members arrested one war criminal and killed another in self-defense. On October 10, indicted Croat war criminals surrendered to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia; the majority of Croat war criminals are now in custody. The Dayton-mandated Human Rights Commission strengthened its role, and the International Commission on Missing Persons continued to help families determine the fate of their loved ones. The United Nations International Police Task Force expanded its work of training and vetting multiethnic police units in the Federation and, to a far lesser extent, in the Republika Srpska, where local authorities often proved uncooperative. The growing political influence of President Plavsic and her supporters in the Republika Srpska demonstrated that indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic does not, in fact, hold the allegiance of most Bosnian Serbs. Bosnia still has a long way to go, however, to fulfill the promise of Dayton. The pace of integration remains disappointingly slow, as mutual suspicions far exceed mutual trust. The pace of refugee returns remains minimal, as refugees rightly fear to return to areas where they would be members of a minority. More progress is needed on freedom of movement, freedom of the media, joint institutions, and the creation of multiethnic police units. Perhaps the major factor underlying the slow pace of Bosnia's healing is that the majority of indicted war criminals are still at large in Bosnia and some, like Karadzic, are influencing policies in the Republika Srpska. The healing and reconciliation process can only be slowed by their presence.

There was a marked decline in human rights abuses in Guatemala, but problems remained in some areas, including extrajudicial killings. Lynching and mob attacks continued. Haiti's human rights progress continued under President Rene Preval, its second democratically-elected leader. However, the political situation remained unsettled following disputed local elections in April and the June resignation of the Prime Minister, with no replacement by year's end.

Georgia began a second stage of economic reforms to complete the transition to a free market economy. Senior government officials openly acknowledged human rights problems, and the routine abuse and torture of prisoners and detainees continued. However, increased citizen awareness of democratic values and the growing assertiveness of the Parliament provided some check on the excesses of law enforcement agencies.

Egypt made incremental improvements in its human rights situation, although continuing major problems include restrictions under the Emergency Law (in response to terrorist activity), mass arrests, torture, limits on press freedom, and discrimination against women and Christians.

Indonesian authorities maintained their tight grip on the political process and controlled the May parliamentary elections. Security forces continued to be responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and torture. Restrictions on freedom of speech and association, as well as government influence over the judiciary, are exemplified by the trial of trade union organizer Muchtar Pakpahan, which still continues after 14 months. Vietnam's human rights record, although somewhat improved, continued to be poor, with significant restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, association, religion, and the right to privacy.

Some countries took certain steps this year that raise particular concerns. In Turkey widespread human rights violations continued, including torture, restrictions on freedom of expression, "honor" murders of women, and the excessive use of force by security officials in the southeast. The Government adopted some reforms to address its torture problem and sent some positive signals on lifting restrictions on free speech. Prime Minister Yilmaz made significant human rights commitments in a series of statements in late 1997. Early in 1998, however, the judiciary issued a ruling banning Refah, Turkey's largest political party.

In contrast with its generally favorable climate for freedom of expression, Russia took a step backward with the passage of a law restricting freedom of religion. In another area, Russia still has not adequately addressed pervasive sexual and domestic violence against women.

A number of countries in transition slid backward toward greater authoritarianism. Another unfortunate trend for countries in conflict is increased criminal activity due to the lack of a strong central government. For example, the deplorable increase in trafficking of women and girls, poses a serious threat to the social and economic structure of emerging democracies. Victims are left without adequate legal, economic, and social protection as this criminal activity expands.

After tremendous efforts by internal proponents of democracy, supported by the international community, Cambodia reversed course during widespread violence in July, following which virtually all opposition leaders fled the country. The Government limited freedoms of the press, assembly, association, and the right to a fair trial.

The situation continued to worsen in Belarus as President Lukashenko harassed independent political parties, the media, trade unions, human rights groups, and NGO's. The Soros Foundation was forced out of the country. Under sustained international pressure, Lukashenko reluctantly accepted establishment of an OSCE mission. However, the degree of government cooperation with the mission remains to be seen.

In Croatia an authoritarian government headed by Franjo Tudjman used domination of the media and control of the judiciary and the electoral process to harass and isolate most democratic opposition. The OSCE monitored and reported on the problems with the elections.

In Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, legislatures and judiciaries remain subordinate to powerful presidents. Basic freedoms are curtailed in Uzbekistan, under the personality cult regime in Turkmenistan, and to a lesser extent in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

III. Early Warning, Preventive Diplomacy, and Justice

The movement to strengthen and expand international institutions of justice gained momentum in 1997. International organizations, such as the United Nations and the OSCE, work with states and NGO's to promote the basic rights of those most vulnerable. Their efforts to deal with violations track the process of conflict resolution in three different dimensions: early warning, preventive diplomacy, and justice.

The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) plays an important role in promoting basic human rights in the emerging democracies of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. It is active in monitoring elections and developing national electoral human rights institutions. The OSCE also monitors implementation of human rights as set down in the Helsinki Final Act. Helsinki implementation was reviewed in November at a 3-week meeting organized by ODIHR. In 1997 the OSCE established a Representative on Freedom of the Media, who will focus on compliance with OSCE principles and commitments regarding freedom of expression and free media.

U.N. mechanisms for promoting and protecting human rights include working groups, special rapporteurs, and experts who investigate and report on alleged violations. Over the past year, the U.N. has strengthened the capacity of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to play a major role in advancing human rights worldwide. As part of his effort to strengthen the role of the High Commissioner, Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed Mary Robinson, who was then President of Ireland, to that office following the resignation of Jose Ayala Lasso of Ecuador. She has committed herself to advancing international human rights norms through moral persuasion and practical methods designed to produce tangible results. As part of his Track Two reforms, Secretary General Annan consolidated the Center for Human Rights into the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and has made the High Commissioner a participant in his executive committees. These moves raise the profile of human rights within the U.N. and affirm that the High Commissioner is the primary liaison for human rights mechanisms within the U.N. system. The United States is working with the international community to strengthen the High Commissioner's office through more efficient management and additional resources.

Over the past 4 years, early warning activities have been advanced through the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The two high commissioners have managed field operations in Rwanda, Bosnia, Burundi, Georgia, Colombia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Haiti, Guatemala, and elsewhere, which advanced U.N. early warning capabilities. In Central and Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union, the OSCE, through its field missions and High Commissioner for National Minorities, plays a similar early warning role. In addition, the United States and the European Union have taken the lead on a public awareness campaign to warn potential trafficking victims of the dangers involved in this criminal activity.

Once forewarned of the possibility of new or renewed violent conflict, preventive diplomacy can take a number of forms. Measures like visa restrictions, arms restrictions, denial of access to international financing, and economic sanctions all can be deployed to contain a conflict or to put pressure on the leaders who are stimulating it, as was done throughout 1997 to support the peace process in Bosnia by keeping the pressure on Pale, Zagreb, and Belgrade. Sometimes conflicts can be ended or mitigated, such as in Guatemala, Haiti, and El Salvador, where the U.N. and the OAS helped negotiate an end to conflicts that involved massive human rights abuses. Such preventive diplomacy often registers successes that go unreported, as in Estonia, where the OSCE sponsored a series of local open forums on minority rights that helped generate greater understanding between Estonians and ethnic Russians.

If early warning and preventive diplomacy fail, appropriate action must be considered by the international community, especially when large numbers of civilians are threatened by violence. In 1997 the rapid and effective intervention of the Italian-led multinational force helped to rescue Albania from the brink of chaos. With the OSCE playing the leading role, the international community contributed to a successful election process in June in which the Albanian people chose a new government to begin to lead them out of their crisis. This international role was facilitated by the cooperation of most Albanian political leaders. In contrast, government resistance prevented international human rights missions from being effectively deployed in Algeria and played a role in holding up the U.N. mission in the DROC.

Sustaining peace once it has been restored requires justice. Those guilty of crimes against humanity must be punished or, at least, exposed if the victims and their survivors are to be reconciled with their countrymen. Affixing individual responsibility also serves as an effective warning to others who might be tempted to engage in similar acts. For this reason, the U.S. has been the strongest political and logistical supporter of the U.N. War Crimes Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, including supporting the inclusion of rape as a war crime.

Although the Tribunals made progress in 1997, both still face major challenges. In July the SFOR made its first arrest of indicted war criminals, capturing one and killing another in self-defense. Under diplomatic and economic pressure from the international community, Croatia surrendered 10 indicted Croats, thereby placing most of the wanted Croatians behind bars. However, 52 persons indicted by the Tribunal remain at large, including Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. The Rwanda Tribunal has been more successful in gaining custody of indicted war criminals and made significant progress in 1997 in overcoming administrative, staffing, and morale problems. The Rwanda Tribunal made history in 1997 when it filed its first indictment for rape and sexual abuse. These Tribunals are unique in trying to bring justice to ongoing conflicts as a way of seeking to end them, something that no other international institution of justice has ever attempted. Although their work is far from complete, the Tribunals helped pave the way for progress in 1997 toward a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC). President Clinton has called for the Court to be established before the century ends. A treaty establishing the ICC is expected to be drafted in Rome in the summer of 1998. The ICC would have its own judges, prosecutors, and investigators to try individuals for genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity, including crimes of sexual violence against women, if national courts failed to do so.

IV. Religion

Freedom of religion is a universal human right that demands international attention. Religious persecution not only is an intolerable invasion of an individual's basic human rights, but it can lead to grave consequences for political and economic stability. If people lack the freedom to practice their faith, it is likely that other human rights will be restricted and that intolerance and violence will be more prevalent. Lack of these rights also impedes efforts to establish societies that promote liberty and justice.

In Sudan a bloody civil war fueled by religious intolerance against Animists, Christians, and some Muslims continued unabated. Iran's religious minorities continue to experience discrimination and persecution, particularly Evangelical Christians and Baha'is. Burma's persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority resulted in refugees fleeing to Bangladesh.

In China nonapproved religious groups, including Protestant and Catholic groups, experienced varying degrees of official interference and repression as the Government continued to enforce its 1994 regulations requiring all religious organizations to register with the Government and come under the supervision of official "patriotic" religious organizations. There was evidence that the authorities, guided by national policy, in some areas made strong efforts to control the activities of unapproved Catholic and Protestant churches. In some cases, authorities have used detention, arrest, and reform-through-education sentences to enforce regulations. Despite this pressure, the number of religious adherents in many churches, both registered and unregistered, continued to grow at a rapid pace. Citizens worshipping in officially sanctioned churches mosques, and temples reported little or no day-to-day interference by the government. In Xinjiang and Tibet, tight controls on religion continued and, in some cases, intensified.

Evidence of fear and suspicion of minority religions grew in Europe, in both former Communist countries and those with long traditions of democracy and tolerance. Motivated in part by fear of deadly movements such as Solar Temple and Aum Shinri-kyo, some European countries have sought to restrict freedoms for a disparate group of minority faiths, lumping them all together as "cults," and have begun to compile lists of "cults" for closer observation.

This trend also has been particularly strong in countries where the Orthodox Church has lobbied the government to restrict minority religions. In Russia President Yeltsin signed a law that imposes severe restrictions on minority religions, including some offshoot Orthodox groups. Some of these religious communities may be forced to wait up to 15 years before attaining full legal status, which is a requirement for owning property, publishing literature, inviting foreign guests, operating schools, and conducting charitable activities. The law also imposes onerous religious restrictions on noncitizens and erects barriers against foreign missionaries. The impact of the new law on religious freedom will be measured, in part, by the implementing regulations, which are expected to be completed in early 1998. Already, however, some local officials have seized on the passage of the law to pressure unpopular religions in their districts. Bulgaria and Romania also have religion laws. While Bulgaria has implemented its law in a manner that has resulted in violations of religious freedom, Romania has done so in a manner more consistent with international norms of religious freedom. A similar law before the Austrian parliament would be more restrictive than the Russian law.

V. Women

Celebrations of the Universal Declaration's 50th Anniversary at the close of 1997 proclaimed the human rights progress of women worldwide while calling attention to the many obstacles that remain to be overcome. In 1997 women took action to increase and protect their human rights. The momentum of the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 continued to encourage governments to fulfill their commitments to take progressive actions to secure rights for women. The Conference's call to action motivated governments and NGOs to increase programs and activities focused on women's human rights.

Women's NGO's around the world led the way in 1997 by taking issues to their governments and to international organizations. Due to their strong advocacy, governments and international organizations, such as the U.N., have become more responsive. NGO's, governments and international organizations formed partnerships to explore women's issues and bring about change. For example, female democracy builders met in Vienna for strategic planning in areas of law, leadership, politics, and business, while workshops in South Asia examined the magnitude of the problem of trafficking in women and girls. Female political leaders in Central Asia gathered in Kazakhstan to coordinate approaches to increase women's political participation in that region. The First Lady gave the keynote address at that conference.

This year more countries joined the ranks of those placing women's human rights on their national agendas. The Dominican Republic passed a new penal code that specifically prohibits domestic violence. The Egyptian Supreme Court upheld a ban on female genital mutilation, and New Zealand voters elected their first female prime minister. Bulgaria raised the penalty for trafficking in women and girls and created an interagency body to address the issue. Namibian parliamentarians spoke out forcefully in protest of violence against women, and Mauritania, which continued to maintain many barriers against the advancement of former female slaves, developed limited programs to further the education of girls.

Despite this increased willingness to address women's human rights violations, women around the world continued to encounter barriers of political, economic, and social discrimination, often codified in the law. For example, in Bangladesh women still are victims of dowry-related killings. Women in Tanzania still may be punished for not bearing children, and women in Guinea-Bissau have limited access to education. Although Kuwait, Oman, and Yemen have taken important steps toward democratic reform, Kuwaiti women do not have the right to vote, and women in Oman and Yemen, as in Saudi Arabia, must obtain permission from a male relative before applying for a visa or leaving the country. Married women in the United Arab Emirates cannot obtain employment without their husband's written consent. In Turkey loopholes in the legal system remain, which result in lesser sentences in cases of rape if the woman was not a virgin prior to the rape or the judge deems the woman to have acted provocatively.

Women around the world continue to face enormous obstacles that prevent their participation in political and economic life. In large part due to governments' laws and practices, women are disproportionately poor, denied the right to privacy, discriminated against in employment opportunities outside the home, and forced into sexual slavery. Throughout 1997 many laws designed to protect the human rights of women remained unenforced. Continuing legal obstacles remain to women's fair and open ownership of land and inheritance rights.

Algerian women suffered extreme oppression and atrocities by militant groups this year, including rape, forced prostitution, "temporary marriages," and beatings and beheading for failure to wear head coverings.

The blatant abuse of women continued in Afghanistan. Women were beaten for violating increasingly restrictive Taliban dress codes, which require women to be covered from head to toe. Women were strictly prohibited from working outside the home, and women and girls were denied the right to an education. Women were forbidden from appearing outside the home unless accompanied by a male family member. Beatings and death resulted for failure to observe these restrictions.

Violence against women, both inside and outside the home, remains a widespread and entrenched violation of women's human rights around the world. Domestic violence continues to be a problem in virtually every country. The continued violent and harmful practice of female genital mutilation violates women's human rights with devastating physical health and psychological consequences. Increasing numbers of women and girls are trafficked and exploited for the purpose of prostitution, domestic servitude and forced labor. Women's voices often remain silenced. In short, despite the strides taken by women, governments, and international organizations in 1997, there is much work to be done to assure that women's human rights are respected throughout the world.

VI. Worker Rights

An international consensus exists, based on several key International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions, that certain worker rights constitute core labor standards. These 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 gender and other discrimination in employment; and freedom from forced and child labor.

Notwithstanding this consensus, free trade unions continued in 1997 to face harassment and repression in many countries. The ILO's annual review of worker rights complaints led it to adopt "special paragraphs" condemning violations by Burma, Iran, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan, and Swaziland. The ILO also expressed grave concern about worker rights violations in a number of other countries, including Belarus, Colombia, and Indonesia. These unacceptable practices have taken place as the international community prepares to strengthen universal recognition of worker rights, with the anticipated adoption in 1998 of an ILO Declaration on Core Labor Standards. Much will depend on the mechanisms that ILO member nations devise to monitor and improve their progress toward compliance with these standards.

In Mexico blatant discrimination against women took the form of mandatory pregnancy testing during preemployment physicals and the exposure of pregnant women to hazardous conditions to make them quit.

The ILO also expects to consider a new Convention in 1998 to eliminate the most intolerable forms of child labor. As the 1997 Country Reports make clear, the exploitation and abuse of society's youngest and most vulnerable members continues all too frequently around the globe. Public outrage over the use of unpaid or cheaply paid children to produce goods for export prompted a reaction by consumers in several developed countries, including boycotts and selective buying campaigns. In the United States, public reaction contributed to congressional enactment of the "Sanders Amendment," emphasizing an intent to bar goods made by forced or indentured child labor from entering the U.S. market. To accelerate international efforts to end child labor and move children out of harmful work situations and into education, a growing list of countries contributed to the ILO's International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor.

Dramatic financial and exchange rate developments in the second half of 1997 battered the economies of several East Asian nations where restrictions on freedom of association exist. These developments highlighted the problem of limitations on democratic activity that can preclude the development of institutional checks on both governmental and private economic decisionmaking, aggravating the consequences of error.

VII. Conclusion

Over the past half-century the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have formed a constellation of principles to which all people can aspire. They have entered the consciousness of people around the world. They are increasingly invoked in constitutions and courts. They set a standard by which to measure fundamental rights.

The protection and advancement of the Declaration's principles are in the interest of all humanity, of nations as well as of individuals.

Men and women from Cambodia to Romania, South Africa to Russia, and Haiti to India, have shown that, regardless of the economic condition of a nation or its historical or cultural legacy, basic freedoms are a universal aspiration. They are not, contrary to what critics of the Declaration say, a Western luxury or a form of cultural imperialism. As First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton put it in her address to the United Nations General Assembly on Human Rights Day, 1997:

"The beliefs inscribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not invented 50 years ago. They are not the work of a single culture or country. They have been with us forever, from civilization's first light....The belief that we must respect our neighbors as we would respect ourselves resides at the core of the teachings of all the major faiths of the world....If I were to tear up this Declaration, its values would abide."

John Shattuck

Assistant Secretary of State for

Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

January 30, 1998

[end of document]

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