Beliefnet
WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 (AP) - As U.S Secretary of State Colin Powell was winding up a Mideast tour that featured appeals to Israel and the Palestinians to end the violence, the State Department issued a report Monday criticizing the rights record of both sides during 2000.

The department's annual report on human rights conditions worldwide also said China's human rights record deteriorated last year, with intensified crackdowns on religion, political dissent and ``any person or group perceived to threaten the government.''

Because of the perceived retrogression, the State Department announced plans Monday to seek China's censure by the U.N. Human Rights Commission when it convenes for its annual meeting next month in Geneva. The initiative had been widely anticipated.

There also were harsh words in the report for the combatants in the civil war in Colombia, whose President, Andres Pastrana, will meet with President George W. Bush on Tuesday. The report ranked Iraq and North Korea among the world's worst human rights violators.

On the plus side, the study found a number of advances in human rights, democracy, and fundamental freedoms last year, citing the examples of Yugoslavia, Mexico, Nigeria and Ghana. Another bright spot was the peace agreement that ended a two-year war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

The congressionally-mandated report, issued each February, was released as Powell was winding up visits to Israel, the Palesinian territories and several Arab countries.

One of those countries was Syria, where the report said the government continues to deny its citizens fundamental human rights, while noting slight improvements in some areas.

There was ``a slight loosening'' of censorhip last year, the department said.

And although the government does not officially allow independent domestic human rights groups to exist, there were reports that several such organizations and civil society groups began meeting regularly during the year, it said.

But overall, the the Ba'th Party dominates the political system, citizens do not have the right to change their government and officials use their ``vast powers so effectively that there is no organized political opposition.''

``Serious abuses'' include the widespread use of torture, poor prison conditions, arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, unfair trials; a corrupt and inefficient judiciary, the report said of Syria.

The powerful role of the security services in government stems in part from the state of emergency that has been in place almost continuously since 1963, the report said. The government justifies martial law because of the state of war with Israel and past threats from terrorist groups.

The State Department report faulted both Israel and the Palestinian Authority for the bloodshed that occurred between the two during the last three months of 2000. The study did not take into account developments since then.

In Israel, security forces used ``excessive force'' to disperse demonstrations that coincided with the outbreak of violence in the occupied territories, killing 13 Arab citizens and injuring over 300, the report said.

They also ``committed numerous serious human rights abuses during the year'' in the occupied territories, killing 307 Palestinians and injuring another 11,300 during the year, it said.

``Israeli security forces targeted for killing a number of Palestinians whom the Israeli government stated had attacked or were planning future attacks on Israeli settlements or military targets,'' the report said.

The overall human rights record of the Palestinian Authority was poor, worsening during 2000 mainly due to the sustained violence that began in late September, according to the report.

``Members of Palestinian security services and Fatah's Tanzim participated in violent attacks. Armed Palestinians, some of them members of Palestinian security forces, fired at Israeli civilians or soldiers from within or close to the homes of Palestinian civilians,'' it said.

It added that Palestinian security forces also failed to prevent armed Palestinians from opening fire on Israelis in places in which Palestinians were present.

In China, there were more crackdowns on religion, on political dissent and on ``any person or group perceived to threaten the government,'' the State Department.

It said thousands of unregistered religious institutions had been either closed or destroyed by year's end and that hundreds of leaders of the Falun Gong spiritual sect had been imprisoned.

``Thousands of others remained in a detention or were sentenced to re-education-through-labor camps or incarcerated in mental institutions,'' the report said. It also said there was an intensified crackdown in Tibet during the year.

Despite these setbacks, the report said, ``many Chinese had more individual choice, greater access to information, and expanded economic opportunity'' as Marxist ideology continued to give way to economic pragmatism.

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