U.S. Department of State
Other State Department Archive SitesU.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
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.
U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Harold Hongju Koh, Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Testimony before the Subcommittee on International Operations
and Human Rights, U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC, March 8, 2000

Flag bar

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, it is an honor for me to appear for the second time before the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights to testify regarding the State Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The formal transfer to Congress of the report for calendar year 1999 was made on February 25, in keeping with the statutory responsibility given by the Foreign Assistance Act to the State Department and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Thank you, Chairman Smith and Members of the Subcommittee, for holding this valuable hearing to spotlight the release of the 1999 report. Over the course of my 15-month tenure as Assistant Secretary, I have testified before you regarding numerous human rights issues and have developed a great respect for this Committee's bipartisan support for human rights. I hope that in the months ahead we can continue to work together to promote freedom and human rights wherever they are at risk.

Simply put, the goal of these reports remains the same: to tell the truth about human rights conditions around the world. We believe that these reports create a comprehensive, permanent, and accurate record of human rights conditions worldwide in calendar year 1999.

Since their inception in 1977, the human rights reports have become a valuable tool for U.S. policymakers. They provide the Congress, the Judiciary and the Executive Branch with an authoritative factual basis for making decisions relating to foreign aid allocations, diplomatic initiatives, asylum decisions, training, and a host of other official acts.

These reports represent the yearly output of a massive official monitoring effort that involves hundreds of individuals including: human rights officers from each of our embassies, country desk officers from our regional and functional bureaus, officials from other U.S. Government Agencies and a wide range of foreign sources -- including foreign government officials, opposition figures, journalists, nongovernmental organizations, dissidents, religious groups, and labor leaders. Even the simple act of compiling this information can be dangerous to human rights defenders and embassy officials around the world who take great risks to acquire and provide us accurate data and documentation on governmental abuses.

In 1977, the first of these reports ran only 137 pages and covered only those countries receiving U.S. foreign aid; the 1999 volume is the largest ever, containing 194 reports and totaling more than 6,000 pages of typescript. This year, when the report was placed on the World Wide Web, over 150,000 people read or downloaded parts of it in the first week of publication. Let me again personally attest to the countless hours of hard work that go into making this report a reality. Let me pay special tribute to Secretary Albright, under whose leadership the coverage of the Reports has greatly expanded to include broader coverage of such key issues as religious freedom, trafficking of persons, violence against homosexuals, worker rights, women's rights, and the rights of the disabled. Let me also thank the hundreds of State Department officers who have worked on these reports, and the many outside the Department who have provided necessary information to this endeavor. I must also pay special tribute to the splendid and dedicated country reports team in my own bureau -- and especially its talented and committed Director, Marc Susser and Deputy Director Jeannette DuBrow -- for bringing this report to fruition with such care and integrity.

The news in these reports is not all grim. Because there was no dramatic moment like the collapse of the Berlin Wall, few analysts noticed that 1999 saw as profound a positive trend toward freedom as in 1989. Thanks to democratic elections in two of the world's most populous states, Indonesia and Nigeria, more people came under democratic rule than in any other recent year. In addition, the NATO intervention in Kosovo and the international intervention in East Timor demonstrated that the international community has the will and the capacity to act against the most profound violations of human rights.

Yet these significant gains in democracy and human rights cannot overshadow the fact that the past year also saw a number of profound challenges to human rights. Serbia's expulsion of over 850,000 Albanians, the Indonesian military's complicity in the militia rampage through East Timor, and the horrors perpetrated by rebels in Sierra Leone all show that the world still has a long way to go before it fully adheres to the precepts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In addition, the coup in Pakistan and challenges to Latin American democracies in Ecuador, Paraguay, and Venezuela clearly demonstrate that the road to democratic governance is not without its problems and challenges. Despite the gains in Nigeria and Indonesia, too many authoritarian governments continue to deny basic human rights, including the right to democracy, to their citizens.

As always, we continue to resist requests to &qquot;rank order" countries or to engage in the false precision of "quantifying" human rights abuses. That said, I would of course be happy to discuss any individual country in response to your questions. Because time is short, let me briefly touch on a handful of countries about which Congress, non-governmental human rights organizations and the media have expressed special interest this year.

In Asia, dissidents and defenders face a range of challenges. In China, for example, authorities broadened and intensified their efforts to suppress those perceived to threaten government power or national stability. Citizens who sought to express openly dissenting political and religious views faced widespread repression. In the weeks leading up to both June 4th, the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, and October 1st, the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic, the Government moved against political dissidents across the country, detaining and formally arresting scores of activists nationwide and thwarting any attempts to use the anniversaries as opportunities for protest. Control and manipulation of the press by the Government for political purposes also increased during the year. As part of its crackdown against the Falun Gong, the Government used the state-controlled media to conduct a nationwide propaganda campaign. The Government increased its efforts to try to restrict information available on the Internet and to monitor usage.

China continued to restrict freedom of religion and intensified controls on some unregistered churches. In October, these actions led Secretary Albright to inform Congress that she was designating China one of five "Countries of Particular Concern" pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act. Unapproved religious groups, including Protestant and Catholic groups, continued to experience varying degrees of official interference, repression, and persecution. Some minority groups, particularly Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Uighurs, were subjected to increased restrictions of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion, as the government clamped down on dissent and "separatist activities."

Other segments of Chinese society also faced abuse. Coercive family planning practices sometimes included forced abortion and forced sterilization. Many women contended with domestic violence. The Government continued to tightly restrict worker rights. Forced labor, particularly in penal institutions, remained a serious problem. Our report also cites instances of extrajudicial killings, torture, and other mistreatment of prisoners, forced confessions, arbitrary arrest and detention, lengthy incommunicado detention, and denial of due process. In many cases, particularly in sensitive political cases, the judicial system denies criminal defendants basic legal safeguards and due process. New statutes passed in recent years, ostensibly to enhance citizens' rights, were violated routinely in cases involving political dissidents.

Similarly, Cuba's human rights record further deteriorated over the past year. The Cuban regime continued to suppress opposition and criticism, and denied citizens freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. Cuban authorities routinely harass, threaten, arbitrarily arrest, detain, imprison, and defame human rights advocates and members of independent professional associations, including journalists, economists, doctors, and lawyers, often with the goal of coercing them into leaving the country. The Government denied political dissidents and human rights advocates due process and subjected them to unfair trials. Many remained in prison at year's end. Although the Government sought to discourage and thwart foreign contacts with human rights activists, it did publicly state before the Ibero-American Summit in November that visiting delegations were free to meet with any person in the country, and about 20 dissidents met with 9 different delegations, including 3 heads of state. Prior to the summit, however, authorities temporarily detained a number of human rights activists to prevent them from preparing for meetings with the visiting leaders. The Castro regime continued to tightly control access to information. In February, the National Assembly passed the Law to Protect National Independence and the Economy, which outlaws possession and dissemination of "subversive" literature or information that could be used by U.S. authorities in the application of U.S. legislation. The Government has not yet charged anyone under the new law, but many independent journalists have been threatened with arrest, some repeatedly. National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon told foreign correspondents that even reporters working for accredited foreign media could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison under the new law. The Government continued to subject independent journalists to internal travel bans, arbitrary and periodic brief detentions, acts of repudiation, harassment, seizures of office and photographic equipment, and repeated threats of prolonged imprisonment. The Government tightly controls access to computers, limiting access to the Internet to certain Government offices, selected institutes, and foreigners.

In Russia, the seizure by armed insurgent groups from Chechnya of villages in the neighboring Republic of Dagestan escalated by year's end into a full-fledged attack by Russian forces on separatists in Chechnya, including the Chechen capital of Groznyy. The Russian attack included air strikes and the indiscriminate shelling of cities predominantly inhabited by civilians. These attacks, which in turn led to house-to-house fighting in Groznyy, led to the deaths of numerous civilians and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more. There are credible reports of Russian military forces carrying out summary executions of civilians in Alkhan-Yurt and in the course of the Groznyy offensive. As our report went to press, credible reports persisted that Russian forces were rounding up Chechen men of military age and sending them to "filtration" camps, where they allegedly were tortured. Chechen separatists also reportedly committed abuses, including the killing of civilians. We acknowledge that the Russian Government has a duty to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks. At the same time, the Russian Federation must comply with its international commitments and obligations to protect civilians and must not engage in extrajudicial killing, the blocking of borders to prevent civilians from fleeing, and other violations in the name of internal security. Let me also mention two allies whose human rights records attracted significant interest in 1999. In Colombia, paramilitary forces, some with links to individuals in the armed forces, were responsible for the murder of numerous human rights activists as well as threats against many others. Guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) murdered three American indigenous rights activists who had traveled to that country to work with local indigenous leaders. Despite the Pastrana Administration's efforts to negotiate an end to hostilities, widespread internal armed conflict and rampant political and criminal violence persisted. Government security forces, paramilitary groups, guerrillas, and narcotics traffickers all continued to commit numerous serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings and torture. Throughout the country, paramilitary groups were responsible for numerous massacres, killing, torturing and threatening civilians suspected of sympathizing with guerrillas in an orchestrated campaign to terrorize them into fleeing their homes. Guerrillas regularly kidnapped numerous individuals, attacked civilian populations, committed massacres and summary executions, killed medical and religious personnel, and forcibly recruited civilians (including children). Although overall human rights conditions remained poor, the Government took important steps toward ending collaboration by some security force members with the paramilitaries. President Pastrana, Vice President Bell, and members of the military high command declared repeatedly that collaboration--whether by commission or omission--by members of the security forces with paramilitary groups would not be tolerated. The President removed from service four generals and numerous mid-level officers and noncommissioned officers for collaboration, for failing to confront paramilitaries aggressively, or for failing to protect the local population.

The Pastrana Administration also took measures to initiate structural reform and to strengthen the rule of law. In July, the regional "anonymous" court system was abolished and replaced with a new specialized jurisdiction. In August, Congress passed a military penal reform bill that, while not yet implemented, is expected to correct some of the worst abuses in the military justice system and to be of great help in the fight against impunity. Impunity, although still widespread, is no longer total. Thanks to the diligent efforts of the Prosecutor General's Human Rights Unit, a number of security force members were investigated, prosecuted, and convicted of past human rights violations. Nonetheless, the civilian judiciary remains inefficient, overburdened by a large case backlog, and undermined by intimidation. The Colombian Government also agreed to the dispatch of a special ILO team to investigate killing and kidnaping of trade unionists and other worker rights violations.

In Turkey, which has an active and growing civil society movement, the Government still continued to limit freedom of assembly and association, while police harassed, beat, abused, and detained a large number of demonstrators. The Saturday Mothers, who had held weekly vigils in Istanbul for more than 3 years to protest the disappearances of their relatives, discontinued their gatherings this year in the face of ongoing police harassment and detention of the group's members. In general, the Government continued to intimidate, indict, and imprison individuals for ideas that they had expressed in public forums. However, the Ecevit government adopted a series of initiatives during the year designed to improve human rights conditions, including: removing military judges from state security courts; increasing maximum sentences for torture or for falsifying medical records to hide torture; and passing legislation making it more difficult to close political parties. There were some signs of a growing tolerance for Turkey's increasingly active civil society: State Minister Irtemcelik and President Demirel met with NGOs, and an office of a human rights NGO reopened in October after being closed for five years.

The Government suspended the sentence of former Human Rights Association Chairman Akin Birdal and released him for 6 months, citing medical reasons stemming from injuries Birdal sustained during a May 1998 attempt on his life. However, Birdal remains subject to reimprisonment to resume his sentence in March 2000 and also faces many other charges. Turkey's Parliament suspended for 3 years the sentences of writers and journalists convicted of crimes involving freedom of expression through the media. By the end of the year, at least 25 had been released. However, the law did not apply to crimes committed through speech, and human rights observers and some released writers said the conditions for the suspension amounted to censorship. Limits on freedom of speech and of the press remained a serious problem. Authorities banned or confiscated publications and raided newspaper offices, and security forces occasionally beat journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists estimated at year's end that at least 18 journalists remain in prison. Police continued to interfere with the distribution of some Kurdish newspapers, and radio and television broadcasts in Kurdish remained illegal. Although Kurdish music recordings were widely available, bans on certain songs and singers persisted. In the last few weeks, as you have heard, three Kurdish mayors were arrested, charged and briefly removed from office, although they have recently been reinstated pending trial.

Defenders and dissidents in Africa also faced severe challenges. In Sudan, despite the adoption of a new Constitution in June, 1998, the Government continues to restrict most civil liberties, including freedom of assembly, association, religion, and movement. Government security forces regularly tortured, beat, harassed, arbitrarily arrested, and detained opponents or suspected opponents of the Government with impunity. Government forces were also responsible for extrajudicial killings and disappearances.

Continued political unrest in Africa makes it the locus of many of the world's worst conflicts. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, government forces lost control of more than half of the country's territory to rebels supported by troops from Rwanda and Uganda. Government security forces increasingly used arbitrary arrest and detention throughout the year and were responsible for numerous extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, beatings, rapes, and other abuses. Anti-government forces also committed serious abuses, including murder, disappearances, extortion, robbery, harassment of human rights workers and journalists, and recruitment of child soldiers.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, these are only a few of the country situations of concern to the human rights community this year. I would be happy to answer any specific questions you have about these and other country situations.

Mr. Chairman, I cannot conclude these remarks without noting that today, March 8, 2000, is International Women's Day. This day is set aside to honor women for their extraordinary achievements and important contributions. While we honor the past and recognize the progress that has been made, we must also look towards the future and acknowledge how much remains to be done. As Secretary Albright recently noted, "Too many women in too many places still live surrounded by the four walls of poverty and ignorance, exploitation and discrimination. Too many have entered the new century shackled by the physical and psychological chains of the past." Women all over the world continue to face a wide range of gross human rights abuses.

As our reports chronicle, women in Afghanistan continued to face the most serious women's human rights crisis in the world today. Taliban discrimination against women and girls remained both systematic and institutionally sanctioned. Elsewhere, on a daily basis, women faced violence, abuse, rape, and other forms of degradation by their spouses and by members of society at large. Female genital mutilation, which has negative, life-long health consequences for women and girls, continues to be practiced in much of Sub-Saharan Africa, and to varying degrees in some countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, Oman, and Yemen. As I mentioned earlier, in China, coercive family planning practices sometimes included forced abortion and forced sterilization. In Kuwait, women continue to be denied the right to vote.

In light of these continued human rights problems facing women today, let me again reaffirm this Administration's support for the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This treaty is consistent with our principles of promoting women's rights without infringing on U.S. civil rights laws. We have proposed a number of reservations, understandings, and declarations to ensure that ratification complies with all constitutional requirements. The U.S. is one of the world's leading advocates for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Ratification of CEDAW is central to maintaining our position and would strengthen our global efforts to advance the status of women. For the Senate to hold hearings on ratification and move swiftly to advice and consent would be simple justice.

Finally, let me close by mentioning a related issue of deep concern to this Subcommittee: namely trafficking in persons, especially women and children. Trafficking, as Secretary Albright recently said, "is a growing, global problem that each year robs millions of their rights, their loved ones and often their very lives." It affects people from all walks of life, of every age, religion and culture, and nearly every country in the world as either a source, transit or destination country. Trafficking represents the antithesis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for by treating its victims as objects, it denies their very humanity.

As I testified last session, the trafficking industry is one of the fastest growing and most lucrative criminal enterprises in the world. Profits are enormous, generating billions of dollars annually and feeding into criminal syndicates' involvement in other illicit and violent activities. Trafficking in persons is considered the third largest source of profits for organized crime, behind only drugs and guns. To enhance our reporting of this serious human rights problem, the Department of State has for the first time this year established a separate section in each of the 194 Country Reports to highlight the abiding U.S. concern about this problem. In addition, the introduction to the report includes a section that describes in detail the range of trafficking concerns we face.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, let me conclude my testimony today by noting the main theme of the Introduction to these reports. The events of the past year have demonstrated the undisputed and growing power of transnational public-private networks in promoting democracy, human rights, labor, and religious freedom. Increasingly, public and private networks of transnational actors are mobilizing popular opinion and political support at the national and international level in order to secure international recognition and acceptance of new principles, standards, or approaches to complex human rights problems. These networks are represented before you today by the close working relationship the U.S. government and my Bureau have maintained this year with the courageous NGOs who will appear before you in the next panel.

These transnational networks increasingly wield influence comparable to the power of individual nation-states, in their capacity to spotlight abuses, mobilize shame, generate political pressure, and develop structural solutions. But recent history also teaches that these transnational networks cannot firmly or permanently entrench human rights, democracy, or the rule of law in unfamiliar soil without forging partnerships with democratic governments and other domestic and international members of the emerging human rights community. As this new century unfolds, these partnerships, which cross public and private, institutional and national lines, will be increasingly challenged to work together and to prod one another to yield creative and enduring solutions to emerging problems. Mr. Chairman, there is no partnership more important in achieving that end than the common commitment of Congress and the Executive Branch to promoting democracy, human rights, labor and religious freedom worldwide. In the months that remain in my tenure, I pledge again to work with you and your committee to continue strengthening these vitally important human rights partnerships.

Thank you. I now stand ready to answer any questions you may have.

[end of document]

Flag bar

Remarks Index | Human Rights Reports Index | Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor | Department of State | Secretary of State