THE annual US State Department report on global human rights practices has just been published and, as usual, it presents a mixed picture of how the world is measuring up to the standards that America sets. It must be a difficult task to report objectively on what is happening, human rights-wise, in getting on for 200 countries. But, undaunted, the State Department does it best even if the language it uses is not always as transparent as one might wish. Last year China was accused of “Backsliding on key human rights issues” while this year the assessment is that “China's human rights record remained poor and the government continued to commit numerous and serious abuses.” In the past this annual report tended to be shelved with its predecessors and more or less forgotten. This year, however, it is being used as the authorised text for President Bush's messages on freedom and democracy that were first heard in his State of the Union address and were amplified in Europe last week. A State Department official commented: “This report is the embodiment of President Bush's commitment that the US will stand shoulder to shoulder with those who live in tyranny and hopelessness and struggle for a better life.” Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iraq and Turkey are identified by the report as places where freedom and democracy work whereas in Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria, they do not. Freedom may work in Kabul but certainly not in the rest of Afghanistan, Indonesia is iffy and surely Iraq is highly problematic. Incidentally, the only country not covered by this report is the United States of America.


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