Whilst introducing the US State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said “standing up for human rights everywhere is in America’s interests”.
“Some have argued that it’s not worth it for the US to speak up forcefully for human rights – or that we should highlight abuse only in select countries, and only in a way that directly advances our national interests”, Blinken told a press conference on Tuesday 30 March..
The reports, which are divided by country, are published annually by the State Department. This year’s report is the 45th, and the first under the Biden administration.
Numerous countries are mentioned in the report, including countries across the Arabic-speaking world.
The 2020 report finds that in Saudi Arabia, “there were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings”.
“Prison and detention center conditions varied” in Saudi, the report continued, “and some did not meet international standards; reported problems included overcrowding and inadequate conditions.”
More generally, the report found that Saudi-led war in Yemen has led to reports of violations of human-rights abuses against civilian populations in the country, and that numerous “significant human rights issues” remain the country itself, including unlawful killings, forced disappearances, and “torture (…) by government agents”.
In Egypt, led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since 2014, “members of the security forces committed numerous abuses’, the report found. “The [Egyptian] government inconsistently punished or prosecuted officials who committed abuses,” the report continued, “whether in the security services or elsewhere in government.”
In the United Arab Emirates, “there were reports that security forces committed some abuses”, with numerous “significant human rights issues”. Emirati state agents were responsible for “torture in detention; arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention”, claims the report.
The report found that the Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad, perpetrated numerous human rights violations in its repressing of the pro-democracy uprising that began in 2011. Since then, the regime has “committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in relation to the conflict”, forced dissapearances, torture, and other crimes, the authors’ of the report found.
On the prison system in Syria, the report found that in 2020, “prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and in many instances were life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical and psychological abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.”
With reference to an April 2020 assessment by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the State Department’s 2020 report found that “the conditions in regime prisons were alarming and presented unique risks of a COVID-19 outbreak”. 149,360 Syrians remain in detention centres or forcibly detained.
And, in China, the report found, “members of the minority Uyghur ethnic group reported systematic torture and other degrading treatment by law enforcement officers and officials working within the penal system and the internment camps.” Generally, “members of the [Chinese] security forces committed serious and pervasive abuses”.