Mideast Nations Reject U.S. Human Rights Criticism

By Kristin Alynn Hussein | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Some Arab and Muslim countries censured in the U.S. State Department's annual report on global human rights have reacted sharply to the criticism, calling into question America's right to judge.

The report for 2000, published this week, cited alleged abuses of human rights in numerous countries in the Middle East.

It said the Iranian government's record remained poor, and "although efforts within society to make the government accountable for its human rights policies continued, serious problems remain."

Violations listed in the report included extra judicial killings and summary executions, torture, rape, harsh prison conditions and arbitrary arrest and detention. It added, however, that some officials had been charged in court for misconduct.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi rejected the report's validity, telling the official IRNA news agency it comprised a "series of unfounded, repeated and one-sided accusations and claims."

The U.S. government was in no legal position to judge other countries as regards to their human rights records when the U.S. itself suffered from "blatant and continued violations of human rights" in the form of "racial discrimination, intolerance, violence, torture and mistreatment of prisoners."

The report also chided Saudi Arabia - an important U.S. ally - for a record it said was generally poor although with "limited improvement in some areas."

Security forces continued to arbitrarily arrest persons, abuse detainees and there had been allegations of torture, it said.

The government restricts freedom of speech, the press and religion, said the State Department, but added that it had "tolerated a wider range of debate and criticism" in the press during the period under review.

Also noted were the continued discrimination and violence against women, discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, and strict limitations on worker rights.

In a statement of reaction, the undersecretary of the Saudi Foreign Ministry, Prince Turki bin Mohammed al-Kabeer, said the report's criticism of Islamic countries was due to a poor understanding of Islam and "a lack of dialogue between the different cultures."

The review of the Egyptian human rights record was somewhat more favorable.

But despite some improvement in 2000, the government's performance was "poor with respect to freedom of expression and its treatment of detainees."

Egyptian human rights activist Hafez Abu Saada agreed with the report's allegations of persecution of government opponents, although he warned that the report could offend local "political sensitivities."

Palestinian Authority

The Palestinian Authority was criticized for a poor human rights record, which the report said had worsened during the uprising launched last September. The PA had failed to prevent violent attacks that contributed to the cycle of bloodshed, it said.

PA security forces had killed "numerous Israeli soldiers and civilians in the cycle of violence" and had failed to prevent armed Palestinians from opening fire on Israelis. However, the authors conceded that "the extent to which senior PLO or PA officials authorized such incidents is not clear."

A PA spokesman rejected the criticism of attacks by PA forces on Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, lands captured in the 1967 war.

Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a senior aide to PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, said Israelis living in those areas were "an accessory to the Israeli army." If they were to be considered civilians, he added, then "they should be in Israel, not in the occupied territories."

Some of the report's harshest criticism was reserved for Iraq. While noting that violations were difficult to document due to a lack of independent observers and local human rights organizations, it said President Saddam Hussein's government was "one of the world's most repressive," with executions, torture and rape of his opponents being routine.

"Reports suggest that persons were executed merely because of their association with an opposition group or as part of a continuing effort to reduce prison populations," it said.

On Kuwait, another U.S. ally, the report said the government generally respected its citizens' rights, although its record was poor in some significant areas, including the banning of political parties. Women were prevented from voting or holding office, individuals' activities were monitored, and non-citizen residents faced discrimination.

As reported yesterday, Israel was also criticized by the State Department.

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