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US slams 'brutality' of Islamic militants in rights report

AFP , Thursday 25 Jun 2015
US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks during a news conference in London 2014. (Photo: Reuters)
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The United States denounced the "brutality" of Islamic militants Thursday as it unveiled its annual assessment of the state of human rights around the world.

"No development has been more disturbing than the rise of groups such as Daesh," Secretary of State John Kerry said, referring to the Islamic State group, as he unveiled the report at the State Department.

Even though the report focuses "on the behavior of governments - which bear responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in their territories - the year 2014 will be remembered as much for atrocities committed by non-state actors," it says.

In a written preface, Kerry said violent jihadist groups had "made it clear that not only do they have zero regard for human rights, they have zero regard for human life, period."

He highlighted that "every week brings new examples of just how far the evil of these groups reaches" cataloguing beheadings, people being burned alive, girls being sold into slavery and civilians being "widely and indiscriminately" executed.

2014 was a "tough year for human rights," said Assistant Secretary Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski, listing a catalogue of countries where basic freedoms have been rolled back or come under attack.

The State Department's annual country-by-country index gives an stark assessment of the state of human rights in every country around the world -- except back home in the United States.

"We do not include our own record in this report because we cannot be objective observers of our own behavior," the State Department said, adding that it welcomed "scrutiny by human rights groups."

But, in a break with the past, the 2014 report highlighted the rise of groups such as the Islamic State, along with other established terror organizations like Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, its sister branch in the Maghreb and Boko Haram in Nigeria.

"The brutality of these actors is one of the notable trends in the 2014 Country Reports," it said.

But it also singled out some countries such as Syria and Iran for repressing freedoms.

On the eve of new talks on a nuclear deal between Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, the State Department warned: "Iran continued to severely restrict civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, speech, religion and press."

It highlighted "politically motivated violence and repression" in the country.

And only a day after high-level talks with Chinese officials in Washington, the State Department blasted "repression and coercion by the Chinese government" in 2014 which it said "continued to be routine."

Highlighting censorship and tight restrictions on freedoms of expression, religion and association particular in Tibet and for the Uighur people in Xinjiang, it noted that "citizens lacked the ability to change their government and had limited forms of redress against official abuse."

It also took to task Cuba, just as the US is poised to restore diplomatic ties with the communist-run Caribbean island frozen for half a century.

Cuban authorities "reportedly used threats, physical assault, intimidation" among other methods to halt peaceful assembly and carried out some 9,000 arbitrary detentions -- the highest number over the past five years.

Another trend noted in the report was the role of social networks and new technology "in combatting as well as carrying out human rights violations," the report said.

Authoritarian governments overtly sought to crackdown on Internet freedoms, with 41 countries seeking to pass laws to punish or restrict online speech.

But at the same time technology such as satellite imagery, videos and crowd sourcing is becoming a vital tool to in documenting human rights abuses in places were it can be hard to get access.

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