The year 2002 offered a stern test for the advancement of human rights by the United States of America. This is not necessarily because human rights violations grew in number or severity - although there is no lack of challenge in that area - but because we have been given greater opportunity to make good on our commitment to uphold standards of human dignity and liberty.
The year began with American forces in combat in Afghanistan, and we continue to act there - with military, political and economic resources - to reverse the ill effects of the Taliban regime and the conditions that left unchecked its cruel disregard for human rights. Elsewhere in the world, we set our sights on further extending the blessings of liberty and security, and demonstrating not only that they are compatible, but also interdependent. We advanced these goals not as exclusively American aspirations, but rather as the birthright of all persons.
The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002 are grounded in the conviction that we must recognize the problem and describe it with full objectivity if we are to proceed to solving it. We gain little by ignoring human rights abuses or flinching from reporting them. This year's report covers 196 countries, ranging from defenders of human rights and democracy to the worst violators of human dignity. But in truth, no country is exempt from scrutiny, and all countries benefit from constant striving to identify their weaknesses and improve their performance in this less-than-perfect world. Furthermore, the Reports serve as a gauge for our international human rights efforts, pointing to areas of progress and drawing our attention to new and continuing challenges.
In a world marching toward democracy and respect for human rights, the United States is a leader, a partner and a contributor. We have taken this responsibility with a deep and abiding belief that human rights are universal. They are not grounded exclusively in American or Western values. But their protection worldwide serves a core U.S. national interest. It is with this responsibility firmly in mind that we have prepared, and now transmit, the Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002 to the U.S. Congress.
Colin L. Powell,
Secretary of State.