*EPF213 04/01/2003
State Dept. Issues Human Rights Reports for Eight South Asian Countries in 2002
(Afghanistan sees "dramatic improvement" in human rights in 2002) (910)

By Susan Domowitz
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The State Department's 2002 Human Rights Report highlighted the progress made by South Asian countries in the past year, and identified continuing human rights problems, including trafficking in women and children.

The annual report said there are encouraging signs that South Asian governments are working with NGOs to address trafficking.

"In South Asia, governments continued to demonstrate serious collaboration with NGOs to provide protection, legal and medical services, and skills training to trafficking victims. This cooperative effort also extends to law enforcement, with policy jointly conducting raids with NGOs," according to the report.

The 2002 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 192 countries, including eight countries in South Asia, were issued March 31.

In releasing the annual reports, which are mandated by the U.S. Congress, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the reports "reflect the steadfast commitment of the United States to advance internationally agreed human rights practices worldwide."

"These Country Reports on Human Rights Practices will help to shape the Bush Administration's policy decisions as we work toward a safer, freer world. We also trust that the information contained in these reports will prove useful to other governments and to the press and the public as they seek to expose and eradicate human rights abuses and to increase human rights compliance," Powell said at a press briefing on March 31.

The reports for South Asia, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, may be found at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/c8700.htm.

Afghanistan (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18308.htm)

In Afghanistan, the report noted, "there was dramatic improvement over the past year." But the report goes on to say the respect for human rights varied widely in different parts of the country, and that in practice, recognition of the rule of law, particularly outside Kabul is limited.

According to the report, the Afghan government "made significant progress in establishing democracy and good governance during its first full year of democratic government after prolonged civil war and political instability," and made significant efforts to improve the situation for women.

Sri Lanka (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18315.htm)

The report on Sri Lanka notes that throughout 2002, Sri Lanka made progress in implementing a cease-fire agreement between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil-Eelam (LTTE). "Prisoners have been exchanged, roadblocks reduced, internally displaced persons returned, and investigations into abuses by security forces have increased. There were unconfirmed reports that the LTTE continued to commit extra judicial killings, but observers believe the number decreased in 2002," according to the report.

Pakistan (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18314.htm)

The report for Pakistan says the government's human rights record remained poor, but noted improvements in some areas. In the period covered by the report, Pakistan's military regime began the process of restoring elected civilian governance at the national and provincial level in October, and although observers deemed the elections to be flawed, the report concludes that "the new government seems reasonably representative."

In Pakistan, there was an increase in the number of extra judicial killings, and an increase in violence against Christians. The report notes that the judiciary in Pakistan "was subject to executive and other outside influences," and that although the Pakistan government publicly criticized the practice of "honor killings," such killings continued throughout the country. The report also noted that "trafficking in women and children for the purposes of prostitution and bonded labor was a serious problem" in Pakistan.

India (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18311.htm)

In India, the report found, that although the government generally respects the human rights of its citizens, numerous serious problems remained. Continuing human rights problems identified in the report include: extra judicial killings, excessive use of force by security forces, serious discrimination and violence against indigenous people and scheduled castes and tribes, religiously motivated violence against Muslims and Christians, widespread exploitation of indentured, bonded and child labor, and trafficking in women and children.

"Sectarian violence erupted in India's Gujarat province in February, where as many as 2,000 people -- mostly Muslims -- died. Elections in Jammu and Kashmir, and in Gujarat, were held successfully despite widespread terrorist violence and the new state government has proposed steps to ease repression and reduce alienation. Throughout India, however, light punishment for instigators of violence and perpetrators of abuse remained a stumbling block to further improvement," according to the report.

Nepal (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18313.htm)

In Nepal, where the government is facing a Maoist insurgency, the report noted that the Maoist campaign included killings, bombing, torture, forced conscription of children and other violent tactics, and that government forces were accused of killing civilians and abusing others suspected of Maoist sympathies. The report credits the Nepal government with taking significant steps to end the practice of bonded, or "Kamaiya" laborers.

Bangladesh (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18309.htm)

The report described Bangladesh's human rights record as "poor," noting that the government continued to commit serious human rights abuses, and that deaths in custody more than doubled from the previous year. The report charged both major political parties with employing violence. While the government permitted a wide variety of human rights groups to conduct their activities, according to the report, it brought a number of NGOs under intense scrutiny. Child labor and trafficking remained widespread problems in Bangladesh.

(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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