*EPF210 04/01/2003
State Dept Documents Human Rights Abuses in Middle East in 2002
(2002 human rights report reports violations by traditional U.S. allies) (940)

By Stephen Kaufman
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The State Department's 2002 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, released March 31, 2003, criticizes the human rights situation in many countries of the Middle East, including longstanding U.S. allies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The report says many citizens in the region do not have a "meaningful ability" or, in some cases, even the right to change their government.

The annual report noted frequent allegations of torture practiced by security forces throughout the region on critics and opponents of the governments.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, announcing the publication of the report March 31, said "states which demonstrate a high degree of respect for human rights are likeliest to contribute to international security and well-being. Where human rights and freedoms flourish, terrorists and tyrants do not thrive, and conflict and chaos do not reign."

"These congressionally mandated reports reflect the steadfast commitment of the United States to advance internationally agreed human rights principles worldwide. Our country was founded on the precept that freedom is the birthright of every human being, and America is proud to serve as a force for freedom across the globe," said Powell.

Saudi Arabia, one of the closest U.S. allies in the region, was given a poor rating for its lack of democracy and the practices of its security forces, including the use of torture.

"[Saudi] security forces continued to abuse detainees and prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and detain persons, and hold them in incommunicado detention," said the report.

Israel was given higher marks than Saudi Arabia because, the report said, the Israeli government "generally respected the human rights of its citizens." However, the report criticized Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories, including alleged use of torture, as well as Israel's treatment of its Arab citizens.

"Israel's overall human rights record in the occupied territories remained poor, and worsened in several areas as it continued to commit numerous, serious human rights abuses," said the report.

The report cited Israel's killing of 990 Palestinians in 2002, including innocent bystanders. It said Israel engaged in "targeted killings in crowded areas when civilian casualties were likely."

Egypt, another U.S. ally, came under criticism for "the improper use of State Security Emergency Courts and military courts, and torture, among other areas." Although the report acknowledged that the Egyptian government "generally respected the human rights of its citizens in some areas," it criticized Egypt's limitations on freedom of association, and the domination of the ruling party "to such an extent that citizens did not have a meaningful ability to change their Government."

When asked about the close relationships the United States maintains with countries considered to have poor human rights practices, Powell said, "in each and every one we make it clear to them that even though we're cooperating in some areas, cooperation can improve and our relationship can be strengthened if they will adhere to what we consider the basic concepts of human rights."

The report praised the government of Bahrain for its improved human rights practices, saying the Bahraini government "generally respected the human rights of its citizens in a number of areas and improved significantly in other areas, particularly concerning respect for political rights."

The report gave Syria and Libya poor ratings, saying those governments suppressed all political opposition, used torture, and restricted basic human freedoms of speech, the press, and assembly, among others.

The report said that, besides torture, Syrian citizens were subject to "poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged detention without trial; fundamentally unfair trials in the security courts; an inefficient judiciary that suffered from corruption and, at times, political influence; and infringement on privacy rights."

The report charged the Libyan government of using torture, summary judicial proceedings to suppress domestic opposition, holding many political detainees for years "without charge or trial," and infringing on citizens' privacy rights.

"Citizens did not have the right to be secure in their homes or persons, or to own private property," the report said.

As for Lebanon, the report said the country's human rights record was affected by problems such as "the lack of complete government control over parts of the country, shortcomings in the electoral system, the flawed 2000 elections, and Syrian influence."

The report said the Lebanese government's security forces committed acts involving use of excessive force, torture and abuse of detainees, and carried out arbitrary arrests of political dissidents.

"Despite a new Code of Criminal Procedure, enacted in 2001, lengthy pretrial detention and long delays in trials remained problems. The courts were subject to political pressure," said the report.

Secretary Powell said the U.S. government had done the "utmost to ensure that these reports are accurate and objective."

"They speak for themselves," said Powell. "They also speak to President Bush's solemn pledge that the United States will always stand for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity."

Powell said the Bush administration was "strongly committed" to working with foreign governments, nongovernmental organizations, free trade unions, and individuals to "improve compliance with international human rights standards."

"We join in solidarity with courageous men and women all over the world who strive to advance human rights and democratic values within their own countries and throughout the international community," Powell said.

The State Department human rights reports for countries in the Near East and North Africa can be found at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/c8699.htm

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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