"From this time on, I am free, I can talk to anybody I want, I can see anyone I want. I can walk on the street with bigger steps. I can hug my relatives. I can kiss my children, I can smile at my people. I can work for my people...for the rest of my life, I will create my own history."
The United States is committed to promoting democracy throughout Asia, from calling for freedom in repressive authoritarian states to strengthening transitional democracies. Asia is home to both functioning democracies and some of the world's most oppressive authoritarian dictatorships. The spectrum of political systems and progress toward democratic change reflect the region's diversity. There have been positive democratic developments in countries such as Indonesia, now the third largest democracy in the world, while human rights abuses and lack of freedom continue in others, such as Burma, China, and North Korea. Weak rule of law, rampant corruption, and fragile democratic institutions limit progress in some countries, while a vibrant civil society and free press in other countries help push reforms forward.
In Burma, the United States continues its unwavering support of the Burmese democracy movement by upholding U.S. sanctions and continuing to call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, as well as the initiation of a credible political process. The United States continued to work with allies and the UN to press the junta for democratic change and respect for human rights. The December 16 UN Security Council discussion was a genuine success in calling attention to the urgent problems of Burma, including its dismal record on human rights and democracy. The UN characterized the situation in Burma as a looming humanitarian crisis. The United States will continue to advocate scrutiny and action on Burma within the UN system.
Progress has been made in the region during the past year in several countries, including Indonesia and Vietnam. The United States supports strengthening democracy in Indonesia, including military reform, improved accountability, respect for human rights, anti-corruption efforts, and rule of law. Following U.S. assistance after the 2004 tsunami, the United States continued its substantial support by contributing to the Aceh peace process, particularly the reintegration of Free Aceh Movement Fighters. In May 2005, Vietnam and the United States announced the signing of the first binding agreement on religious freedom, which will ensure transparent procedures in the registration of religious groups. Recent positive steps by the Government of Vietnam led to the February 2006 resumption of the human rights dialogue, which had been suspended since 2002.
At the same time, the United States remained concerned about lack of progress in other countries, including China and North Korea. The United States employed multiple strategies to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in China, including raising human rights and democracy concerns in bilateral meetings, focusing international attention on China at the United Nations and other multilateral forums, consulting with China's other human rights dialogue partners through the Bern Process, and administering a grant-making program to encourage civil society, rule of law, and public participation in China. The near-complete control exercised by the North Korean regime continued to be of deep concern. The appointment of a Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, as called for by the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004, signals the importance the United States places on promoting democracy and human rights in one of the world's most isolated and oppressive countries.
The United States is dedicated to carrying out the President's Freedom Agenda in Asia. The United States will continue to use bilateral diplomacy, multilateral cooperation, UN mechanisms, and support for human rights and democracy projects to promote freedom in Asia.
"Projek Warga" Shines a Spotlight on Civic Education in Malaysia
The Center for Civic Education's "Project Citizen" program (known as "Projek Warga") strengthened civic education for Malaysian youth. Projek Warga reaches out to middle school students in an interactive format to promote competent and responsible participation in local government for all genders, ethnicities, and religions. Through Projek Warga, students develop an understanding of and support for democratic values and principles, tolerance, and feelings of political efficacy. By training teachers to administer curricula and challenging students to solve public policy problems in a democratic fashion, Projek Warga has helped to expand the civic participation and education of youth and teachers in Malaysia. After a 20-year absence, the Government of Malaysia is reinstating compulsory civic education for all secondary schools and is currently considering including Projek Warga's subject matter as a part of the new curriculum.
Project Warga is a dynamic, interactive civic education program that challenges entire classes of middle school students of mixed genders, ethnicities, and religions to collaborate and identify a public policy problem in their community. The students then research the problem, evaluate alternative options, develop their own solutions in the form of a public policy initiative, and create a political action plan that could be employed to enlist local government authorities to adopt their proposed policy. As part of this project, students develop a portfolio of their work and present their findings during a simulated public hearing before a panel of civic-minded community members. Members of the Prime Minister's family participated as panelists at the Malaysia National Showcase that featured these hearings. Impressed by what they saw, the family members extended an invitation for future Projek Warga students to present their findings to the Prime Minister himself.
These activities are implemented through the Center for Civic Education and the Malaysia Citizenship Initiative of Universiti Sains Malaysia.
Burma continued to be ruled by an authoritarian military regime that enforced its firm grip on power with a pervasive security apparatus. During 2005, the Government's deplorable human rights record worsened, and it continued to commit serious abuses. Security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings, rape, and forcible relocation of persons and use forced labor and conscripted child soldiers. The Government continued to treat any form of political opposition or dissent with hostility and repression. Citizens in Burma did not have the right to change their government. The regime barred participation of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), as well as other pro-democracy political parties, in its sham National Convention. The National Convention reconvened twice in 2005 and was designed to rubber-stamp a new Constitution granting the military the predominant role in any future government. The NLD's top leaders, Aung San Suu Kyi and U Tin Oo, remained under incommunicado house arrest. All of the party's offices nationwide, except its Rangoon headquarters, remained closed. Since 1990, when the NLD won over 80 percent of parliamentary seats in Burma's last democratic election but was not allowed to take office by the military regime, the United States has maintained its diplomatic representation at the Charg� d'Affaires level. The Government released 368 political prisoners in 2005, although authorities arrested approximately 200 pro-democracy supporters during the same period, including several senior ethnic pro-democracy leaders, and Shan political leader Hkun Htun Oo. Despite the release of this small number of political prisoners in 2005, harassment, arrests, and disappearances of additional political activists continued. Members of the security forces killed, tortured, beat, and otherwise abused prisoners and detainees. The Government did not allow UN Special Envoy Razali Ismail to return after his March 2004 visit; Razali resigned in frustration in January 2006. The Government has also refused to allow UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Paulo Sergio Pinheiro to visit Burma since November 2003.
U.S. human rights and democracy goals include pressing the Burmese regime to establish a constitutional democracy, respect human rights, release all political prisoners, end the military's abuses, especially in ethnic minority regions, and combat trafficking in persons (TIP). The United States worked with other like-minded countries to maintain maximum international pressure on Burma. This included robust bilateral and multilateral sanctions. The United States also pursued this goal inside Burma through vigorous public diplomacy and democracy programs.
The United States was a vocal advocate for the rights of democracy activists in Burma, including Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. President Bush publicly condemned the human rights situation in Burma on several occasions in 2005, and spoke out on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi and the democratic opposition on numerous occasions. During an official visit to Japan in 2005, President Bush made it clear that although the Burmese people live in the darkness of tyranny, one day they will have their liberty.
Following the regime's November 2005 announcement that it had prolonged Aung San Suu Kyi's detention for another six months, the United States publicly identified the extension as "another step in the wrong direction," and again called on the Government to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners and to initiate meaningful dialogue with the democratic opposition and ethnic minority political groups.
The United States, EU members, and other nations have imposed a variety of sanctions on the Burmese junta. These sanctions signaled international disapproval while exerting pressure on the junta to end its human rights abuses and allow for genuine democracy in Burma. The U.S. Congress voted overwhelmingly to renew the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act for a third year on June 21, 2005.
U.S. sanctions now include bans on the export of financial services to Burma by U.S. persons, imports from Burma, and new U.S. investment, as well as an arms embargo. Sanctions also block all bilateral aid to the Government, including counter-narcotics assistance, withdraw Generalized System of Preferences privileges, and deny funding through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and Export-Import Bank programs. The United States maintained visa restrictions on Burma's senior military and government officials and opposed all new lending or grant programs by international financial institutions.
The United States worked aggressively and multilaterally to press for change in Burma. Such efforts included support for the efforts of the UN Special Envoy for the Secretary General and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, as well as the work of the International Labor Organization (ILO), and other international organizations. The United States has co-sponsored annual resolutions at the UNGA and the UN Commission on Human Rights that condemn and draw international attention to the continued systematic human rights violations in Burma.
With the strong support of the United States, the UN Security Council agreed to discuss Burma in informal consultations in December 2005. On December 16, the UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs briefed the Council on the continued deterioration of freedoms in Burma and the regime's neglect of the country's needs. U.S. officials also consistently raised concerns about Burma during bilateral meetings with other nations in the region. The United States urged these nations to press the regime to release all political prisoners and initiate a credible and inclusive political process. As a result of the regime's regressive steps in 2005, ASEAN broke with its policy of noninterference in the internal affairs of member states and publicly condemned the regime for its continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and 1,100 other political prisoners and its slow pace of reform.
The United States also supported journalist training, media development, civil society development, and scholarship programs in-country and among exile communities to prepare Burmese youth and others for leadership roles once political transition occurs. The United States promoted the rule of law and democracy by providing information exchange and civic education programs on human rights, democratic values, and governance issues. In 2005, the United States dedicated funds for democracy and human rights-themed speaker programs, exchange programs, publications, and other information outreach in Burma. The Embassy regularly disseminated news from websites blocked by the Government's censors. The United States also provided support to the Burmese opposition and ethnic minority groups. U.S. courses on civics and good governance inspired political activists to use these materials to create their own Burmese-language versions of the courses. These courses also increased the organizational and presentation skills of the democratic opposition, which faced daily challenges from the regime's repressive measures. The United States also funded programs focused on democracy promotion and capacity-building for Burmese exile groups, as well as for collection and dissemination of information on democracy and the human rights situation inside and along the borders of Burma. The United States also supported humanitarian assistance programs serving Burmese refugees. All U.S. humanitarian or democracy-related assistance is channeled through NGOs; none of the funding benefits the Government.
The United States also sought an end to the egregious human rights abuses perpetrated by the Burmese army, many of which were carried out against ethnic minority civilians in border regions. The Government did not allow domestic human rights groups to function independently and dismissed all outside scrutiny of its human rights record. Several U.S.-funded groups working along Burma's borders documented human rights abuses inside Burma, including rape and forced labor. During travel throughout Burma and along the Thai-Burmese and Thai-Bangladeshi borders, U.S. officials personally interviewed victims of violence. The Embassy also helped facilitate access for U.S. and UN investigations into human rights abuses and maintained close contact with influential members of the political opposition about initiatives supporting the struggle for democracy in the country.
A key aspect of U.S. advocacy was the persistent call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Burma. More than 1,100 people continued to languish in Burma's jails for the peaceful expression of their political views.
There was no change in the Government's scant respect for religious freedom. The Government continued to monitor public meetings and activities of virtually all organizations, including religious ones. It systematically restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom, discouraged or prohibited Muslims and Christians from constructing new places of worship, and in some ethnic minority areas used coercion to promote Buddhism over other religions. In 2005, the United States responded by redesignating Burma as a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for the seventh consecutive year. Several U.S.-funded organizations along Burma's borders provided information on the serious repression faced by minority ethnic and religious groups in Burma, including Rohingya Muslims and Christians throughout Burma, primarily in ethnic areas.
The United States continued to press the regime to respect workers' rights and unions and to discontinue its use of forced labor. The United States supported the work of an ILO liaison office in Rangoon that made efforts to bring the Government into compliance with its international labor obligations. At the ILO Governing Board meeting in November 2005, the United States emphasized the need for the Government to reengage the ILO in a meaningful dialogue, and to ensure the liaison officer's ability to safely carry out his duties country-wide.
The United States also designated Burma as a Tier 3 country in its 2005 report on TIP. To address this serious problem, the United States approved funding for NGO-implemented anti-trafficking programs intended to raise awareness among vulnerable Burmese and supported anti-trafficking efforts of local NGOs. The United States pressed the regime to cooperate with NGOs and UN agencies in the development and implementation of a stronger anti-TIP law.
Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with an elected Government. The royalist National United Front for a Neutral, Peaceful, Cooperative, and Independent Cambodia party (FUNCINPEC) and the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) formed a coalition Government in 2004; however, the CPP dominated the Government, with most power concentrated in the hands of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Although there were no political killings in 2005, the Government's human rights record worsened, as the country's fragile democracy suffered several setbacks, particularly in the areas of political participation and freedom of speech. The Government undertook a series of actions that served to neutralize its critics through a limited number of arrests of journalists, leaders of civil society, human rights activists, and members of the political opposition. In February 2005, the National Assembly removed parliamentary immunity from three opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) in order to pursue possible criminal cases against them. One opposition MP was convicted in a questionable court proceeding. The leader of the opposition fled the country and was convicted in absentia of criminal defamation. The Cambodian Government used the weak and often politically biased judiciary to file defamation suits under the criminal code to arrest, silence, and intimidate civil society and critics of Government policy.
The United States employed multiple tactics to promote its main foreign policy objectives in Cambodia of democracy promotion, increased respect for human rights, and good governance. U.S. officials cooperated closely with civil society, international organizations, Government officials, and international and local NGOs to monitor and promote human rights, good governance, and democratic development. U.S. officials, including the Ambassador, engaged the Prime Minister and other senior officials on numerous occasions, stressing the importance of allowing freedom of expression, even on sensitive subjects, as well as the importance of a democratic opposition. At the 2005 UN Commission on Human Rights, the United States and others worked with Cambodian diplomats to pass a resolution providing technical assistance and advisory services to implement the Khmer Rouge tribunal and improve human rights and democracy in Cambodia.
To achieve the goals of political pluralism and the transformation of political party representatives into effective legislators and leaders, the United States supported an NGO that focused on internal democratization and decentralization of political parties, and another NGO that held 60 public forums, attended by over 35,000 citizens, to increase debate on human rights and democracy. A U.S. program to broaden youth participation in political life trained over 16,000 young activists and over 160 volunteers to register voters. One U.S.-sponsored program produced a radio program on democracy that reached over 1.2 million voters in eight provinces. The United States sponsored the opposition party's Chief of Cabinet for the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) "Grassroots Democracy," and organized a Voluntary Visitor program for a high-ranking Ministry of Interior official on "State and Local Government." Another U.S.-funded NGO supported electoral reform, a parliament watch program, NGO capacity building, constituency dialogues, and political party reform, including increasing youth and women's participation.
U.S. efforts to promote media freedom centered on programs to educate journalists on their proper role in a democratic society and to improve the quality of reporting. These programs included U.S.-funded workshops and lectures for journalists and journalism students, sponsoring a Fulbright Senior Specialist to develop teaching material on basic communication theory for the leading journalism school, and sponsoring an official of the Club of Cambodian Journalists for an IVLP on investigative journalism. In light of the numerous threats to freedom of expression, the United States embarked upon a campaign with other like-minded countries and international organizations to urge the Government to release its detained civil rights activists and drop all charges against them.
U.S. officials, including the Ambassador, also engaged the judicial sector on numerous occasions to press for strengthening the rule of law and independence of the judiciary. A Fulbright Senior Scholar on a six-month program at the Royal University of Law and Economics developed curricula and course materials on legal reasoning and analysis and international human rights law. Another Fulbright Senior Specialist at the National University of Management developed a new undergraduate law curriculum. A U.S. Federal Judge conducted workshops on judicial policies, practices, and reform for more than 355 sitting judges, prosecutors, and students in Phnom Penh and four provincial courts. A U.S.-funded anti-corruption program strengthened the ability of the citizens to hold public officials more accountable for the use of public resources.
Senior U.S. officials called on the Government to release the civil society leaders arrested in 2005 and to reverse its course of deteriorating respect for human rights. Following a meeting with the U.S. Assistant Secretary for East Asia and the Pacific in January 2006, the Prime Minister requested that the courts release on bail the leaders of civil society who had been detained on criminal charges of defamation. The Government later requested that the courts drop charges against the men after they wrote letters to the Prime Minister thanking him for their release.
The United States condemned the convictions of two men for the 2004 killing of union leader Chea Vichea. Civil society and independent observers believe that the two men are innocent of the charges. U.S. officials also condemned the conviction of opposition Member of Parliament Cheam Channy. Serious irregularities marred all three cases. U.S. officials, meeting with the Minister of Justice and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in January 2005, outlined areas for judicial reform and programs the United States views as best practices for combating corruption.
U.S. programs promoted access to justice by providing legal assistance in nearly 3,000 cases. Approximately 55 percent of these were handled through alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and resolved successfully. Sixty lawyers, including 22 women, completed U.S.-supported clinical legal education programs to increase the quality of legal professionals. Ten legal fellows, including six women, were placed in internships to increase access to legal representation for average Cambodians.
The United States continued to support local NGOs that investigated hundreds of alleged abuses of human rights, and provided direct intervention and legal services to individuals. Local NGOs took on legal cases with high public visibility or the potential to influence policy, which helped other partners develop the will and capacity to bring more cases of human rights abuses to court. A U.S.-funded Cambodian legal defense NGO continued to provide legal aid services for the poor. Another U.S. program continued the use of class action cases on behalf of communities involved in land disputes.
U.S. support enabled key human rights NGOs to monitor, investigate, and report on human rights violations, including unlawful arrests, extrajudicial killings, abuse of power by Government officials, restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, and intimidation of human rights workers. The United States continued to support Cambodia's only independent NGO devoted to investigating and documenting the crimes against humanity committed by the former Khmer Rouge regime to help build a record to aid in bringing those responsible for the atrocities to justice.
On numerous occasions throughout the year, U.S. officials urged authorities in both the Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Interior to meet Cambodia's obligations to permit the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to have access to and provide protection for persons seeking asylum in Cambodia. The United States sponsored a speaker who toured and conducted workshops and round table discussions with more than 200 government officials, NGO leaders, and journalists on domestic violence. The speaker also discussed domestic violence on two national television broadcasts. One local NGO received a U.S. grant to conduct training for more than 2,000 girls and young women on exercising their rights in a democratic society.
The United States continued its efforts to address the threat of radical Islam by promoting democracy education and support for the Muslim community through a combination of outreach programs and small grants. The Embassy distributed approximately 50,000 Khmer-language and 3,000 Cham-language copies of "Muslim Life in America" at mosques and Muslim community centers, in addition to distributing 20,000 education kits that included a photobook, "America 24/7," at predominately Muslim junior and senior high schools. Two Cambodian Muslim youth organizations received funding to conduct training in six provinces for over 600 university-age students on civic education, human rights, and strengthening democracy. With U.S. support, a local NGO broadcast a weekly Cham-language news and information program, the only program in the country to engage Cham Muslims in their own language. The program regularly featured U.S. stories, and could reach an audience of 500,000--roughly 80 percent of the Cham Muslim population in Cambodia. The United States also supported train-the-trainer workshops for over 900 imams and village leaders in 10 provinces on human rights and democratic practices conducted by two Muslim NGOs.
In 2005, the United States expanded the use of English-language micro-scholarships. Seventy-eight Muslim secondary school students in five provinces participated in this in-country English-language study program. These English-language scholarships expanded the educational and economic opportunities for Muslim students, one of the most educationally marginalized populations in the country. Learning English increased the chances that these students will graduate from secondary school, attend college, find employment, and learn about civil society structures different from those that exist in Cambodia. Most participants lived near an American Corner, increasing the students' access to materials on democratic principles and practices. Through small grants, the United States partnered with four Muslim NGOs to select suitable candidates in each province and to provide a network to help ensure that students awarded a scholarship had the support they needed to succeed in their studies. Administering the program in this fashion also helped to develop institutional capacity in the fledgling Muslim NGO community.
The United States continued to fund International Labor Organization (ILO) programs to protect worker rights through monitoring labor conditions in garment factories, creating a labor arbitration mechanism, and combating the worst forms of child labor. One U.S.-supported program provided training on union building and legal aid to union leaders and activists. The Embassy sponsored the participation of the president of a major labor union in the IVLP "Organized Labor in the U.S." The Labor Arbitration Council, a U.S.-funded ILO project, continued to carry out its mandate to arbitrate labor disputes impartially, and was a model of legal credibility and transparency in an environment where the lack of rule of law continued to be problematic. The ILO garment factory project monitored and reported on working conditions and labor rights in Cambodia's 200 garment factories. This project helped the country grow economically by attracting socially conscious garment companies to buy from Cambodia and increased respect for and protection of labor rights and standards. The United States supported an NGO to continue a project that increased school enrollment and attendance of children who were at high risk of falling into the worst forms of child labor, such as child trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation.
Combating trafficking in persons (TIP) was a vital component of the U.S. strategy to promote human rights. The United States continued to provide financial and technical assistance to NGOs focusing on the protection of victims, prevention, and prosecution of traffickers. Through an IOM grant, the United States supported an information campaign to combat trafficking in women and children. The project included a provincial and district-level multimedia information campaign, which included village-based activities designed to foster community networks to combat TIP, and the development of a counter-trafficking database. This phase of the campaign reached over 125,000 persons. A local U.S.- supported NGO launched a women's economic empowerment program, which targeted women at risk of being trafficked. U.S. programs trained 250 police in investigative techniques to improve law enforcement competency in combating TIP. The United States continued to provide financial support for local NGOs to run shelters with training and reintegration programs for trafficking victims and victims of rape and domestic violence. These programs assisted over 525 at-risk individuals and trafficking victims to obtain shelter services. U.S. programs assisted with the reintegration of 67 victims and helped 92 victims gain employment.
The Chinese Government continued to deny citizens basic democratic rights, and law enforcement authorities continued to suppress political, religious, and social groups perceived to be a threat to national stability. The Government did not allow social, political, or religious groups to organize or act independently of the Government or the Communist Party. Those who tried to act independently were often harassed, detained, or abused by the authorities, including Internet writers, journalists, leaders of unregistered religious groups, political dissidents, and human rights defenders. The Government adopted measures to control print, broadcast, and electronic media more tightly and pressured Internet companies to censor and restrict the content of material available on-line. It increased scrutiny of NGOs, especially those perceived as promoting democratic agendas. Public protests by citizens seeking to redress grievances increased, but were often suppressed, including by security forces. In Dongzhou village, security forces opened fire on demonstrators, fatally shooting at least three protestors. The Government increasingly discussed human rights, rule of law, and democracy in its policies and public statements. However, laws that could expand citizens' rights often failed to do so in practice, especially when rights protection conflicted with the interests of law enforcement institutions responsible for maintaining social order. Local authorities who abused human rights often violated the law, but the Central Government rarely stepped in to address such violations.
The United States employed multiple strategies to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in China. This comprehensive strategy included bilateral diplomatic efforts, multilateral action, and support through Government and nongovernmental channels for rule of law and civil society programs. In public statements and private diplomacy, U.S. officials continued to urge China to bring its human rights practices into compliance with international standards, to make systemic reforms, and to release prisoners of conscience. The United States sought to strengthen the judicial system and further the rule of law, encourage democratic political reform, promote freedom of religion and the press, protect human rights, including the rights of workers and women, improve transparency in governance, and strengthen civil society. Officials at all levels also worked with Chinese officials, domestic and foreign NGOs, and others to identify areas of particular concern and encourage systemic reforms.
President Bush raised human rights, democracy, and religious freedom issues when he met with President Hu Jintao in New York in September and when he visited Beijing in November. The Secretary of State raised concerns about these issues during her March and July visits to Beijing. The Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor traveled to Beijing in August to urge China to improve human rights cooperation. Members of Congress, their staff, and staff of the Congressional Executive Committee on China traveled regularly to China to discuss democracy, human rights, religious freedom, corporate social responsibility, and rule of law concerns, often raising these issues with Chinese officials.
Chinese elections did not extend beyond village assemblies or local people's congresses, but U.S. programs offered support for grassroots democratization efforts through training for elected village officials and deputies to local legislatures. Other U.S. programs provided technical assistance to ministries and legislative bodies charged with drafting local election regulations and to those experimenting with legislative oversight and public participation in Government decisionmaking.
The U.S. Government supported seminars and training on international standards for free expression, reaching out to journalists, lawyers, judges, and lawmakers. In December, the United States brought leading constitutional scholars to China to discuss First Amendment and media issues with Chinese academics and lawmakers. Visiting officials discussed the need for greater freedom for the Internet and for the press, especially in light of increasing international attention on the 2008 Olympics, to be hosted in Beijing. The President, the Secretary of State, the Ambassador, and other U.S. officials also repeatedly raised the cases of detained journalists and Internet writers in public remarks and in private meetings with Chinese officials.
Due to Chinese Government concerns about the role of NGOs in advancing democracy abroad, international and domestic NGOs operating in China faced an increasingly restrictive environment. Nonetheless, hundreds of NGOs, mostly Chinese Government affiliated, were active in health, environment, and other areas. The U.S. Government supported capacity building for small, independent NGOs. It also helped a major university conduct a comprehensive study of non-profit organization work in China and abroad. A nongovernmental women's network supported by the U.S. Government was a key advocate for a new law outlawing sexual harassment.
The United States funds a large program to promote legal reform and encourage judicial independence, increase popular participation in government, and foster the development of local elections and civil society in China. Under this program, more than a dozen major projects are being implemented, including projects that provide legal services, reform criminal law, strengthen legal education, and enable average citizens to seek protection under the law. Smaller U.S.- funded projects complemented these goals. For example, U.S.-supported research by the National Prosecutors College and the Supreme People's Procuratorate focused on criminal procedure issues, including the exclusion of illegally seized evidence. Another program allowed a federal prosecutor assigned to the Embassy to encourage criminal justice reform through interaction with the academic community and Government. This official lectured to numerous Chinese counterparts at law firms and universities on issues ranging from search and seizure to compelling witness testimony at trial and participated in international and domestic anti-corruption conferences. In addition, the Embassy has coordinated programs for federal and state judges, highlighted by visits of Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony M. Kennedy, to discuss rule of law issues with Chinese judges, lawyers, officials, and academics. Judges from Massachusetts toured China presenting a model trial program, and U.S. officials served as judges for China's first university-level moot trial competition.
Through U.S. speaker programs numerous speakers traveled to China to discuss rule of law issues. Almost 50% of Chinese citizens sent to the United States to participate in the International Visitors Leadership Program worked in democracy and rights related fields. Both the Fulbright and Humphrey exchange programs annually devoted resources to rule of law subjects. For example, a Chinese prosecutor came to the United States for post-graduate courses and U.S. professors served in residence at top Chinese legal training institutions.
As a result of U.S. bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, the Chinese Government took a number of steps to engage with the international community on human rights. China hosted visits by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in August and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in November. The Government also permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to open an office in Beijing in July, although the Government did not authorize the ICRC to visit Chinese prisons. U.S. advocacy helped political prisoners gain early release from prison or improved treatment. Uighur businesswoman and activist Rebiya Kadeer was released early from prison in March and permitted to travel to the United States on medical parole. In August, a team of Chinese and U.S. legal experts discussed parole and sentencing reduction for those still serving sentences for now-repealed political crimes.
The President and senior U.S. officials consistently called upon the Chinese Government to respect international standards for religious freedom for people of all faiths. U.S. officials regularly raised religious freedom issues with Chinese leaders, including calling for the release of religious prisoners, the reform of restrictive registration laws, and more freedom for religious groups to practice their faith. The President emphasized the importance of religious freedom in his November meetings with Chinese leaders and attended a church service in Beijing. The Secretary of State also attended church services during her March 2005 visit. During the year, the Chinese Government addressed long-standing international concerns by publicly stating that minors were free to receive religious education from their parents. Officials also said that "house Christians" could hold informal prayer services with friends and family members at home without needing to register with the Government. Problems continued in both areas. In an effort to extend the rule of law to religion, the Government issued new religious affairs regulations, expanding some legal protection for registered religious groups. However, the regulations continue to allow the Government to define lawful religious activity and to punish activity by those who have not registered.
The United States continued to urge the Chinese Government to enter into dialogue with the Vatican. President Bush stressed the importance of such dialogue in his November meeting with President Hu Jintao. After lengthy diplomatic efforts, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) visited China in August. The Commission met with a Vice Premier and leading officials of central and provincial government ministries responsible for religious, judicial, and civil affairs.
U.S. officials worked to strengthen cooperation and the flow of information about human rights issues between the United States and like-minded governments. The United States participated in the "Bern Process" with other governments that hold bilateral human rights dialogues with China to share information about human rights strategies and democracy, human rights, and rule of law programming.
The United States devoted significant resources and time to address numerous other human rights concerns. It urged the Government to put an end to its coercive birth limitation program. The United States publicly and privately urged China not to use the war on terrorism as justification for cracking down on Uighurs expressing peaceful political dissent. U.S. officials also pressed the Government not to repatriate forcibly North Koreans and to allow the UN High Commission for Refugees access to this vulnerable population, as required by international conventions China has signed.
The United States promoted compliance with international labor standards. In 2005, China ratified ILO Convention 111 on eliminating discrimination in employment, meeting a long-standing request of the international community. The Embassy worked to monitor compliance with the U.S.-China Memorandum of Understanding and Statement of Cooperation on Prison Labor and to investigate allegations of forced child labor. The United States supported programs of technical cooperation to advance labor rule of law and coalmine safety as well as exchange programs in the areas of occupational safety and health, mine safety and health, wage and hour administration, and administration of private pension programs. The United States supported programs of technical cooperation on dispute resolution. Through the Partnership to Eliminate Sweatshops, the U.S. Government supported programs that address unacceptable working conditions in manufacturing facilities that produce goods for the U.S. market. Other U.S. programs combated discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS in the workplace and improved the ability of labor institutions to combat trafficking for labor purposes. The Embassy hosted a major conference on trafficking in persons in December, which helped explain anti-trafficking strategies to Chinese law enforcement agencies and academics.
The Government's human rights record in Tibetan areas of China remained poor, and the level of repression of religious freedom remained high. The Government continued to view the Dalai Lama with suspicion and tended to associate Tibetan Buddhist religious activity with separatist sympathies. The preservation and development of the unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage of Tibetan areas and the protection of Tibetan people's fundamental human rights continued to be of concern. The Government strictly controlled information about, and access to, Tibetan areas, making it difficult to determine accurately the scope of human rights abuses.
The U.S. Government continued to advocate vigorously for improvements in human rights conditions in Tibetan areas of China and urged the Chinese Government to meet with representatives of the Dalai Lama. Discussions between Chinese officials and envoys of the Dalai Lama were held in Switzerland in June, the fourth round of talks since 2002. President Bush specifically encouraged China to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama when he met with President Hu Jintao in Beijing in November.
Numerous U.S. officials visited Tibetan areas during 2005, providing opportunities to raise human rights abuses with local officials. USCIRF commissioners and staff visited the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in August, a visit that had been sought since the 2002 bilateral Human Rights Dialogue. USCIRF was able to meet in Lhasa with released political prisoner Phuntsog Nyidrol. A large congressional delegation traveled to the TAR in August, visited religious sites, and raised concerns about human rights violations. In November, the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture visited Lhasa to meet with officials and visit two prisons. U.S.-funded programs focused on economic and community development, mindful of the importance of preserving Tibet's environment and religious and cultural heritage.
Hong KongHong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and maintains a high degree of autonomy except in matters of defense and foreign affairs. It has well-established institutions that support the rule of law and a vigorous civil society. The Basic Law, the SAR's Constitution, provides for the protection of fundamental human rights and calls for further democratization after 2007, eventually leading to universal suffrage. In 2004, the National People's Congress Standing Committee issued a controversial interpretation of the Basic Law that ruled out universal suffrage in the 2007 Legislative Council (Legco) and 2008 Chief Executive elections. The chief executive is chosen by an election committee composed of 800 directly elected, indirectly elected, and appointed individuals. The Legco is comprised of 60 members, only half of whom are elected through direct popular vote. The judiciary is independent and the Basic Law vests Hong Kong's highest court with the power of final adjudication. However, before making final judgments on matters related to PRC central Government responsibilities or on the relationship between the central authorities and the SAR, courts must seek an interpretation from the National People's Congress Standing Committee.
The Government generally respected the human rights of residents, and the law and judiciary provided a fair and efficient judicial process. A number of human rights problems existed, including limitations on citizens' ability to change their government and the power of the legislature to affect government policies. Violence and discrimination against women, media self-censorship, and restrictions on workers' rights to organize and bargain collectively also remained issues of concern. Despite the ban on the Falun Gong in mainland China, the Falun Gong was legally registered and practitioners continued their activities in Hong Kong.
The United States supported Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and movement toward universal suffrage as called for by the Basic Law. The Vice President and the Secretary of State discussed Hong Kong's democratic development with Chief Executive Donald Tsang and other senior Hong Kong officials during the Hong Kong officials' visit to the United States in October 2005. The Deputy Secretary of State also raised these points during his July 2005 visit to Hong Kong, as did the Secretary of State with senior Chinese officials during her visit to Beijing in March 2005. Following a mass rally on December 4, 2005, in support of universal suffrage, and following the defeat of the Government's reform proposal several weeks later, the U.S. Government voiced support for the early introduction of universal suffrage. Additionally, the U.S. Consul General has actively affirmed U.S. support for greater democratization in Hong Kong both privately with Hong Kong Government officials and publicly through speeches and remarks to the press. Following December's pro-democracy rally, the Consul General reiterated publicly the U.S. Government's belief that Hong Kong was ready for democracy. His comments were featured prominently in local and international newspapers, reaching a wide cross-section of Hong Kong society. Democracy also figured prominently in Consulate General-sponsored speaker and International Visitors Leadership Programs. Additionally, the U.S. Government has facilitated local debate and discussion of democracy-related subjects and supported activities to strengthen civil society in Hong Kong.
Indonesia, the world's third-largest democracy and home to the world's largest Muslim population, took further steps to consolidate a pluralistic and representative democracy after four decades of repressive and authoritarian rule. In 2005, Indonesian voters elected seven governors, 116 regents, and 28 mayors in relatively free, fair, and peaceful direct local elections. The most significant human rights development was the end of the three-decade long civil conflict in Aceh that claimed an estimated 15,000 lives. The Government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) signed a peace agreement on August 15, which both sides are implementing, thereby ending the once daily violent clashes between security forces and separatist rebels, and greatly reducing human rights abuses in Aceh. In Papua and West Irian Jaya provinces, the Government inaugurated the Papuan People's Assembly and took other steps toward fulfilling the 2001 Special Autonomy Law on Papua. Indonesia improved its human rights performance during the year, but significant problems remained and serious violations continued. Many of these violations were committed by security forces in areas of separatist conflict. Soldiers and police officers committed violations, including extrajudicial killings and torture, notably in Aceh before the peace agreement and in Papua. A weak and corrupt judicial system frequently failed to hold violators accountable. The military and the police took greater steps to punish human rights abusers within their ranks but, as with the civilian justice system, the punishment in many cases did not match the offense. Press freedom came under strain with orchestrated assaults on journalists and one disappearance. The Government often failed to uphold adequately the fundamental rights of children, women, peaceful protestors, persons with disabilities, religious minorities, and indigenous groups.
The United States undertook aggressive and varied efforts to promote human rights and democracy in Indonesia. The Ambassador and other U.S. officials publicly highlighted the need for protection of human rights and worked to put to counter problems such as trafficking in persons (TIP), religious intolerance, and threats to press freedom. Because many human rights violations involved the military and police, known collectively as the security forces, the United States focused human rights efforts on pushing for military reform and accountability, professionalizing the police, and developing civil society institutions essential for sustaining the democratic transition. U.S. officials frequently worked with student groups, NGOs, labor activists, representatives of religious and ethnic minorities, and leaders of indigenous groups. The United States supported the People's Crisis Center in Aceh to rescue children victimized by the conflict, particularly those with physical or mental trauma. American funding provided for a "safe house" where children could receive counseling and education. Since 2002, the United States has been funding a Survivors of Torture program, implemented by the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), which strengthens the capacity of Indonesian NGOs to facilitate programs in awareness raising; medical, legal, and psychosocial rehabilitation services; and advocacy support for victims of torture and other abusive treatment.
Senior U.S. officials conveyed to the Government concern over the number of peaceful protesters jailed for "insulting the President" or "spreading hatred against the Government." The United States encouraged the growth and expansion of independent news radio throughout the Southeast Asia region by supporting an independent, indigenous, pro-democracy radio news program based in Jakarta. Ten Indonesian print and electronic media journalists visited the United States to report on civil society and volunteerism in America. During the two-week tour, the participating Indonesian journalists visited a number of mosques and reported on religious pluralism and tolerance in America for all major news outlets in Indonesia. The United States is also strongly supporting a more vigorous free and independent media and Indonesian efforts to pass a Freedom of Information Act. The United States is assisting Indonesian civil society groups in their review of the draft Criminal Code to ensure protection of individual rights and media freedom.
To strengthen respect for rule of law, the United States provided professional training programs to prosecutors, police, and judges on issues including ethics, corruption, and money laundering. United States technical assistance to the Supreme Court to streamline the flow of alternative dispute resolution cases continued, as well as comparative organizational structures for a potential revision of the Supreme Court system. The United States also provided expertise to the Constitutional Court on draft procedures for handling impeachment cases and feasibility studies on human resources, case management, and tracking requirements. The United States provided training for prosecutors in the Attorney General's Office and the Anti-Corruption Commission and helped an NGO monitor court sessions and judicial selection procedures.
The United States closely followed trials involving crimes against humanity and spoke out when actions, or inaction, by prosecutors called into question the overall fairness of the judicial process, as happened at the East Timor Tribunal. The United States stressed the importance of achieving credible accountability for the crimes against humanity committed in East Timor during and after the 1999 referendum. A U.S. official traveled to Makassar, Sulawesi to witness the country's first permanent Human Rights Court hand down its initial verdict. The United States also closely followed the investigation and trial of Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, convicted of poisoning prominent human rights campaigner Munir Said Thalib, and publicly supported the Indonesian court's call for a continued investigation. The United States continued to help the Indonesian national police transform into a civilian law enforcement agency based on the principles of democracy and human rights through four project initiatives: an institutional transformation project, an anti-corruption project, an in-service video CD project, and a human rights training program for senior management with police in Aceh. Through these projects, the United States helped police develop transparency, accountability, and a better understanding of human rights. In Aceh, 12 senior Aceh police command staff attended the human rights seminar for senior management training. The United States encouraged the Expanded International Military Education and Training program. U.S. officials also frequently met Indonesian military officials and encouraged military reform and promoted respect for human rights.
Throughout the conflict in Aceh, the United States supported civil society organizations that assisted human rights victims, advocated peaceful resolution, and helped fund treatment of torture victims. To support implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), between the Government and the GAM to end the conflict in Aceh, the United States funded public awareness efforts and technical assistance. Activities included public forums and dialogues, peace concerts, and a new "Aceh Magazine," the first ever Aceh-based news magazine to focus on peace development for community leaders. The United States provided two post-conflict advisors who inspired the "Joint Forum to Support Peace in Aceh," which has become a cornerstone of the Provincial Government's reintegration planning and implementation. The Embassy helped design and support the "Building Lasting Peace in Aceh Workshop," which brought together for the first time all stakeholders - civilian, GAM, local and central Government, and security forces - to discuss implementation of the MOU and peace in Aceh. This set a very high and important benchmark for public participation in implementation of the MOU.
In Papua, where the military has a history of repressive responses to separatist activity, the United States took steps to improve monitoring and investigation of human rights abuses. The United States continued to demand justice for the August 2002 killings of two U.S. citizens near the city of Timika.
U.S. officials traveled to Maluku and North Maluku Province to meet with leaders and encourage continued efforts at reconciliation and effective sectarian conflict resolution. In 2005, Central Sulawesi continued to suffer sporadic outbreaks of violence, including explosions at two local markets and the brutal murder by beheading of four Christian and one Muslim teenage girl. All three provinces continued to need extensive reconciliation and reconstruction work. U.S. assistance supported inter-group dialogues in Central Sulawesi through the crisis center Gereja Kristen Sulawesi Tengah (Christian church) and Himpunan Al Khairat (Islamic mass-based organization). Further U.S. support went to election commissions and several local NGOs conducting local election monitoring. U.S. funding supported "Search for Common Ground," Indonesia's peace-building program using comic books aimed at young people in conflict-affected areas of Central Sulawesi.
The United States helped raise awareness of domestic violence through the Foundation for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, supported a media campaign to inform women of their rights, sought to empower women through pesantren (Islamic boarding school) programs, and supported the creation of a national database of potential women candidates for political parties. Dozens of women took part in the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP), the Voluntary Visitor Program, the Fulbright Summer Institute, and other programs, many of which focused on human rights issues. Female participants on the IVLP included Dewi Hughes, Indonesia's national spokesperson for anti-trafficking. The Embassy raised awareness about violence against women and trafficking by hosting a viewing and discussion of the film "Lilya Forever" for university law students and government officials. U.S. support of the National Commission on Violence Against Women resulted in the Government's decision to establish regional women's crisis centers. The U.S.-funded Women's Journal Foundation produced a monthly magazine and weekly radio show that reached 158 stations.
U.S. officials regularly met religious and civil leaders to urge mutual respect and cooperation, while simultaneously calling for justice for those in the past who had perpetrated severe human rights abuses. In outreach efforts to the Muslim community, the United States brought speakers to dozens of pesantrens, madrasahs (day schools), and Muslim institutions of higher learning to exchange views on pluralism, tolerance, and respect for human rights. The Embassy sent 32 pesantren leaders to the United States for a three-week program on religious pluralism, civic education, and educational development. In addition, the Embassy sent 26 students and five teachers to the United States for four weeks on a Muslim Youth Leadership Program, and through the Youth Exchange and Study program over 89 Muslim students entered one-year programs at high schools throughout the United States. At the university level, a multi-year grant helped implement a civic education program in the private Islamic tertiary institutions affiliated with State Islamic Universities and the Muhammadiyah university system. U.S. grants strengthened curriculum and teaching materials, trained 400 high school teachers from 100 madrasahs, and helped an Islamic studies institute in Yogyakarta conduct training on human rights and establish courses promoting tolerance. The United States also provided grants to two U.S. universities to coordinate with Indonesian universities for a journalism training exchange, conflict resolution programs, and other exchanges and to assist five mediation centers at Muslim institutions.
The United States supported the Islam and Civil Society (ICS) program, which promoted messages on tolerance, pluralism, gender, and democracy to the people through religious leaders. In support of long-term engagement, five American Corners operated in Muslim institutions of higher learning across Indonesia. U.S. officials worked closely with the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The United States also funded The Asia Foundation to establish an international center to promote regional and international linkages among progressive Muslim intellectuals and activists and an international level of discourse on progressive interpretations of Islam. The United States provided funding to various Muslim organizations and pesantren to promote gender equality and women's rights by strengthening the understanding of these values among female community leaders and supporting democratization and gender awareness.
The United States worked with international NGOs, such as Save the Children, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, and the ICMC, along with the ILO and IOM, to raise awareness of and combat the problems of child labor and TIP. The United States devoted significant funding to protect children from sexual exploitation, TIP, and employment in exploitative and dangerous jobs.
Sub-grants to 48 NGOs and community groups resulted in local anti-trafficking actions focused on prevention, rehabilitation, and advocacy. U.S. funding supported the creation of new shelters for victims and two new hospital treatment centers and funded the safe return and reintegration of victims. The United States continued training of police officers and prosecutors, resulting in more arrests and prosecutions and longer jail sentences for traffickers. U.S. grantees continued technical assistance for the drafting of stronger and more comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation at the national and local levels. U.S.-funded NGOs quickly investigated rumors of trafficking of victims from Aceh after the December 2004 tsunami and, with supplemental U.S. funding, worked with Indonesian authorities and community groups, including Muslim communities, to respond to the increased risk of trafficking from Aceh.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea
As President Bush noted when he signed the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act (NKHRA), the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) remains one of the most repressive countries in the world and stands in stark contrast to democratic governments elsewhere in Asia. The country, one of the world's most closed and militarized societies, is a dictatorship under the absolute rule of Kim Jong Il, General Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party. An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 persons are believed to be held in detention camps in remote areas, many for political reasons. Defectors report that many prisoners have died from torture, starvation, disease, exposure, or a combination of these causes. North Korean officials reportedly prohibited live births in prison, and forced abortions were performed, particularly in detention centers holding women repatriated from China. Over the years, there have been unconfirmed reports from a few defectors alleging the testing on human subjects of a variety of chemical and biological agents up through the early 1990s. The regime controlled many aspects of citizens' lives, denying freedom of speech, religion, the press, assembly, and association. The deportation of North Koreans from China to the DPRK was a matter of particular concern to the United States. A number of repatriated North Koreans faced severe punishment upon their return, including execution in some cases. On multiple occasions, U.S. officials expressed objections to any such actions to the Chinese government. The North Korean regime also severely restricted freedom of movement and worker rights. There were widespread reports of North Korean women and girls being trafficked in China. In December, the Government terminated international humanitarian assistance, including the UN World Food Program.
The 2004 NKHRA was enacted to raise awareness of the serious human rights situation in the country, and to find durable solutions for North Korean refugees. Since enactment of the law, the United States has heightened its engagement on the North Korean human rights issue. In August 2005, the President appointed a Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea under the NKHRA. Since his appointment, the Special Envoy has urged other countries, including the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan, to join the growing international campaign urging the DPRK to address and improve its human rights conditions.
In 2005, the U.S. Government funded a series of three conferences and related programs on North Korean human rights; the NGO Freedom House held its first conference on the issue in Washington in July. The Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs and several Members of Congress addressed the conference. At the second conference in this series, held in Seoul in December, the Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea and the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea expressed concern about the human rights situation in the country, and urged the North Korean Government to respond to growing international concern about its human rights conditions. The third Freedom House conference is scheduled to take place in Europe this spring. In addition, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor continued to support the National Endowment for Democracy to support ROK-based NGOs in their efforts to improve and expand monitoring of and reporting on the human rights situation in the country.
Numerous U.S. officials worked to raise awareness of the country's human rights abuses and humanitarian issues with the international community and before U.S. audiences. The United States regularly raised concerns about the country with other governments in both multilateral and bilateral forums. U.S. officials urged other countries to call for concrete, verifiable, and sustained improvements in North Korean human rights as an important component of their bilateral relations with the country. In April 2005, several State Department officials testified before the House International Relations Committee on North Korea's human rights record and U.S. Government efforts to implement the NKHRA. The Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs has publicly stated that dialogue on the country's human rights record and establishment of benchmarks for improvement would be necessary for the country to join the international community and normalize relations with the United States.
For the third consecutive year, the U.S. also worked with other concerned governments to win passage of a resolution condemning North Korea's human rights record at the UN Commission on Human Rights. The resolution called on the country to fulfill its obligations under human rights instruments to which it is a party. The resolution further urged the North Korean Government to invite UN special representatives to visit the DPRK, and to ensure that humanitarian organizations have free access to the country. In November 2005, the United States co-sponsored a similar resolution before the UN General Assembly that condemned the country's poor human rights record, marking the first time the General Assembly passed such a resolution on North Korea.
The United States remained deeply concerned about the plight of North Korean refugees, and continued to work to find durable solutions for this vulnerable population as outlined in the NKHRA. The United States worked with governments in the region to urge protection of, and assistance to, North Korean refugees, and to facilitate their permanent resettlement. The United States consistently urged China to fulfill its international obligations under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and as a signatory to its 1967 Protocol. The United States continued to call upon China to allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to this vulnerable population to assess their needs and determine their status. The United States has addressed the issue of North Korean refugees in China with the UNHCR, and sought to coordinate our approach with allies who share our concerns.
In 2005, the Secretary of State again designated the DPRK a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for severe violations of religious freedom. The DPRK was designated as is a Tier 3 country in the U.S. Trafficking in Persons report and is subject to U.S. sanctions for its failure to address trafficking in women and girls.
By almost any objective measure, Laos remained one of the most repressive countries in the region and in the world. Laos is a one-party, authoritarian state and has achieved little progress in the area of democracy and human rights. The Communist Party, known as the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP), tightly controlled the population to ensure there was no domestic opposition. The Lao people had no outlets for their democratic aspirations, and the party-controlled Government denied citizens the most basic human rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and expression. The country's media remained rigidly controlled by, and was effectively used as a propaganda arm of, the party. In 2005, the LPRP also used its authority to curtail efforts by the international community to learn more about Laos' human rights situation. Persecution and harassment of religious minorities, especially Christians and Baha'is, persisted and even worsened in some areas. Through its system of mass front organizations like the Women's Union, Youth Union, and Lao Front for National Construction, the Party retained near-complete control over its citizens at every level of society.
The LPRP repeatedly demonstrated ruthlessness in its willingness to silence or eliminate its critics, and few citizens risked publicly questioning the Party's decisions. The Government denied the existence of a domestic insurgency, comprised largely of ethnic Hmong living in very remote areas in the north. The Government refused to engage in a dialogue with the international community on its attempts to negotiate an end to the insurgency. The Government rejected these offers of assistance, and forfeited a chance to end the long-running conflict by peaceful means. Almost without exception, senior members of the central Government, provincial administrations, and National Assembly were party members.
Improving the execrable human rights picture has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy toward this country for nearly a decade. The Government regarded any outside interest in its human rights situation as "interference," and was openly critical of the United States in promoting human rights in Laos. In this restrictive environment, the United States had only very limited access to or dialogue with the Government on human rights. Human rights featured prominently in U.S. Government meetings with senior members of the Lao Government. The Ambassador routinely raised human rights concerns in both official and informal venues with Lao officials, and called on the leadership to do more to improve the country's poor human rights record. The United States also used the occasion of visits from senior U.S. officials to raise human rights concerns. For example, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs raised religious freedom and ethnic minority rights concerns with the Lao Foreign Minister during his 2005 visit to Laos to attend the ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting. In 2005, U.S. diplomats traveled widely to remote parts of the country to gather first-hand information about the human rights situation, particularly pertaining to the treatment of the country's ethnic minorities. The Ambassador visited the remote Saisomboun Special Zone, speaking with officials there about the ongoing insurgency and traveled to parts of the Zone not visited by foreign officials since 1975. Visits such as these gave the United States the information needed to draw a more complete picture of the insurgency and of Lao Government efforts to resettle former insurgents who had surrendered. U.S. diplomats also met with many senior Lao Government officials, including members of the Politburo and provincial governors, to urge the Lao Government to develop a peaceful resolution to the insurgency. As a result of these efforts, the Lao Government permitted some international assistance to quietly reach groups of former insurgents recently resettled. In addition, the Ambassador and other diplomats met frequently with a broad range of contacts, including counterparts in the diplomatic community, on the insurgency to discuss ways of resolving the conflict.
Promoting good governance was an important element of the U.S. Government's human rights strategy. The American Bar Association, with U.S. government funding, provided training for Lao government officials on corruption and ethics and vetted the government's draft law on corruption. Another U.S. government-funded NGO, The Asia Foundation, assisted in the drafting of implementing regulations for the Law on Women, passed by the National Assembly in late 2004.
The United States awarded small democracy grants to Lao-based organizations to conduct workshops on independent thinking and objective journalism, and on capacity building for women. U.S. diplomats organized a seminar for law school students on regional security that emphasized the importance of the rule of law in international relations. A separate month-long seminar on international treaties and covenants focused on Laos' responsibility to adopt and enforce domestic legislation to bring the country in line with international agreements it signed. The United States organized a training program to assist the National University of Laos to establish a broadcast department, based on an international curriculum. U.S. diplomats also used the International Visitors Leadership Program to promote human rights, sponsoring Lao Government officials' visits to the United States to study aspects of the U.S. judicial system, grass roots democracy, and anti-trafficking programs. The Embassy's American Center also provided information on U.S. and international practices and norms in the areas of human rights and democracy to university students and the general public.
The United States raised the need for the Government to allow international monitoring of Laos' prison system. U.S. diplomats met frequently with members of international organizations and with other concerned embassies to discuss strategies for convincing the Lao Government to open its prison system to outside scrutiny. The United States also closely followed the cases of known political prisoners, using official meetings to raise their concerns with the Lao Government.
The United States endeavored to promote religious tolerance in Laos. The U.S. Ambassador continually raised the issue of religious freedom with top government officials, including provincial governors. In some cases, the Ambassador wrote directly to central government and provincial officials on religious freedom cases. The Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and other senior officials also raised the issue of religious freedom in meetings with senior Lao officials. The Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) visited Laos in February 2005, and conducted a U.S. Government-funded seminar on religious freedom for local officials. This was the second seminar conducted by Mr. Robert Seiple, Chairman of the IGE Board and former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and was attended by more than 50 central Government and provincial level officials charged with implementing Lao Government policy on religious practice. In addition, representatives of all the country's recognized religions attended. Mr. Seiple also visited Christian churches in Xieng Khouang province, an area that has witnessed numerous instances of religious persecution in recent years. Mr. Seiple met with senior provincial officials in Xieng Khuoang and Vientiane provinces to urge greater leniency toward religious practice.
The United States pressed the Lao Front for National Construction, the Government body overseeing religious issues, to resolve cases of religious intolerance by local officials. When U.S. diplomats became aware of cases of religious persecution, they used their working relations with provincial and central government officials to bring these cases to the attention of authorities, often resulting in a quick resolution of problems. U.S. intervention led to the release of persons detained for their religious belief on several occasions.
The United States provided assistance to Laos in its effort to combat human trafficking, a serious human rights concern. The U.S. Government provided more than $1.2 million for anti-trafficking projects carried out by locally based NGOs. These projects focused on strengthening the rule of law, public education, and alternative vocational education for those most vulnerable to trafficking.
Malaysia has a parliamentary system of Government based on periodic multiparty elections. Opposition parties actively contested elections but faced significant obstacles in competing with the ruling National Front Coalition, which has held power for more than 45 years. The Government's human rights performance improved during the year, though some problems remained. The Government acknowledged that it restricted certain political and civil rights to maintain social harmony and political stability. This policy resulted in some human rights abuses, including detention of persons without trial, limits on judicial impartiality and independence, and restrictions on freedom of the press, association, assembly, and religion. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, governmental action, constitutional amendments, legislation, and other factors have undermined judicial independence and strengthened executive influence over the judiciary.
While Malaysia did not receive direct bilateral economic and developmental assistance, the United States conducted a range of programs and activities to strengthen the development of civil society institutions. Areas where the United States pressed for reform included relaxing government control over the press, improving police accountability, encouraging greater independence of the judiciary, and heightening government sensitivity to human rights and trafficking in persons. U.S. Government officials regularly engaged in discussions with the Government regarding human rights concerns documented in the U.S. Government's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
The United States maintained active communications with the Government, political parties, human rights NGOs, and civil society representatives. In 2005, the United States sponsored seminars and workshops to promote greater awareness of human rights issues among both governing coalition and opposition political parties. The United States also provided a grant to an NGO to conduct a preliminary assessment of election fairness conditions in the state of Sarawak, monitor an important by-election, and provide training for election monitors.
The United States facilitated civic education for Malaysian youth by providing an NGO grant to train teachers in a middle school curriculum focusing on democratic values and processes. Through the program, students learned to identify and resolve public policy issues together as young members of Malaysian civil society. The Embassy sent several key journalists to the United States under the International Visitors Leadership Program to gain an increased awareness of the challenges and benefits of a free media. The Embassy also sponsored a media training program for over 60 Malaysian journalists focusing on professional reporting techniques and investigative journalism. The Embassy also helped manage a significant U.S. Government grant to an Internet-based media development center in Kuala Lumpur. The center used the grant to enhance the capacity of independent Internet news providers in the region as they expand their content and improve the quality of regional Internet news. The center also assisted NGOs by providing e-media training, website content advice, and other consultation services.
To underscore U.S. concern about the treatment of illegal migrants and asylum seekers, U.S. officials regularly met with Government officials, NGOs, and international organizations such as the UN Human Rights Commission, the International Labor Organization, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and the International Organization for Migration. In response to concern from the United States and the international community, the Government delayed deportation of many asylum seekers to facilitate UNHCR review of their applications. In March, the Government agreed to provide the UNHCR with "blanket access" to immigration detention centers, and the UNHCR subsequently conducted hundreds of visits to those facilities and met with thousands of persons of concern.
Malaysia has no independent body tasked with investigating charges of police mistreatment of detainees, fatal shootings during suspect apprehensions, or deaths while in police custody. In their meetings with senior police and Government officials, U.S. officials supported timely implementation of recommendations contained in the April 2005 report of the royal commission on police reform. To help reduce Malaysia's lengthy civil court case backlog, the Embassy sponsored the visit of a U.S. federal judge with expertise in alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. To improve the investigative and prosecutorial techniques of key criminal justice officials, the U.S. Department of Justice sponsored three senior Malaysian police and judiciary officials to attend a regional criminal justice training conference.
Malaysian law and Government policy provide material preferences to ethnic Malays, who comprise the majority of Malaysia's population. The United States funded the travel of two senior jurists and two local NGO officials to the United States on a program focused on minority rights, civil rights, and crime and violence issues facing the urban poor. In addition, the Embassy sponsored visits by two U.S. speakers who focused on race relations and the importance of protecting minority rights.
Focusing on the role of religion and the challenges faced in pluralistic societies, the Embassy engaged influential intellectuals, NGO leaders, and government officials to encourage interfaith dialogue and cooperation. The Embassy maintained strong relations with representatives of Malaysia's various religious communities and met regularly with representatives of faiths and religious practices not officially recognized by the Government. The United States funded a Fulbright Scholar who lectured on interfaith issues while in residence at a public university.
The United States continued to engage the Government, political parties, and NGOs to raise awareness and press for concrete steps to combat trafficking in persons (TIP). U.S. efforts focused on passage of specific anti-TIP legislation, improving the enforcement of existing legislation, opening victim shelters, and implementing procedures to protect and treat victims as trafficked persons rather than as illegal migrants. During the year, senior U.S. government officials urged the Government to pass comprehensive anti-TIP legislation and to provide dedicated shelter facilities for TIP victims. The United States funded a local NGO to establish a TIP victims' shelter and facilitate the timely repatriation of victims to their respective home countries. In November, the U.S. Attorney General urged his Malaysian counterpart to support anti-TIP legislation, and offered technical assistance from the Department of Justice to draft an anti-TIP statute.
Papua New Guinea
The most recent general elections in Papua New Guinea were held in June 2002. At year's end, it appeared that the coalition put together by Prime Minister Somare would remain in office for the full five-year session, the first Government to complete its term in decades. A national police force, the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary was under overall civilian authority, but it was severely lacking in resources, training, and leadership. Moreover, there were instances in which elements acted independently of government authority, and there were numerous instances of localized abuse of human rights. Officers were charged and convicted for some of these abuses, but the justice system often was inadequate to the task. A pervasive lack of law and order, continuing poor economic growth causing low national income and living standards, severely deteriorated infrastructure, and the lack of effective Government service delivery in much of the country were all barriers to progress.
In the 1990s, the United States ended most of its programs in Papua New Guinea. However, the United States remained a respected voice in the country. In frequent contacts with senior Government officials, U.S. officials advocated high standards for democratic processes and consistent respect for human rights. Multi-regional International Visitors Leadership Programs also provided exposure to democratic systems and values to future leaders. The Embassy also sought to engage closely the fledgling local media community.
In 2005, the United States provided training emphasizing respect for human rights to defense and other police personnel through the International Military Education and Training program, Title X military conferences, and regular small-scale exercises.
U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Papua New Guinea and the region also emphasized human rights protection. In addition, the United States strongly supported the implementation of an expanded police assistance effort in Papua New Guinea by the Government of Australia, which focused on better law enforcement, strengthened court and trial operations, and improved practices in the Finance, Internal Revenue, and Justice Ministries.
The Republic of the Philippines is a vibrant democracy with an elected president, an elected bicameral legislature, and a functioning but fractious multiparty system. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were serious problems in some areas. Some elements of the security forces were allegedly responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention. The physical abuse of suspects and detainees remained a problem, as did police, prosecutorial, and judicial corruption.
U.S. Government efforts to promote human rights and democracy in the Philippines were numerous and broad-based. The United States focused on building respect for human rights in the security forces, promoting rule of law and transparency in government and the judiciary, and strengthening civil society.
Strengthening democracy was an essential U.S. goal. Numerous programs at both the local and national level promoted equity, transparency, and popular participation - all key factors for the healthy functioning of a democracy. In 2005, U.S. Government grants assisted Philippine NGOs in conducting voter education and monitoring of the August 8 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). A follow-on grant continued to help boost the capacity of ARMM NGOs to conduct voter education. The grant also supported the electoral modernization programs of the Philippine Commission on Elections.
Increasing the quality of media reporting was also a U.S. priority. The media was generally free and electronic and print media were numerous. However, reporting often lacked the journalistic standards to which the U.S. media adheres. In 2005, the U.S. Government sent two Philippine journalists on a three-week reporting trip to the United States on the subject of religious freedom in a democracy. In addition, three journalists from national newspapers were sent to Afghanistan and Pakistan to report on U.S. reconstruction and relief efforts, which resulted in several articles on U.S. support for democracy and reconstruction in those countries. The U.S. Government also arranged training sessions for Filipino journalists on accessing government information on the Internet, an activity especially praised by reporters who cover the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Support for NGOs and civil participation in the processes of government were the foci of the U.S.-funded Transparent and Accountable Governance (TAG) program. TAG worked at the local and national levels to promote better governance, increase public participation through conferences and other public forums, and reduce opportunities for corruption. Among other activities at the national level, TAG supported implementation of the new procurement law by training NGO volunteers to observe procurements carried out by bids and awards committees. At the local level in Mindanao, TAG assisted 16 city governments to implement a range of anti-corruption and good governance reform. Between 2002 and the end of 2005, the TAG program assisted 87 municipalities in the ARMM to reform and increase citizen participation in their budgeting and planning processes.
The U.S.-funded Rule of Law Effectiveness Program supports the Philippine Government's effort to make corruption a high risk, low reward activity. Assistance to the Office of the Ombudsman, which has responsibility for prosecuting graft and corruption by high-level government officials, included training in trial advocacy and investigation for the office's prosecutors and field investigators, and support for assessing selected government agencies for their vulnerability to corruption.
To encourage respect for due process and anti-corruption among members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other law enforcement agencies, the United States sent approximately 150 law enforcement officials to the International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok for courses with human rights, ethics, rule of law, and anti-corruption components. In addition, the United States assisted in the training of senior executives from Philippine law enforcement agencies on ethics, human rights, jail management, and U.S. law enforcement standards. The training included a visit to the FBI's National Academy in Virginia.
U.S. assistance helped institutionalize Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) systems at various levels, and improved judicial transparency and case management in the courts. At the community level, the Barangay Justice program worked in some 700 barangays (precincts) in the ARMM, and enabled marginalized groups to gain access to the judicial system. As a result, community disputes were resolved more rapidly, and caseloads were greatly reduced in municipal courts. Support for ADR in the formal courts also led to the referral of 24,000 court cases to mediation during 2005, which was instrumental in preventing the country's court backlog from worsening.
The United States worked to strengthen the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (PCHR), an independent government agency tasked to monitor and investigate alleged human rights abuses. A U.S. program provided PCHR regional offices with computer software and other equipment in order to track cases and relay information to Manila more efficiently. The same software was available free of charge to Philippine NGOs that separately tracked human rights abuses such as disappearances and torture. U.S. officials continued to coordinate closely with the PCHR, which vetted officers for promotion and provides human rights training for members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the PNP.
The International Military Education and Training (IMET) program was an important component of United States efforts to professionalize the AFP. The IMET program strives to strengthen the AFP's professionalism, commitment to human rights, discipline, and technical expertise. IMET graduates populated top AFP ranks and actively promoted close and professional U.S. and Philippine military-to-military relationships. During political turbulence in 2005, these senior leaders remained neutral and staunchly supported constitutional processes and civilian control over the military. The AFP participates in the U.S. Defense Institute of International Legal Studies program at all officer levels in order to inculcate adherence to the rule of law. The Philippine Defense Reform (PDR), with funding from the United States, continued to work to make the AFP a more transparent, professional, and well-run institution. A major strategic benefit of the PDR was the reinforcement of civilian authority over the military, thereby strengthening the overall stability of the Government of the Philippines.
The United States also worked to assist women and the disabled. One program for women provided education and skill-building activities for survivors of prostitution. Another project addressed the needs and concerns of female migrant workers, especially those who were victims of trafficking or exploitation in Japan, and their Japanese-Filipino children.
The Philippine Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. Muslims comprise a significant religious minority in the Philippines and historically have been victims of societal prejudice by the Christian majority. Making use of programming tools such as the U.S. Speaker Program, the United States organized numerous public conferences and gatherings throughout the year to promote interfaith dialogue among Filipinos. Programs to foster interfaith dialogue included a second citizen exchange program for Christian and Muslim students in Mindanao which allowed 30 high school students and teachers to travel to the Chicago area for training on dispute resolution and interethnic cooperation. Also, the Partnerships for Learning Youth Exchange and Study Program brought 40 Muslim students to the United States for a full year of academic study in 2004 through 2005. These students learned about U.S. society, developed leadership skills, educated Americans on Philippine culture, and helped to establish a common bond between Muslim communities. In addition, an NGO received a U.S. Government grant to conduct workshops highlighting democracy's full compatibility with Islam. In 2005, the Embassy brought a U.S. imam to the Philippines to discuss religious tolerance and diversity issues with large audiences of Muslims -- as well as Christians -- in Mindanao and elsewhere in the country. A separate U.S. project sent 25 young Muslims and Christians from Mindanao to the United States for a one-month program focused on conflict resolution and interfaith dialogue. Another program sent Muslim college students and young professionals to work as interns in the Philippine Congress.
In 2005, the United States sent both Muslim and Christian leaders on International Visitors Leadership Programs to the United States that covered a wide range of topics to promote human rights and democracy, including grassroots activism, religion and the community, the role and responsibility of a free press, leadership development for Muslim women, accountability in government and business, community service and NGOs, and trafficking of women and children. The Philippine International Visitors Leadership Program Alumni Association—the largest and most active organization of this type in the world, with approximately 500 members—had its own working group focusing on peace and Muslim-Christian relations.
Trafficking in persons is a serious problem in the Philippines, which was a Tier 2 Watch List country in 2005. The United States undertook efforts to assist the Philippine Government and NGOs in the areas of prevention, protection, and enforcement. A U.S. grant strengthened efforts to provide assistance with TIP-related prosecutions to the Philippine Department of Justice. In 2005, the Philippines saw the first convictions of traffickers under a 2003 anti-trafficking law in a case conducted by prosecutors who had been trained by U.S.-funded programs. Other U.S. grants helped provide preventive anti-TIP education and assisted in the preparation of anti-TIP public information. On strengthening worker rights, the United States continued a project to develop an early warning system to prevent possible deterioration of labor standards compliance, and several other projects focused on combating the worst forms of child labor.
The Solomon Islands is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a population of approximately 480,000. Citizens elect a single-chamber parliament of 50 members. A new parliament was elected in 2001 with Sir Allan Kemakeza of the People's Alliance party as Prime Minister, and the elections were considered generally free and fair. In 2005, the Regional Assistance Mission for Solomon Islands (RAMSI), a multinational police-centered force organized by Australia, continued arresting and prosecuting offenders from the 1998-2003 Malaitans and Guadalcanalese conflict and began the difficult task of rebuilding government institutions. With the assistance of RAMSI, the civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
While there is no U.S. Embassy present, U.S. government officials visited the Solomon Islands regularly. The United States voiced full support for the RAMSI assistance mission and to the Solomon Islands Government. In 2005, the United States provided training emphasizing respect for human rights to members of the police force through the International Military Education and Training program. The United States funded a program that complements RAMSI by promoting conflict resolution among communities in order to bolster national unity.
Thailand is a democratically governed constitutional monarchy. In February 2005, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak Thai party won an overwhelming victory in national parliamentary elections. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. There were concerns about disappearances of ethnic Malay Muslims suspected of supporting the insurgency, as well as with some provisions of the July 2005 Emergency Decree. The Emergency Decree, which applies to the far southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala, contains provisions that allow security forces to detain suspects for long periods without charge and provides immunity from prosecution for security forces. Over 1,000 people are estimated to have died in the violence in the far south since 2004, from both insurgent attacks and actions of state security forces.
In its efforts to promote and improve human rights, the United States focused its efforts on the threats against Thailand's longstanding freedom of the press, extrajudicial killings, trafficking in persons (TIP), the condition of refugees and the rights of other ethnic minority groups residing within its borders, and the increased violence in three Muslim-majority provinces in southern Thailand. The U.S. Embassy also maintained close contact with the many domestic and international NGOs in the country that seek to protect and defend human rights.
No progress was reported in prosecuting those responsible for human rights abuses occurring during the Tak Bai incident of October 2004 or the Krue Se Mosque Incident of April 2004. The National Human Rights Commission recommended that the Government prosecute those responsible for human rights violations during these incidents. Those responsible for the possible extrajudicial killings of 1,300 suspected drug traffickers during the 2003 "war on drugs" campaign have not yet been prosecuted. The United States continued to raise concerns over these and other key human rights issues with Thai officials at the highest levels and urged the Government to take appropriate legal action to punish responsible officials.
The United States supported the creation of a National Reconciliation Commission (NRC), headed by former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, which seeks to address underlying causes of the violence in southern Thailand. To reach out to the Muslim community in the far south, the Embassy sent 28 Thais, including five Muslims and 12 women, to the United States through the International Visitors Program to learn about issues including labor rights, TIP, building grass-roots democratic institutions, and women's empowerment. On February 11, the United States opened up its fifth American Corner in Thailand, at Nakhon Si Thammarat Rajabhat University, where Thais living outside of the capital could learn more about American society and culture. U.S. officials gave speeches on subjects such as U.S. human rights policy, American democracy, and religious tolerance during visits to Thai universities and in digital video-conferences with the American Corners. The Embassy Speakers Program also brought in speakers to address issues such as TIP and good governance. In an effort to increase outreach to the non-Thai speaking community in southern Thailand, the U.S. Embassy translated reference materials, including the Thai Bill of Rights and the booklet "Muslim Life in America," into the local Melayu dialect spoken in southern Thailand. These materials were distributed in the southern provinces, alongside English- and Thai-language versions.
Two U.S.-supported projects focused on the overall development of democratic institutions and the rule of law in Thailand. The "Colloquia for Personnel in the Judicial Process" addressed the problem of gender bias in the Thai legal system and increased the sensitivity of judges on cases involving issues important to the human rights of women. The "Human Rights Media Outreach Program" helped raise public awareness of human rights, especially among youth, and sought to empower civil society and local government to become effective advocates for human rights in their communities.
The United States helped to enhance the legal, professional, and technical capabilities of government institutions. In a unique example of bilateral partnership, the United States and Thailand co-managed the Bangkok-based International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA), a U.S.-funded regional training center for police, immigration, customs, and other law enforcement officials. Since its inception in 1999, ILEA became an important institution for promoting democracy and good governance in the region. In fiscal year 2005, ILEA hosted 18 courses, addressing important regional issues such as TIP, combating terrorism, leadership development, police accountability, and forensic investigation, which participants from Thailand and 11 other Asian countries attended. All ILEA curricula address support for democratic institutions, the importance of impartiality and integrity in criminal law enforcement, and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. In addition to in-country training, the United States continued to send Thai law enforcement officials for advanced training in United States, many of which included sessions about U.S. and international standards for human rights as related to law enforcement. In September, the United States signed a Letter of Agreement with Thailand, funding cooperative assistance programs for anti-narcotics and law-enforcement programs, including anti-corruption, narcotics demand reduction, and those at the ILEA.
For the 24th year, the United States and Thailand conducted their Cobra Gold joint military exercise. As in previous years, Cobra Gold offered human rights courses for Thai military personnel in conjunction with the exercises. In 2005, as part of its extensive bilateral military cooperation with Thailand, the United States augmented its human rights training efforts for all levels of the Royal Thai Army.
The United States continued to press the Government at the very highest levels to use their influence with the junta in Burma to push for positive democratic change and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. In September 2005, President Bush and Prime Minister Thaksin released a joint statement affirming their shared objectives of promoting democracy in Burma and agreed to have closer consultations on the matter.
The United States supported a local NGO that educated hill tribe villagers about their legal rights and helped those persons entitled to apply for full Thai citizenship. The NGO created a comprehensive database of villagers and their biographic information in order to help track pending cases and also began to print and distribute Thai-language pamphlets to help inform local people of their rights. The education campaign has resulted in a decrease in corruption at the local level. Under current law, more than 60,000 hill tribe individuals are estimated to be eligible for, but do not have, citizenship. These individuals have limited access to primary and secondary education, and are not legally entitled to higher education, health care, work permits, or freedom of travel. As a result, these individuals are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, such as government corruption and TIP.
The United States supported an ambitious five-year program aimed at improving education and health services and generally attending to the humanitarian needs for Burmese refugees and migrants in Thailand. U.S. aid also provided food, health care, water and sanitation, and other support to refugees in camps along the Thai border.
The United States, in conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other international organizations, maintained close contacts with Burmese refugees, political activists, and NGOs within Thailand. U.S. officials also worked closely with the Government to advocate for and monitor the conditions of Burmese refugees within Thailand's borders. U.S. officials frequently visited camps along the Thai-Burmese border to report on the living conditions of those who have fled Burma. These efforts contributed to a significant positive change in policy; the Government has indicated that it will permit enhanced educational and vocational training for refugees and will consider proposals that provide legal work opportunities for refugees.
The United States also provided funding for UNHCR operations in East Asia that included protection of Burmese individuals in Thailand recognized as refugees. The United States also advocated for the humanitarian treatment of ethnic Hmong from Laos living in Northern Thailand. U.S. officials urged Thailand to allow UNHCR access to the Hmong to determine whether any have valid refugee claims. The United States also continued its program to resettle Burmese refugees living in Thailand and ethnic Hmong, who had been living with unofficial status in Thailand for several decades, in United States.
On numerous occasions, U.S. officials urged Thai Government officials to support Burmese migrant workers' rights. In January 2006, the Ambassador and the U.S. Assistant Trade Representative met with the Minister of Labor and urged the Government to uphold international labor standards for Burmese migrant workers and to extend existing Thai legal protections to those workers.
The United States funds an NGO program to train women in the poorer Northeast region on women's legal rights when pursuing work or marriage opportunities abroad and legal resources to exploited women migrant workers. Trafficking in women and children and coerced prostitution and labor remained serious problems, although the Government's track record improved in the past year. In coordination with an NGO, the United States helped to support more than a dozen government agencies and NGOs, involved in combating and helping TIP victims. Programs included assistance for the improvement of law enforcement and prosecution, legal assistance centers for victims, prevention initiatives, protection for victims and reintegration assistance for TIP victims willing to return to their country of origin. The United States also provided funding to the International Organization for Migration for return and reintegration assistance for victims trafficked between countries of the Mekong region.
Vietnam is an authoritarian state, ruled by the Communist Party. The Government's human rights record remained unsatisfactory and it continued to commit abuses; however, during the year it released many political and religious prisoners of concern and continued to promote economic and other reforms. The Government significantly restricted freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, and association during 2005. Vietnam censored domestic media sources, blocked foreign radio stations and websites, and denied citizens the right to form independent organizations. The Government also subjected religious communities to strict registration requirements and obstructed the activities of some "unauthorized" religious groups.
The United States promoted the development of human rights and democracy in Vietnam by encouraging the Government to expand economic and political ties to the international community and to undertake the concurrent economic and political reforms necessary to make this possible. U.S. officials maintained close contact with Vietnamese political activists and religious groups in order to identify and investigate abuses throughout the country, and advocated on behalf of human rights and political and legal reform during bilateral meetings at all levels. The United States agreed to restart its bilateral human rights dialogue with Vietnam in early 2006.
The United States encouraged awareness of democratic principles at the grassroots level in Vietnam by advocating for the right of citizens to peacefully express their views. The Government granted three amnesties over the course of the year, and a number of prisoners of concern were released, including Dr. Nguyen Dan Que and Father Nguyen Van Ly. They and others who were released had been the subject of long-term, high-level U.S. Government advocacy efforts. Furthermore, Embassy officials facilitated the travel of an ailing Vietnamese activist to the United States for medical treatment and successfully convinced the Government to allow his return to the country despite his public endorsement of democratic change in Vietnam while abroad. The United States also encouraged the Government to grant greater freedom of movement and activity to recently released advocates of democracy and to protect these individuals from violence and discrimination.
The United States supported media freedom and freedom of speech through outreach to Vietnamese journalists. Ten Vietnamese journalists participated in the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) sponsored by the United States entitled "The Media in the United States." In addition, the Ambassador and other U.S. officials participated in widely viewed live web chats, in which they addressed issues related to human rights and religious freedom. Furthermore, U.S. officials maintained close contact with government and party officials during sessions of the National Assembly to encourage greater emphasis on freedom of expression in Vietnamese legislation and the operation of the Assembly.
The United States indirectly supported the development of freedom of assembly and association in Vietnam through programs aimed at building the capacity of institutions of a civil society, including NGOs working in a number of development areas. In 2005, this included funding to combat trafficking in persons (TIP) and funding to promote education, including a grant to the Thanh Hoa Province Women's Union to implement a project aimed at preventing trafficking in women and children in the central Vietnam province.
The United States promoted development of a transparent and responsive legal system in Vietnam through rule of law programs related to economic development and to reform of the judicial system. The United States continued to fund a four-year program to help the Government develop and codify a stronger and more transparent legal and regulatory framework as part of the implementation of the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement. Among the activities of this program were 50 training and policy workshops, with 5,000 participants and seven study tours for 48 senior legislative and judicial officials, as well as significant participation in the development of key pieces of legislation to move Vietnam closer to a private sector, market economy. An IVLP study tour for nine senior Vietnamese National Assembly officials to study the lawmaking process in the United States offered a unique opportunity to meet with government and non-governmental organizations and learn the complexities of the local, state, and federal lawmaking process. The United States also invited a human rights scholar on an IVLP entitled "U.S. Foreign Policy and Human Rights Issues" and hosted four U.S. speakers on judicial and legal reform issues. These guest speakers addressed Vietnamese lawyers, judges, and law students at various venues to promote and expand the understanding of the U.S. legal system.
The United States helped combat violations of the rights of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities primarily through advocating consistent application of the Government's existing laws that protect individual rights. U.S. officials and most of the senior U.S. visitors to Vietnam raised the Government's poor record of enforcing national laws and policy at the local level in their bilateral meetings with local, provincial, and national officials.
The United States promoted religious freedom in Vietnam by maintaining close contact with local religious groups in order to identify and highlight abuses and to encourage reform efforts. In a May 2005 exchange of letters with the United States, Vietnam committed to address a number of important religious freedom concerns. The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and the Embassy conducted discussions with the Government to urge improvements in religious freedom. In November, the Secretary of State re-designated Vietnam a "Country of Particular Concern" for continued violations of religious freedom but noted significant progress in this area.
The United States continued its efforts to document violations of religious freedom in Vietnam and to raise concerns at all levels in interactions with the Government. Restrictions on religious worship were particularly acute for ethnic minority Protestant groups in the Central and Northwest Highlands; however, U.S. diplomatic efforts encouraged the Government of Vietnam to permit opening of new churches in the Central Highlands and to allow greater tolerance for the operation of unauthorized "house churches" in several areas. The number of officially recognized Protestant churches in the Central Highlands continued to increase during the year, although overall numbers remained disappointingly low.
The United States, through continued advocacy of international labor standards and through target programs aimed at helping victims of trafficking and discrimination helped to combat TIP, supported efforts against child labor, promoted employment access for the disabled, and improved worker/management relations.
The United States encouraged the Government to ratify additional International Labor Organization conventions addressing worker rights and recognizing international core worker rights. The United States also continued to stress the need to discuss issues surrounding freedom of association and collective bargaining. The United States funded several programs that addressed the protection of worker rights. The United States implemented, in cooperation with Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, a number of multi-year programs to advance labor rights. These included a project to build the capacity of the Government to combat child labor and a program on dispute prevention and resolution in 70 enterprises located in seven provinces. Another U.S.-funded program worked with the Government to draft a new law on social insurance, which the Government anticipates will be approved by the National Assembly in 2006. Finally, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief provided additional funding to an existing project addressing HIV/AIDS in the workplace, which works at the national and enterprise levels to establish policies to protect the rights of workers who have or are affected by HIV/AIDS.
To combat TIP, the United States sponsored international NGOs that operated two shelters for trafficking victims repatriated from Cambodia and China, as well as vulnerable populations at risk of trafficking. Other programs assisted returned victims of trafficking and protected women and children in high-risk areas by providing awareness raising, vocational training, and economic opportunity through micro-credit programs. U.S. officials at all levels continued to raise TIP issues with their Vietnamese counterparts, and U.S. officials played an important role in coordinating and focusing the international community's response to the trafficking problem in Vietnam.