Human rights abuses abounded across the globe in 2020, the U.S. State Department concluded Tuesday in its annual review of how the world's governments treat their people.
“The trend lines on human rights continue to move in the wrong direction,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters.
Commenting on the report, Blinken also said the coronavirus pandemic led to “unique challenges” throughout the world, with some governments using “the crisis as a pretext to restrict rights and consolidate authoritarian rule.”
“Women and children faced heightened risk as the prevalence of gender-based and domestic violence increased due to lockdowns and the loss of traditional social protections,” the top U.S. diplomat said about the country-by-country look at human rights.
He said that “other marginalized populations,” including older people, those with disabilities and the lesbian, gay and transgender communities “experienced particular vulnerability.”
The report, authorized by Congress to assess conditions in countries where the U.S. is sending foreign aid, did not analyze human rights conditions in the U.S., such as last year’s street protests against police abuse of minorities or unfounded complaints by former President Donald Trump that voting irregularities led to his reelection loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
Blinken said Biden’s new administration “has placed human rights front and center in its foreign policy,” while it recognizes “there is work to be done at home,” as the country strives “to live up to our highest ideals and principles."
"We all have work to do, and we must use every tool available to foster a more peaceful and just world.”
But overseas, Blinken said, “too many people continued to suffer under brutal conditions in 2020.”
He cited numerous countries the U.S. considers offenders of basic human rights.
“In China, government authorities committed genocide against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and crimes against humanity, including imprisonment, torture, enforced sterilization, and persecution against Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups,” Blinken said.
The report on China said Beijing “continued to imprison citizens for reasons related to politics and religion. Human rights organizations estimated tens of thousands of political prisoners remained incarcerated, most in prisons and some in administrative detention. The government did not grant international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners."
Blinken contended that atrocities sanctioned by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “continued unabated, and this year marks 10 years of their struggles to live in dignity and freedom.”
He said the war in Yemen “has driven millions to extreme humanitarian need, preventing them from exercising many of their basic rights.”
Blinken said the Russian government “has targeted political dissidents and peaceful protesters, while official corruption remained rampant.”
The U.S. diplomatic chief said that in Nicaragua, the “corrupt” regime of President Daniel Ortega “passed increasingly repressive laws that limit severely the ability of opposition political groups, civil society and independent media to operate.”
The report said that in Nicaragua, "the government continued to hold 106 political prisoners as of December, nine of them in solitary confinement. Political prisoners were kept together with common criminals.”
The State Department review said that “advocacy groups (working in Nicaragua) reported that prison authorities instigated quarrels between the general prison population and political prisoners by blaming political prisoners for any withheld privileges, often resulting in violence. Human rights organizations received several reports of political prisoners being beaten, threatened, held in solitary confinement for weeks, and suffering from poor ventilation and poisoned or contaminated food and water.”
Elsewhere, Blinken said that in Cuba, “government restrictions continued to suppress the freedoms of expression, association, religion or belief, and movement. State-sanctioned violence in Zimbabwe against civil society activists, labor leaders, and opposition members continued a culture of impunity,” while gay and transgender people “continued to be vulnerable to violence, discrimination, and harassment due to criminalization and stigma associated with same-sex sexual conduct.”
In Turkmenistan, Blinken said, “Citizens criticizing the government faced possible arrest for treason, and the whereabouts of more than 100 political prisoners remain unknown.”
He concluded that “these and other ongoing rights abuses cause untold damage well beyond the borders of any single country; unchecked human rights abuses anywhere can contribute to a sense of impunity everywhere.”