Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 26, 1999.
I. The Right To Democracy
More than 50 years have passed since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed that all human beings are "free and equal in dignity and rights." Yet for too long, the world's dictatorships have sought to undermine one of its most fundamental precepts: the right to democracy. Although Article 21 of the Declaration provides that "the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government . . . expressed in periodic and genuine elections," many governments continue to deny their citizens the right to choose their own government. In too many countries, leaders speak of democracy even as they rig elections, suppress dissent, and shackle the press.
Since the founding of the Republic,
Americans have recognized that constitutional democracy provides
the best protection for the full range of human rights. Our democratic
system has empowered Americans to challenge their own government
and to secure fundamental political change. From the Civil War
to the civil rights movement, Americans have demanded that their
government adhere to the principles of self-government and civil
liberties upon which this country was founded, thereby securing
the blessings of equality, liberty, and justice.
The right to democratic governance
is both a means and an end in the struggle for human rights.
Freedom of conscience, expression, religion, and association are
all bolstered where democratic rights are guaranteed. Rights
to a fair trial and to personal security are enhanced in genuine
democracies. Elected leaders gain legitimacy through the democratic
process, allowing them to build popular support, even for economic
and political reforms that may entail temporary hardships for
Democracy and genuine respect for
human rights remain the best paths for sustainable economic growth.
In contrast, an authoritarian development model may generate prosperity
for a time, but cannot sustain it in the face of corruption, cronyism,
and the continued denial of citizens' rights. When severe economic
downturns occur, authoritarian regimes cannot respond flexibly
or effectively to economic problems. Without genuine democratic
mechanisms to channel popular displeasure, the government must
often choose greater repression to avoid a popular uprising.
Contrast Indonesia, where last year
a Soeharto regime lacking both accountability and transparency
saw an economic downturn quickly deteriorate into a political
crisis, with the Republic of Korea, where genuinely democratic
elections gave new President Kim Dae Jung - a former political
prisoner - the popular support he needed to implement austerity
measures and economic reforms. These events confirmed that nothing
about "Asian values" precludes respect for democracy,
human rights, and the rule of law, even in times of economic crisis.
To be sure, democratization is a long and complex struggle that does not come easily. Government "of the people" cannot be imposed from the outside. Rather, countries must come to democracy by their own path. As Secretary Albright has noted, "[D]emocracy must emerge from the desire of individuals to participate in the decisions that shape their lives . . . . Unlike dictatorship, democracy is never an imposition; it is always a choice."
Moreover, 1998 again confirmed that
democracy must be more than just elections. The slow development
of democracy in some newly independent states demonstrated that
elections should be regarded not as an end in themselves, but
as the means to establish a political system that fosters the
growth and selffulfillment of its citizens by promoting
and protecting their political and civil rights. Genuine democracy
thus requires not just elections, but respect for human rights,
including the right to political dissent; a robust civil society;
the rule of law, characterized by vibrant political institutions,
constitutionalism, and an independent judiciary; open and competitive
economic structures; an independent media capable of engaging
an informed citizenry; freedom of religion and belief; mechanisms
to safeguard minorities from oppressive rule by the majority;
and full respect for women's and workers' rights. These principles
- combined with free and fair elections - form the basis for a
culture of democracy. As my predecessor, John Shattuck, has noted,
building such a culture is never easy, but the rewards - stability,
prosperity, and the enrichment of the human spirit - make the
effort profoundly worthwhile.
The United States supports democracy
for the long haul. We foster the growth of democratic culture
wherever it has a chance of taking hold. We focus particularly
on providing support for countries in transition, defending democracies
under attack, and strengthening the network of established democracies.
Each year, we invest over $1 billion in these efforts. We do
so not just because it is right, but because it is necessary.
Our own security as a nation depends upon the expansion of democracy
worldwide, without which repression, corruption, and instability
would almost inevitably engulf countries and even regions. Democracy
holds its leaders accountable to the people. It provides breathing
room for civil society. It opens channels for the free flow of
information and ideas and for the development of diverse and vibrant
economic activity. History shows that democracies are less likely
to fight one another and more likely to cooperate on security
issues, economic matters, environmental concerns, and legal initiatives.
Where democracy flourishes, so too do peace, prosperity, and the
rule of law.
II. The Year in Review
This year's commemoration of the
50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights provided an opportunity to assess our progress in promoting
human rights. As President Clinton noted in his White House address
on Human Rights Day 1998, the Declaration has served both as a
"Magna Carta for humanity" and as an important reminder
that the struggle for human rights continues today. In that
spirit, the President took numerous steps to ensure that the United
States fulfills its responsibility to promote human rights abroad,
including increased U.S. support for the United Nations Torture
Victims Fund; the establishment of a new atrocities early warning
center at the Department of State; greater assistance to genocide
survivors in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Cambodia and increased awareness
of the plight of women and girls suffering under the Taliban regime
in Afghanistan; and a new program to help nongovernmental organizations
respond rapidly to human rights emergencies.
The President also took measures
to ensure that the United States embraces at home what it advocates
abroad. He signed an executive order that strengthens the U.S.
Government's ability to implement those human rights treaties
that past Presidents have signed and the U.S. Senate has ratified
- including the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, the Convention on Torture, and the Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. He instructed the Department
of Justice to develop new measures to address the problem of illegal
aliens who suffer abuses at the hands of smugglers and sweatshop
At the same time that the United
States moves to strengthen its own commitment to human rights,
it continues to monitor closely developments elsewhere. Despite
significant gains in freedom around the world, the past year saw
a number of authoritarian governments maintain their authority
through the systematic repression of the human rights of their
citizens. The sections that follow review key developments in
human rights, democracy, and labor.
Developments in Human Rights
1. The Right to Democratic Dissent.
Some traditionally repressive governments have granted their
citizens greater individual authority over economic decision-making,
but without an accompanying relaxation of controls over peaceful
political activity. These actions show that economic freedom
cannot compensate for the lack of political freedom. The right
to democracy necessarily includes a right to democratic dissent,
namely the right to participate in political life and advocate
the change of government by peaceful means.
A case in point is Serbia, where
the human rights situation deteriorated sharply in 1998. The
regime of Yugoslav Federal President Slobodan Milosevic used the
military, police, judiciary, and state-controlled media to strangle
dissent throughout Serbia and to promote support for a brutal
crackdown on civilians and separatist insurgents in Kosovo. By
year's end, the violence in Kosovo had left about 2,000 persons
dead - the vast majority of whom were unarmed ethnic Albanian
civilians, displaced close to 180,000 individuals, and triggered
the worst regional political and military crisis in Europe since
the end of the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Parts of Asia suffered a similar fate. In Burma, the military junta similarly continued its highly repressive policies, targeting all forms of dissent and intensifying its restriction of free assembly and association. In North Korea, famine and economic disaster did not prevent the Government from maintaining brutally repressive measures to silence dissent.
In China, the Government's human rights record deteriorated sharply at the end of 1998 with a crackdown against organized political opposition. China's sharp limits on freedom of expression and association were evident, as dozens of political activists were detained for attempts to register a political party, and three leaders were given harsh sentences in closed trials that flagrantly violated due process. These developments overshadowed an earlier loosening of restrictions on political debate and the Government's October signature of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Despite the Pope's visit early in 1998, the Cuban Government of Fidel Castro continued to exercise control over all aspects of Cuban life and to suppress ruthlessly all forms of political dissent. Authorities routinely engaged in the arbitrary detention of human rights advocates and independent journalists, subjecting them to interrogations, threats, and degrading treatment. Nineteen months have passed since the Cuban government imprisoned the four founders of the Internal Dissidents' Working Group - economist Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, professor Felix Bonne Carcasses, lawyer Rene Gomez Manzano, and social democratic activist Vladimiro Roca Antunes - for nonviolently exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. Only in September 1998 did the Government finally charge them with "sedition," recommending sentences of 5 to 6 years' imprisonment, and at year's end they still had not been brought to trial.
In the Middle East, equally harsh patterns were visible. In Iraq, the regime of Saddam Hussein continued its brutal campaign of executing perceived political opponents and leaders in the Shia religious community. Syria used its vast security apparatus to quash effectively all organized political opposition or dissent. Libya's Colonel Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi employed extrajudicial executions and summary judicial proceedings to suppress human rights. In Iran, factional struggle and occasionally violent tactics by hard-line elements opposed to change hampered the movement toward greater openness.
Africa also saw governments use violence to quash dissent. In Equatorial Guinea, the Government continued to maintain power through intimidation, coercion, and fraud, committing serious and systematic human rights abuses. The Government in Sudan suppressed all forms of political and religious dissent, utilizing extrajudicial execution, disappearances, torture, beatings, harassment, and arbitrary arrest and detention.
In some of the Newly Independent
States of the former Soviet Union, governments used violence to
suppress dissent. In Belarus, the Government's human rights record
again worsened, as President Aleksandr Lukashenko continued to
neutralize all opposition to his return to Soviet-era authoritarian
practices. Turkmenistan, a one-party state dominated by President
Saparmurad Niyazov, made only modest progress in moving from a
Soviet-era authoritarian style of government to a democratic system
by releasing most political prisoners. In Uzbekistan, police
and security forces regularly applied torture, harassment, illegal
searches, and wiretaps, arbitrarily detaining or arresting opposition
activists and other citizens on false charges and frequently planting
narcotics, weapons, and other false evidence on them.
2. Human Rights in Countries in
Conflict. The past year also saw a disturbing trend toward the
widespread abuse of civilians trapped in conflict, particularly
in countries facing internal insurgencies or civil war. Insurgent
movements and government forces worldwide resorted to murder,
rape, and other human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.
Tens of thousands of men, women, and children died not only because
of conflict, but also from premeditated campaigns designed to
wreak havoc and inflict terror on civilian populations.
This pattern emerged most clearly
in Sierra Leone, where rebel forces killed and maimed with extraordinary
cruelty. While retreating from Freetown to the interior, the rebels
left behind a bloody trail of murder, mutilation, rape, abduction,
and destruction. The insurgents decapitated, burned alive, and
inflicted bullet and machete wounds. Particularly appalling were
the hacking off of ears, noses, hands, arms, and legs of civilians
- including small children and the elderly- and the abduction,
torture, and conscription of young children into rebel forces,
where they were forced to participate in rebel atrocities.
To the south, in the Democratic Republic
of Congo, government and rebel forces - as well as troops of the
governments supporting each side - similarly committed extrajudicial
executions, torture, beatings, and rape. Security forces (and
at times incensed civilian crowds egged on by hate radio) murdered
ethnic Tutsi and other suspected rebels. There are reports that
rebel forces massacred an undetermined number of Catholic clerics
and lay workers in South Kivu in August and murdered hundreds
of civilians in Makobola at year's end.
Angola's recovery from 24 years of
civil war was stymied by UNITA's failure to fulfill its obligations
under the Lusaka Protocol and renewed hostilities between the
Government and UNITA forces, with both sides responsible for a
wide variety of human rights abuses. In Sudan in northeastern
Africa, an extended civil war, widespread famine, and innumerable
violations of human rights and the laws of war have conspired
in the deaths of nearly 2 million individuals in the past 16 years.
The year witnessed similar atrocities
elsewhere in the world. Afghanistan continued to experience civil
war and large-scale political instability. Armed units, local
commanders, and rogue individuals committed political killings,
torture, rape, arbitrary detention, looting, abductions, and kidnappings
for ransom. Both Taliban and anti-Taliban forces indiscriminately
bombarded civilian areas. In August, there were credible reports
that the Taliban massacred hundreds of persons as they captured
Mazar-I Sharif. In Algeria, fighting continued between Government
forces and armed Islamist groups, leading to extrajudicial killings,
disappearances, kidnappings, torture, rape, and other abuses by
In Colombia, the Government continued
to face a serious challenge to its control over the national territory,
as longstanding and widespread internal armed conflict and rampant
violence - both criminal and political - persisted. The principal
participants were government security forces, paramilitary groups,
guerrillas, and narcotics traffickers.
3. Religious Freedom. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration protects everyone's "right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom . . . to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." By so saying, the Declaration recognizes that religious freedom is both a universally recognized human right and an essential component of democratic culture.
Nearly all states claim to respect
the principle of religious freedom. But in too many, governments
refuse to respect this fundamental right, discriminating against,
restricting, persecuting, or even killing those whose faith differs
from that of the majority population. In Sudan, a bloody civil
war fueled by the regime's intolerance of animists, Christians,
and some Muslims continued unabated. Assaults on religious freedom
extended into systematic oppression, as the regime imposed its
harsh rule on Muslims and non-Muslims alike, adopting a strict
interpretation of Shari'a (Islamic) Law. The Government subjected
animists and Christians in the south to kidnapping and sale into
slavery, forced conversion to Islam, and a government-imposed
food shortage that put millions at risk of starvation.
To the north in Egypt, approximately
6 million Coptic Christians face both occasional violent assaults
by extremists and legal and societal discrimination. In 1998,
extremists killed at least eight Christians, and there were credible
reports of violence against Coptic businesses and churches and
government laxity in preventing attacks on Christians. The violence
violates Koranic strictures on principles of tolerance in Islam
and comes at the expense of historically strong relations between
the Coptic and Muslim communities. Christians also face job discrimination
in universities and throughout Egypt's police, armed forces, and
government agencies. Anti-Semitic articles and cartoons are commonplace.
In Saudi Arabia, the Shi'a Muslim community, which makes up about
10 percent of the population, continues to face widespread government
discrimination, including unequal access to social services, education,
and government jobs.
In Iran, the Zoroastrian, Christian,
Jewish, and Baha'i minorities suffered varying degrees of officially
sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment
and education. In 1998, Sunni Muslims encountered religious discrimination
at the local level, and reports of discrimination against practitioners
of the Sufi tradition surfaced as well. Baha'is were particular
targets of coordinated government repression. The Government
executed at least 1 Baha'i for the practice of his faith and at
year's end continued to detain 14 others, including 6 on death
row. Baha'i places of worship remained in government hands, and
the confiscation and desecration of Baha'i graveyards remained
an ongoing concern. Government agents mounted a nationwide crackdown
on an informal university system established by the Baha'i community.
Religious violence in 1998 was hardly confined to the Middle East. In India, controversy between Hindus and Muslims continued with regard to three mosques built centuries ago on sites where temples are believed to have stood previously. In addition, violence against Christians increased significantly, linked to extremist groups with ties to the governing Bharatiya Janata Party. In Pakistan, sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni groups claimed 75 lives. Religious minorities face violence and harassment, and police often refuse to charge persons who commit such acts. Militant Sunni mullahs targeted minority Ahmadis as "heretics," and one even called for the Ahmadis' "massacre." Even rumors that someone may be an Ahmadi or may have Ahmadi relatives can stifle opportunities for employment or promotion. Other religious minority groups also face discrimination and persecution. Christians in particular face harassment and intimidation, and a general atmosphere of religious intolerance led to trumped-up charges of blasphemy and acts of violence. In Uzbekistan, the Government increased pressure against independent Muslims, using a new religion law to close independent mosques. It also used arrests under false pretenses, harassment, disappearances, and expulsion of students from public educational institutions for Islamic attire or grooming.
Problems in East Asia were no less
daunting. In Indonesia, attacks ranging from minor vandalism
to arson targeted churches, temples, mosques, and other religious
facilities. Although the number of churches targeted was significantly
lower in 1998 than in previous years, members of minority religions
continued to report inadequate responses by officials to protect
their property or to arrest those responsible for the destruction.
Intercommunal violence became more common as the year progressed.
Allegations that unidentified provocateurs were fanning sectarian
conflict contributed to widespread tensions but remained unproven.
In Vietnam, the Government severely
restricted religious activities other than those by officially
sanctioned groups. The Government continued not to recognize the
United Buddhist Church of Vietnam, and imprisoned a number of
its monks (although some were released during the year). Religious
organizations needed permission to conduct most activities, and
Pentecostal house churches continued to meet in the face of government
restrictions on proselytizing.
In China, the Government attempted
to restrict religious practice to officially sanctioned organizations
and registered places of worship. Unapproved religious groups,
including Protestants, Catholics, Tibetan Buddhists, and Muslims,
continued to experience degrees of official interference and repression
that varied from region to region and locality to locality. In
some areas, authorities guided by national policy made strong
efforts to control the activities of unapproved churches; religious
services were broken up, and church leaders or adherents were
detained and, at times, reportedly beaten. At year's end, some
remained in prison because of their religious activities. In
other regions, registered and unregistered churches were treated
similarly. The number of Catholic and Protestant adherents, in
both registered and unregistered churches, continued to grow rapidly.
In Tibet, the Chinese Government maintained tight controls on
religious practices and moved to suppress religious manifestations
that advocate Tibetan independence or any expression of separatism.
The Government renewed its rhetorical campaign against the Dalai
Lama and intensified a reeducation campaign aimed at monks and
nuns. There were reports of imprisonment and abuse or torture
of monks and nuns, the death of prisoners, and the closure of
several monasteries. Despite repeated international expressions
of concern about the welfare and whereabouts of Gendun Choeyki
Nyima, the boy designated by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama,
the Government refused access to him by international observers.
Even among countries that claimed to respect religious freedom, abuses continued. Over the past year, Russia's restrictive 1997 law on religion was cited by some local officials as they limited citizens' religious freedom. Ostensibly targeting dangerous religious cults, the law could discriminate against members of foreign and less well-established religions by making it difficult for them to manifest their beliefs through organized religious institutions. The law's most controversial provisions limit the rights, activities, and status of religious groups that have existed in Russia for less than 15 years.
Despite their commitment to the principle
of religious freedom, several European countries have similarly
begun to respond to a perceived fear of "sects" with
actions that discriminate unfairly against new or minority religious
beliefs. France and Germany were among those European countries
that sought to use laws to restrict groups such as the Church
In 1998, the Clinton Administration,
Congress, NGOs and religious organizations completed a 2-year
national dialogue on how to place religious freedom squarely in
the mainstream of U.S. foreign policy. Secretary Albright appointed
Robert Seiple as Special Representative of the Secretary of State
for International Religious Freedom, and established an Office
of International Religious Freedom in the Bureau of Democracy,
Human Rights, and Labor. The Secretary's Advisory Committee on
Religious Freedom Abroad facilitated direct representation of
views and concerns from a broad spectrum of American citizens
of various faith traditions. The Administration worked diligently
with Congress to codify many of these measures through passage
of the International Religious Freedom Act, which the President
signed into law in October.
The Act assists the President and
Secretary of State's continuing efforts to advance religious freedom
around the world. It requires the President to choose from a
menu of options, ranging from diplomatic measures to economic
sanctions, in responding to violations of religious freedom.
Under the Act, such measures would not affect the provision of
food, medicine, and humanitarian assistance. The President can
take into account prior actions by the United States (that are
still in effect) against a country in considering how best to
respond to violations of religious freedom by that country. Because
the Act also contains waiver authority, these tools are designed
to allow the President sufficient flexibility to tailor the appropriate
U.S. response to abuses of religious liberty in each particular
situation. The Act also establishes a U.S. Commission on Religious
Freedom to advise on policy matters concerning religious persecution
abroad. It instructs the Department of State to publish specific
country reports that evaluate international religious freedom
worldwide beginning in September 1999, a task that the Bureau
of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor will coordinate.
4. Press Freedom and the Information
Revolution. Democracy depends not just on unfettered minds, but
also on an informed electorate. Only free media - whether print,
broadcast, or electronic - can ensure that citizens have access
to the information that they need to make political decisions.
If a government can control information or limit press freedom,
it can usually preordain elections, stunt civil society, and manipulate
the judiciary. Throughout the world, journalists risk harassment,
arrest, imprisonment, and even death to get the story told. It
is hardly surprising that, according to the Committee to Protect
Journalists, homicide is the leading cause of death on the job
among journalists worldwide.
Moreover, the free flow of information supports not just democracy but economic growth. As Vice President Gore said in his speech to the APEC Forum in Malaysia, "If governments try to suppress the creative potential of their people by denying them access to information, they will undercut their own efforts to build their economies. Any government that suppresses information, suppresses [its own] economic potential."
With the information revolution,
the struggle to control information has moved well beyond the
realm of traditional media. From Singapore to Syria, governments
have sought to limit or prohibit access to the Internet and purchases
of computers, modems, fax machines, pagers, cell phones, and television
satellite dishes. Such devices can only facilitate the growth
of freedom around the world by directly bypassing the central
government to channel information directly to citizen-consumers.
Even as new channels of information
were created, governments found new ways to limit access. In
many of the countries where radio is the most important medium
of mass communication, governments monopolized domestic broadcasts
and often jammed international services ranging from the BBC to
Radio Free Asia. In more developed societies emerging from authoritarian
rule, governments sought similar control over television and limited
opposition access to the airways. In West and Central Africa
and the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union, some
governments exploited poorly written criminal libel laws to restrict
freedom of the press.
In China, authorities continue to
exert control over print and broadcast media. For most of the
year, the press was able to expand the range of issues it covered,
and President Clinton's June visit witnessed unprecedented live
broadcasts of Presidents Clinton and Jiang's joint press conference
and President Clinton's speech at Beijing University. However,
by late fall the Government took steps to strengthen control over
both print and broadcast media as the political atmosphere became
increasingly tight. Authorities shut down an influential book
publisher and several popular newspapers, increased monitoring
of the Internet, fired some editors and writers, and warned other
newspapers about the permissible content of articles and editorials.
A parallel pattern emerged in Cuba,
where the Castro regime subjected independent journalists to internal
travel bans, arbitrary and periodic detentions, acts of repudiation,
harassment of family members, the seizure of equipment, and repeated
threats of prolonged imprisonment. The Government rigorously
monitored other forms of expression and often arrested persons
for the crime of disseminating "enemy propaganda and false
When, in October, NATO threatened
to intervene in Serbia over the Belgrade regime's crackdown in
Kosovo, the Milosevic Government used a new draconian Information
Act to shut down independent print, radio, and television outlets
throughout Serbia and to harass Albanian-language newspapers in
Kosovo. In contrast, the Government of President Djukanovic in
Montenegro, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's other remaining
republic, allowed independent media outlets closed down by Serb
authorities to publish and disseminate their material. In Belarus,
the Lukashenko regime banned the dissemination of official information
to independent media outlets, restricted access to printing presses
and distribution systems, pressured advertisers, evicted newspapers
from their offices, and sought to silence several journalists
by securing criminal convictions on trumpedup charges.
In Turkey, the Government used a variety of laws to detain and
arrest scores of journalists on the grounds that their words or
ideas threatened the country's unity or national security.
Africa also exhibited signs of this
disturbing trend. In Ethiopia, the Government used provisions
of the Press Law concerning publishing false information, inciting
ethnic hatred, and libel to justify the arrest of journalists.
In Eritrea, the arrest in March 1997 and ongoing detention without
trial through December 1998 of a correspondent for reporting remarks
made by President Isaias raised continued doubts about press freedom.
In Nigeria, the first half of the year saw the Abacha regime
continue its suppression of the press, with one human rights group
estimating that more than 30 journalists were in prison prior
to Abacha's death. However, after General Abdoulsalami Abubakar
succeeded Abacha in June, the Government significantly relaxed
its restrictions on freedom of the press and demonstrated increasing
respect for these rights in practice.
5. Women. The situation facing women in Afghanistan represented perhaps the most severe abuse of women's human rights in the world. The Taliban's blatant abuse of women included public beatings for failure to wear the all-enveloping burqa and for not being accompanied by a close male relative. In 1998, credible reports detailed the Taliban's devastating disregard for the physical and psychological health of women and girls. The Taliban drastically limited access to medical services and hospitals and continued to cut back severely access to education as a result of the closure in Kabul of private home-based schools for girls. Women cannot work outside the home, except in extremely limited circumstances in the medical field. These problems were further exacerbated by the fierce civil war, which left many women as their family's sole breadwinner and forced many to beg on the streets to feed their children.
As First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
noted in her remarks during the White House Commemoration of the
Universal Declaration, "We cannot allow these terrible crimes
against women and girls - and truly, against all of humanity -
to continue with impunity. We must all make it unmistakably clear
that this terrible suffering inflicted on the women and girls
of Afghanistan is not cultural, it is criminal. And we must do
everything we can in our power to stop it."
In Indonesia, a joint government
and nongovernmental organization fact-finding team commissioned
by the Indonesian Government reported 85 incidents of sexual violence
targeted primarily against Chinese women and girls during the
riots in May. Intimidation and threats against investigators
and witnesses, together with criticism of the investigation by
government officials, contributed to difficulties in documenting
all the initially reported incidents. At year's end, the Indonesian
Government had not yet compensated victims or proceeded with further
investigation of the military as recommended by the fact-finding
In 1998, women throughout the world
continued to be trafficked for forced labor or services, including
forced sexual slavery, domestic servitude, coerced sweatshop labor,
or other slavery-like treatment. As a thriving, multibillion-dollar,
multinational industry, trafficking constituted a global phenomenon
involving countries of origin, transit, and destination. All
too often, the women and girls caught in its web were treated
as perpetrators rather than victims.
In response women all over the world
took actions in 1998 to promote and protect more effectively their
human rights. At the U.S.-cosponsored Vital Voices conferences
in Belfast and Montevideo, women leaders met to explore ways to
strengthen the role of women as democracy-builders through workshops
in law and leadership, politics and public life, economics, and
business. In addressing the Belfast conference, First Lady Hillary
Rodham Clinton noted that "Economic progress depends on women's
progress. Democratic progress depends on women's progress. Human
rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights.
And this Conference is part of an ongoing, global initiative
that is making these points over and over again and in the process
transforming women's lives and societies."
The past year saw significant global
advances for women's rights as human rights. Several governments
passed new legislation that helped engender positive change. The
Government of Yemen waived tuition fees and uniform requirements
for elementary school girls to encourage more girls to go to school.
The Parliament in Turkey passed the Family Protection Law in
January 1998 making spousal abuse illegal. Cote d'Ivoire and
Togo passed statutes banning the practice of female genital mutilation.
Uganda and Malawi passed legislation granting women property
and inheritance rights, and Nigerian women celebrated a landmark
court ruling - won after 39 years of legal wrangling - that invalidated
the customary practice of denying inheritance rights to widows.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
set a precedent for prosecuting the aiding and abetting of rape
as a war crime.
Despite these advances, numerous challenges remain. In 1998, domestic violence and sexual harassment remained endemic. Women in Saudi Arabia continue to face institutionalized discrimination affecting their freedom of movement and association and their right to equality in employment and education. In Pakistan the misapplication of rape laws resulted in victims bearing the brunt of the crime. In Algeria militants continued to target women for systematic rape, kidnapping, and forced prostitution.
Continuing violations of women's
rights could be seen in worldwide practices. In some Latin American
countries, for example, a rapist was not prosecuted if he offered
to marry the victim and she accepted his proposal. In China,
coercion in family planning practices, including instances of
forced abortion and sterilization, continued. Throughout South
Asia, dowryrelated violence remained a serious problem.
Female genital mutilation, which
has negative, life-long physical and psychological health consequences
for women and girls, continues to be practiced in much of Sub-Saharan
Africa, as well as in varying degrees in Egypt, Oman, Yemen, and
a few other countries in the Middle East. Less obvious but also
challenging are the problems facing women in societies where they
received equal pay for equal work but did not have the same professional
opportunities given to men and often had to work in more menial,
low-skill, or low-paying jobs.
6. Protection of Minorities.
Democracy does not mean the tyranny of the majority. Genuine
democracy requires that a government protect the rights of all
of its citizens, particularly in states with substantial minorities.
Governments that choose to ignore or repress the rights of individuals
because of their race, sex, religion, disability, language, or
social status not only undermine the principle of democracy but
also risk violence and separatism.
In too many states, majorities in
power chose to repress or persecute those not like themselves.
In Serbia, the Milosevic's regime's brutal policies in Kosovo
helped bolster the popularity of separatist insurgents and stimulated
the expansion of the Kosovo Liberation Army at the expense of
nonviolent ethnic Albanian political leaders. The crisis in Kosovo
escalated dramatically in late February after Serbian police killed
scores of civilians in the process of trying to eliminate what
the regime alleged was a "terrorist" cell. When further
violence followed and with NATO air raids looming, Milosevic reached
an agreement with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke, which,
for a time, mitigated the humanitarian disaster unfolding in the
province. Throughout the year, Serbian police and military forces
committed widespread abuses against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population,
including massacres of unarmed civilians, the torching and looting
of homes, arbitrary arrests, and torture and brutal beatings in
detention. Albanian insurgents in the Kosovo Liberation Army also
committed abuses against Serbs, who, while a majority in Serbia,
represent a minority in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo.
In Indonesia, minority populations in East Timor and Irian Jaya expressed their opposition to repressive acts by the Government more freely, although security forces at times continued to intervene with excessive force in order to prevent demonstrations and arrest protesters and political opponents. Throughout Indonesia, members of regional or ethnic minorities argued for greater local self-government and control over resources. They also sought accountability for past and continuing abuses, including extrajudicial killings and illegal detentions. In East Timor, insurgent activity in support of separatism continued, and President Habibie made a surprise announcement in early 1999 to permit East Timor to choose autonomy or release from Indonesian control, a decision whose political import remains unclear at this writing.
In China, minority groups, particularly
Buddhists in Tibet and Muslims in Xinjiang, came under increasing
pressure as the Government intensified restrictions on religion
and fundamental freedoms. In Tibet, repressive social and political
controls continued to limit the fundamental freedoms of ethnic
Tibetans and undermined Tibet's unique cultural, religious, and
linguistic heritage. In Xinjiang, authorities cracked down harshly
on suspected Uyghur nationalists and independent Muslim religious
leaders as the number of anti-Chinese Government demonstrations
grew and a series of bomb explosions and related incidents occurred.
7. The Holocaust: Completing the Historical Record. The world cannot forget the vast scale of death and human suffering visited upon European Jews and other peoples during the Holocaust. Only in the past few years, however, has a long-hidden dimension of that unique tragedy come into view: the extent to which families and communities were systematically robbed of their material possessions and financial resources. History's greatest genocide was almost certainly also its largest organized robbery.
In 1998, a remarkable combination
of governments and NGOs achieved important progress both in completing
the Holocaust's historical record and in securing justice for
its victims. Many of the historical commissions established by
17 separate governments to examine these issues (and in some cases,
their countries' broader relationship to the Holocaust and the
Second World War) completed their work. The United Kingdom, the
United States, and France closed out the Tripartite Gold Commission
and established the Nazi Persecutee Relief Fund, to which 17 governments
have pledged over $61 million. A landmark $1.25 billion settlement
was reached with major Swiss banks in August. Upon taking office
in October, the new German Government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
began working with German industry to develop a fund structure
that would at last benefit former slave and forced laborers.
The Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era
Assets, cosponsored by the State Department and the U.S. Holocaust
Memorial Museum, brought together 44 governments, 13 NGOs and
scores of other experts to give unprecedented attention to Nazi-confiscated
art works, insurance policies, and Jewish communal property. Conference
participants reached consensus on a set of principles guiding
the restitution of Nazi-confiscated art. Other major steps included
the passage of new restitution laws by several Central European
governments, the establishment of a database on confiscated art
by major French museums, and the efforts of a broad-based commission
of insurance regulators, companies, and Jewish groups headed by
former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.
It is essential that these efforts
move forward while the past is still a living memory and the victims
who can gain some comfort from a measure of justice remain alive.
The international community not only has the responsibility to
complete this long overdue work but must take advantage of this
opportunity to establish new, higher standards for restitution
of assets and property confiscated during conflict.
B. Developments in Democracy
1. Free and Fair Elections. In 1998, the right to democracy was not merely honored in the breach. A number of countries enjoyed free and fair elections in 1998. According to Freedom House, at the end of 1998 there were 117 electoral democracies, making up roughly 55 percent of the world's population. Several countries made important strides toward democracy, and significantly, in 1998, no country saw a reversal from democracy to dictatorship. However, a number of democratic states faced significant challenges, and several nondemocratic states failed to conduct successful free and fair elections.
In Nigeria, after the June death
of General Sani Abacha and his succession by General Abubakar,
the Government launched a program to restore democracy by May
1999. Over the second half of the year, the Government released
political prisoners, allowed independent political parties to
form and permitted independent journalists greater freedom. In
August, the Government scheduled a series of elections - for local
government officials, state legislators and governors, national
legislators, and president - to be held between early December
1998 and late February 1999. Although marred by scattered violence
and local irregularities, the December elections for local government
officials were generally free, fair, and open.
In Asia, Indonesia's authoritarian
political system came under sustained challenge, resulting in
President Soeharto's departure from office and offering the first
opportunity in years for meaningful political and economic reforms.
In response to demands for early elections, new President B.J.
Habibie pledged to advance parliamentary elections by 3 years,
revise electoral laws, and complete the selection of a new president
by the end of 1999. Although Indonesia's future remains cloudy
at this writing, the Government allowed new political parties
to form, released some but not all political prisoners, and adopted
a more responsive attitude toward groups demanding improved protections
for human rights. In Cambodia, after a campaign marked by voter
intimidation and lack of opposition access to the media, the July
elections proved relatively free of fraud. After 3 months of
contentious negotiation, the same leaders who dominated politics
before the 1997 violence finally formed a new Government.
Elsewhere, less promising trends
emerged. In Russia, the killing of pro-democratic parliamentarian
Galina Staravoitova symbolized both the risks facing democratic
activists and the tenuous nature of Russian democracy. Although
Russian political structures are constitutionally well defined
and democratic in conception, democratic institution-building
continues to face serious challenges, often due to significant
limitations on the State's financial resources. In Kazakhstan,
the regime of President Nursultan Nazarbayev engineered the scheduling
of early presidential elections for January 1999, blocked opposition
leaders from running, controlled access to the media, and coerced
popular support. In December, the OSCE announced that it would
not send an election observer mission, and the subsequent election
was badly compromised. In Azerbaijan, the October presidential
election, while an improvement over an earlier election in 1995,
involved incidents of ballot stuffing and other irregularities
that led international and domestic observers to conclude that
it failed to meet international standards. When the opposition
continued to assert that President Aliyev had not received the
two-thirds vote necessary to avoid a run-off election, the Government
responded by cracking down on the opposition and the press.
2. Civil Society. Free and fair elections represent a necessary but not sufficient condition for democracy. Democracy's continued healthy functioning requires the full flowering of civil society - the broad array of political parties, labor unions, NGOs, societies, and clubs that, along with the independent media (see Section II.A.4.), encourage political and social participation. These organizations help individuals connect with the broader body politic, in the process reinforcing democratic institutions, and serve as an important conduit by which individuals may express their dissatisfaction with politics as usual.
It is precisely because of the power
of civil society that so many governments seek to limit or quash
the influence of these private institutions. In the months leading
to the resignation of President Soeharto in Indonesia, for example,
security forces abducted and detained student and NGO activists,
some of whom reported torture while in detention. After Soeharto
resigned, only nine of those kidnapped had been released from
captivity; roughly one dozen others remain "disappeared"
and are presumed dead. In Malaysia, Prime Minister Mahatir Mohammed
and other government officials made numerous harsh statements
ascribing seditious or treasonous motives to NGOs.
In China, the Government began in
the fall to crack down on organized political dissent. Dozens
of dissidents were arrested, and some were sentenced to lengthy
jail terms. Authorities also banned a popular but politically
sensitive book series; shut down a political discussion group;
prevented attempts to organize workers; and promulgated new restrictive
regulations on social organizations.
Similarly, in Cuba, the Government
tightly circumscribed artistic, literary, political, and academic
freedoms, and repeatedly harassed, detained, and imprisoned those
who expressed dissent. The law punished any unauthorized assembly
of more than three persons, including those for private religious
services in a private home. The authorities selectively enforced
this prohibition and often used it as a legal pretext to harass
and imprison human rights advocates.
Europe witnessed parallel trends.
In Serbia, the regime's assault on free speech was the most pronounced
since Milosevic came to power over a decade ago. Parliament's
adoption in May of a new Universities Act severely curtailed academic
freedom by allowing the Government to appoint deans with the power
to fire independent professors and to replace them with regime
loyalists. In Kosovo, authorities cracked down on peaceful demonstrators
throughout the year. In Sandzak, the regime banned all outdoor
rallies, even for election campaigning.
In Turkey, government officials continued to intimidate, indict, and imprison independent voices for the ideas they expressed in public forums. Security forces harassed, detained, and otherwise limited the work of some political party activists, nonviolent leaders of human rights groups, some devout politicians in mainline conservative parties, religiously observant Muslim businessmen, and lawyers and doctors involved in documenting human rights violations. A campaign against Islamists and pro-Kurdish activists continued throughout the year. The military publicly identified "reactionaries" (Islamists) and "separatists" (pro-Kurdish activists) as the principal threats to Turkey's national security.
In the Middle East, a number of governments,
including those in Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, tightly
proscribe civil society. In other countries where nongovernmental
activism is permitted, governments placed limits on certain types
of NGOs. In Egypt, for example, many local and international
human rights activists have concluded that government restrictions
on the activities of NGOs have inhibited reporting on human rights
abuses. In December, authorities jailed Hafez Abu Se'da, Secretary
General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) for
several days after the EOHR released a report critical of police
conduct in a murder investigation.
3. The Rule of Law. Democratic
institutions and officials are guided by and constrained by the
law - that is to say, a government accountable to, not above the
law. Governments that respect individual rights apply a body
of laws that are transparent, predictable, based on popular sovereignty,
and fairly and equitably applied. They have a fair and efficient
legal system led by an independent and professionally competent
judiciary that acts as final arbiter of the law. A strong rule
of law helps to assure sustainable economic development, to combat
corruption, to support social stability and peace, and to carve
out necessary space for individual political and economic activity.
It also provides the average citizen with confidence that he
or she has access to a mechanism to hold leaders and institutions
accountable - in both the public and private sectors. Absent an
independent judiciary and the rule of law, democracies simply
lack mechanisms to ensure that laws and procedures protect universal
Many governments confuse the existence
of laws with the rule of law. In too many countries - Belarus,
Burma, Cuba, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria, to name
only a few - the rule of law has been warped to fit the whims
of a tiny ruling elite. In others, well-intentioned laws have
become paper fictions, providing cover for corrupt politicians
and criminals. Some governments legislate restrictions on free
speech, free press, and other key rights in the name of the rule
of law. For the rule of law to be truly effective, a country's
legal system must be independent and in conformity with universal
human rights principles.
Unfortunately, too many governments
ignored this fundamental precept in 1998. In Malaysia, government
action, constitutional amendments, and legislation restricting
judicial review undermined judicial independence and strengthened
executive influence over the judiciary. During the ongoing trial
of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, the judge repeatedly
failed to protect the defense from transparent abuses by the police,
including raids on the defense attorney's office and the harassment
of defense witnesses. Several other high-profile cases continued
to cast doubt on judicial impartiality and independence and to
raise questions of arbitrary verdicts and selective prosecution.
In China, the Government launched
new efforts to reform the legal system and widely disseminated
information about new legislation. However, authorities violated
due process in politically sensitive trials involving "state
security." A number of laws passed in recent years have
the potential to enhance citizens' rights, but even if fully implemented,
these reforms still would fall short, in many respects, of international
In Pakistan, corruption, crime, political
violence, and fundamental disagreements over the nature of the
legal system all posed continuing serious problems. Despite attempts
at legal reform, police persisted in numerous abuses, including
extrajudicial killings, torture, physical abuse, and rape. The
judiciary, especially the lower courts, remained subject to executive
influence and suffered from inadequate resources, inefficiency,
and corruption. In November, the Prime Minister announced martial
law in Sindh province and the establishment of military courts
in Karachi to try terrorists.
In Russia and Ukraine, the pervasiveness of corruption, connections between government officials and organized crime, and the political activities of organized crime figures allowed criminals to act outside the law to influence politicians, police investigations, and court decisions. Politicians, businessmen, campaign managers, and journalists were victimized by sometimesfatal attacks. Criminal elements routinely intimidated victims and witnesses into withdrawing or changing testimony. In Russia, the celebrated case of Aleksandr Nikitin, in which the noted environmentalist and former navy officer faced a third year of prosecution for publication of information on the Russian Northern Fleet's environmental record, continued to demonstrate that country's difficulties ensuring due process. There are credible charges that the case against him was politically motivated.
In Peru, the judicial system continued
to be inefficient, often corrupt, and easily manipulated by the
executive branch. President Alberto Fujimori used provisional
and temporary appointments to create a corps of judges largely
beholden to him for the ongoing occupation of their offices.
The 1997 decision by the Fujimori-dominated Congress to fire three
Constitutional Court judges left that court without the necessary
quorum to address constitutional questions. Proceedings in civilian
terrorism trials and particularly in military treason trials continued
to fall significantly short of internationally accepted standards
of openness, fairness, or due process. In Colombia, the number
of outstanding arrest warrants stood at 150,000 in August, while
the civilian judiciary suffered from a backlog of 3.5 million
cases as of October. The suborning or intimidation of judges,
witnesses, and prosecutors by those indicted or involved in crimes
C. Developments in Labor
Worker Rights. At the annual June
conference of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva,
member nations took an important step in the struggle to secure
worker rights around the world by adopting a "Declaration
on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work." The Declaration
reaffirmed the obligation of all ILO members to promote and respect
core labor standards, including freedom of association, the right
to organize and bargain collectively, freedom from forced or compulsory
labor, freedom from abusive child labor, and nondiscrimination
in employment. To further promote adherence to these principles
and rights, the Declaration mandated the establishment of a follow-up
mechanism for monitoring progress even in those countries that
have not ratified the relevant ILO conventions.
Despite this important achievement,
1998 saw many countries ignore or violate these core standards.
As a result, trade unions faced harassment and closure, discrimination
against workers remained commonplace, and child, bonded, and slave
labor remained endemic in many parts of the world. In response
to the growing outrage over these practices, the Administration
worked actively with corporations, trade unions, Congress, and
NGOs to secure adherence to core labor standards. President Clinton
and Congress worked together to secure a tenfold increase in the
U.S. contribution to the ILO's International Program on the Elimination
of Child Labor (IPEC).
Several countries saw their labor
situations improve in 1998. Indonesia ratified ILO Convention
87 on Freedom of Association, released opposition trade union
leader Muchtar Pakpahan, and permitted trade union pluralism.
Nigeria released imprisoned labor leaders and repealed two anti-trade
union decrees, thereby opening the way to free elections in the
Nigerian Labour Congress. In Swaziland, government, labor, and
business leaders worked with representatives of the ILO to draft
new labor laws that take into account provisions of ILO Convention
87 on Freedom of Association and ILO Convention 98 on the Right
to Organize and Bargain Collectively. In Pakistan, child labor
remained endemic, but carpet manufacturers began to work with
ILO/IPEC to establish a Rugmark program to eliminate child labor
from the industry through monitoring and rehabilitation.
However, other countries did not
see progress or experienced significant reversals. The economic
developments that so damaged many economies and exchange rates
in 1997 - particularly in Asia - continued to pose serious problems
in 1998. Millions of those who benefited from the "economic
miracle" of the past decade found themselves out of work
and bereft of hard-earned savings, increasing labor strife in
such countries such as Indonesia, Korea, and Russia.
Child labor remained endemic in 1998.
According to the ILO, as many as 250 million children under the
age of 15 were employed full or part time around the world. Child
workers often were denied the opportunity to obtain education,
and frequently worked in dangerous conditions. Economic turmoil
only further exacerbated the problem. Thanks to the work of IPEC,
the year did see some progress toward the reduction of some of
the more abusive forms of child labor, such as that found in the
carpet and garment industries in South Asia and elsewhere. At
its June 1999 Conference, the ILO is expected to adopt a new convention
on the elimination of the worst forms of child labor.
Compulsory labor was a part of China's penal system in 1998, but since 1990 the export of prison-produced goods has been illegal under Chinese law. In addition to prisons, the Government also maintained a network of reform-through-labor and reeducation-through-labor camps, whose inmates usually were required to work as well. Most anecdotal reports concluded that work conditions in the penal system's light manufacturing facilities were similar to those in other factories, but conditions on penal farms and in mines could be quite harsh. In 1992, the United States signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with China to facilitate investigation of prison-labor produced exports. Chinese cooperation under the MOU has varied over time, and overall has been unsatisfactory.
The protection of workers in Cambodia
remained in its infancy. The 1997 labor law provided workers
with internationally recognized worker rights, but the Government's
enforcement of these rights was uneven. Workers had little concept
of their rights, and little collective bargaining took place.
A number of strikes protesting pay and working conditions in
the burgeoning garment industry resulted in some satisfaction
of worker grievances. In Thailand, worker rights protections
as well as trade unions remained weak. The military government
of 1991 withdrew the right of public sector and enterprise workers
to form unions, and, despite legislative efforts by successive
civilian governments, this right has yet to be restored. The
economic crisis caused widespread job losses, and the lack of
an adequate social safety net resulted in dislocation and increased
In Haiti, the worker rights situation was heavily influenced by the weak economic situation. High unemployment remained a major obstacle to union organizing efforts. Collective bargaining was largely nonexistent, and employers usually set wages unilaterally. Female workers, particularly in the assembly sector, reported sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Although there was little child labor in the formal sector, many children were forced to work as unpaid domestics.
Haiti is not the only country where
the mistreatment and abuse of domestic servants was a problem.
In much of the Middle East and parts of the developed world, labor
laws do little to protect vulnerable workers who travel from developing
nations to work as domestic servants in order to support families
at home. Many of these individuals face extraordinarily long
work days, poor living conditions, unpaid wages, and sexual violence.
Isolated from their families, desperate to make a living, and
afraid of their employers, few of these victims seek help from
law enforcement authorities. In some countries such as Saudi
Arabia, authorities often return runaways to their employers against
the employees' wishes.
The Universal Declaration promised
a world where "all human beings are born free and equal in
dignity and rights." Yet half a century later, the world
still has a long way to go before it fulfills this promise. The
past year confirmed that the best path to accomplishing that goal
remains the establishment of democratic governments. The right
to democracy thus stands both as a part of, and an essential means
to, ensure universal human rights principles.
In the past 10 years alone, the number
of electoral democracies has almost doubled, in good measure because
democratic institutions offer the best assurance of respect for
human rights as well as the best chance to improve the lives of
average citizens. The contrast between the brittle economies
of most authoritarian states and the relatively resilient economies
of most democratic states demonstrates the centrality of democratic
participation to public confidence in economic growth. As Vice
President Gore noted in his November speech at the APEC summit
in Malaysia, "History has taught us that freedom - economic,
political, and religious freedom - unlocks a higher fraction of
the human potential than any other way of organizing society."
The past year confirmed that democratic governance, human rights,
and religious and labor freedom remain inextricably intertwined
with our prosperity and security.
Harold Hongju Koh
Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 26, 1999
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