"One person alone cannot do this. I am only able to stand up if the whole world is behind me. The little hope that I've got for justice is because of the support I'm getting from the rest of the world."
--Mukhtar Mai, Pakistani rape survivor and human rights activist
South Asia experienced a number of encouraging successes during the year that resulted in expanded democracy and human rights. In September 2005, Afghanistan held its first democratic legislative elections since 1969. In a challenge to impunity, President Karzai's cabinet approved a transitional justice action plan in December that acknowledges the suffering of the Afghan people and calls for the investigation of past war crimes and human rights abuses. In November, Sri Lanka held a presidential election generally deemed free and fair despite a boycott by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. In Nepal, the Supreme Court ruled on three important cases that recognized women as equal citizens under the law. India and Pakistan remained engaged in peaceful dialogue on a range of issues and worked together to assist victims in the aftermath of the devastating October 8 earthquake. In Pakistan, the Anti-Trafficking Unit (ATU) became fully functional, resulting in an increase in arrests and prosecutions of human traffickers. Cooperative efforts between the Pakistani military, ATU, and international organizations prevented an increase in human trafficking following the October 8 earthquake.
Despite these positive developments, long-standing ethnic conflicts and insurgencies hindered progress, and numerous human rights and development challenges continued to threaten stability and democracy in South Asia. A number of worrisome events made clear that good governance and respect for human rights continued to face serious obstacles. The King of Nepal's February 2005 dismissal of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, followed by a declaration of a state of emergency and the subsequent arrests of members of the political opposition threw the country into political turmoil and played into the hands of the Maoists. In Bangladesh, rising extremism, abuses by security forces, and intractable polarization of the two major political parties presented serious threats to advances made over the past 15 years.
The United States continued to press governments in the region to open their political systems and allow greater freedoms of speech and assembly. High-level U.S. visitors, including the Secretary of State, raised the importance of making progress on democracy directly to the region's leaders. Ambassadors and other U.S. officials highlighted the significance the United States places on respecting human rights and ending impunity, and stressed the importance of national elections in securing a mandate from the people. Throughout the region, the United States urged South Asian governments to protect the rights of women and religious minorities and empower judiciaries to seriously address the issue of impunity.
In Nepal, the United States helped fund the establishment of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and worked closely with OHCHR to monitor human rights abuses in eight of the country's regions. In Sri Lanka, the United States helped build capacity of the Human Rights Commission to record and process tens of thousands of unresolved cases of disappearances. U.S. law enforcement officials also led a training course on community policing, emphasizing basic interrogation and investigation skills that eliminate the use of torture as an information gathering method.
The United States and India joined in a partnership to co-launch the Global Democracy Initiative, in which both countries agreed to collaborate on a number of democracy and human rights initiatives worldwide. This partnership between the United States and the world's largest democracy has already led to the establishment of Virtual Coordination and Information Centers to identify potential opportunities for joint initiatives and share best democracy-building practices. The partnership also generated significant international support for the successful launch of the new United Nations Democracy Fund.
In Pakistan, the United States continued to build a framework for democratic institutions. U.S. programming reinforced national and provincial legislatures through the establishment of an Institute for Legislative Strengthening, which will provide ongoing training to parliamentarians and their staff. The United States worked with major political parties to train emerging leaders in the fundamentals of democratic governance. Programs funded by the United States also focused specifically on women's political participation by training a new generation to enter the political arena and encouraging established leaders to offer their support. The United States continued to press the Government of Pakistan to reform discriminatory legislation and encouraged Pakistan's efforts to prevent abuse of the blasphemy laws. U.S. officials have spoken out against sectarian violence within the country's Muslim community.
Discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities, as well as Trafficking in Persons (TIP), child labor, and corruption, further hampered development in the entire region. The United States pursued several anti-trafficking initiatives including the South Asia Regional Initiative on Equity for Women and Children (SARI/Equity). Through SARI/Equity, the United States funded a three-year project that convened TIP prevention groups throughout South Asia and provided grants to anti-trafficking NGOs. The program was designed to enhance social and economic opportunities for women and children to prevent TIP and promote women's rights on a regional basis. Through the President's initiative, the United States also funded a law enforcement training program to expand India's capacity to address trafficking through the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Raising Public Voices: Strengthening Freedom of Expression in Pakistan Through Independent Radio
The United States views the strengthening of Pakistan's media as a critical component to the long-term development of its democracy and civil society. Responding to the Government of Pakistan's decision to expand the broadcast sector to private ownership, the United States worked with the NGO Internews to build the capacity of independent media and strengthen freedom of expression in Pakistan.
With the support of the United States, Internews advised the Pakistani Government on media law reform and provided training to journalists and station managers of the country's first private radio stations. Internews was able to accomplish many "firsts" in Pakistan. They supported Pakistan's first generation of female radio journalists, launched the first independent female radio programming focused on gender issues, established Pakistan's first university-based community station, wrote Pakistan's first university broadcast journalism curriculum at Peshawar University, helped get the country's first nongovernmental radio stations on the air, and trained its first media lawyers working on media policy and regulatory reform.
The project trained local journalists to cover critical human rights, rule of law, and election issues confronting the country through practical training and development of radio programs. U.S. assistance helped foster independent media by creating a space for new and innovative voices to be heard. In an effort to promote awareness of women's rights, Pakistani female journalists developed a radio program entitled "Meri Awaz Suno" (Hear My Voice), which focused on groundbreaking topics affecting women such as health and education, HIV/AIDS awareness, female political participation, and discussions on violence against women and so-called honor killings. In September 2005, the Meri Awaz Suno team helped with the emergency earthquake information program "Jazba-e-Tameer" (Drive to Rebuild). Female journalists from the program produced 12 segments focused on areas damaged by the earthquake as well as the experience of women living in camps for displaced people. These special programs were played on emergency FM radio stations in the earthquake zone.
The United States also supported training for journalists in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and for students at Peshawar University. The curriculum focused on the fundamental principles of responsible journalism, including presentation, interviewing, news writing, technical skills, and ethics. The training produced new programming entitled "Da Nan Khabara" (Topic of the Day) and "Hawa Aur Duniya" (Women and the World). Subject highlights included improving relations between India and Pakistan, AIDS prevention and awareness, domestic violence, and the role of women as elected women counselors and their participation in local government affairs.
In 2005, Afghanistan made continued progress toward reconstruction, stability, and protection of human rights. In September, Afghanistan held its first democratic parliamentary elections since 1969. With these elections, Afghanistan successfully implemented the political process outlined in the Bonn Agreement and established a constitutional and representative government that embodies the aspirations of Afghans.
Despite these achievements, Afghanistan was still recovering from more than two decades of war, weak national institutions, and fighting a continuing insurgency. Serious human rights abuses occurred such as instances where local security forces and police committed extrajudicial killings, and officials used torture in prisons. Efforts to bring to justice serious human rights offenders were often ineffective, and impunity under the law was a serious concern. Prolonged pretrial detention and poor prison conditions led to deteriorating health conditions and the death of some prisoners. The Government generally provided for freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, and movement; however, serious problems remained. Violence—including rape and kidnapping—and societal discrimination against women and minorities continued. Internationally recognized worker rights were ignored and abused. Child labor was a widespread practice, and there was no evidence that labor laws were enforced. Trafficking in persons (TIP) was a problem.
The United States was committed to helping Afghanistan overcome its legacy of conflict by working with it on good governance, respect for rule of law, and the protection of human rights. The United States supported Afghanistan's efforts to develop as a nation that respects human rights and conducts free and fair elections as outlined under its new Constitution. The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy assisted the Government in rebuilding democratic national institutions and infrastructure, including judicial institutions, rule of law, elections, and civic participation. In December, the Afghan Cabinet adopted a modified version of The Hague Conference language on the Transitional Justice Action Plan for Afghanistan. The Action Plan included five areas for action: symbolic measures, institutional reform, truth-seeking and documentation, reconciliation, and accountability. Senior U.S. officials met regularly with President Karzai and others to underscore the U.S. democracy message. The First Lady traveled to Afghanistan in March 2005, stressing the importance of education for girls and women's political participation. The Vice President traveled to Afghanistan in December to attend the inauguration of the newly elected parliament and deliver the message that the United States remains firmly committed to helping Afghans build a secure, democratic, and prosperous future in which the rights of all Afghan citizens are respected.
The United States played a key role along with the Government of Afghanistan, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), and the international community in the planning and execution of the September 2005 National Assembly and Provincial Council elections. The United States was the lead donor for the elections and supported voter registration and education, polling, counting, security, and logistics. During the year, the United States provided legal, operational, and policy advisors to the Joint Election Management Body to help carry out the elections. The United States supported public outreach, voter education, political party and independent candidate training, and election monitoring. The United States played a key role in strengthening the structures of provincial governments and provided training and mentoring to the newly elected Provincial Councils in all 34 provinces.
The United States funded civic education programs to increase awareness of elections, the rule of law, and the importance of newly emerging democratic institutions. This was accomplished through various means, including posters, radio programs, traveling troupes of actors, and the distribution of comic books with civic themes. In advance of the parliamentary elections, the United States provided 41,000 solar-powered devices akin to amplified MP3 players containing eight hours of civic education and human rights material. These devices similar to the comic books and acting troupes, proved highly popular among women and particularly effective at reaching illiterate audiences in rural areas.
The United States promoted the independent press and electronic media, assisting with the completion of independent community-based radio networks and investing in training and business plan development for sustainable independent media organizations. The United States helped create 32 independent community-based radio stations. U.S. assistance helped renovate and expand local Afghan radio stations throughout the country, especially in the south, where media freedom was severely restricted. The United States funded three new FM stations in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region, a critical area due to incidents of extremism. A U.S.-funded private television station, "Tolo TV Kabul," continued to broadcast programs on a range of issues, including public interest programming, local, national, and international news, children's programming, and roundtable talk shows. The United States supported an Afghan initiative to unite journalists through a professional association. This was an important step toward ensuring press freedoms and informing the emerging regulatory framework for the media sector. U.S. International Visitors Leadership Programs (IVLP) and exchange programs provided local journalists opportunities to travel to the United States and learn about best media practices.
To strengthen the rule of law, the United States rebuilt the justice system infrastructure, including equipping and training judges, attorneys, and administrators. The United States rehabilitated 27 judicial facilities, trained approximately 500 judges, supported the Supreme Court in organizing an educational program for 335 judges and court administrators, and offered courses for 50 employees at the legislative drafting unit of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). To help disseminate basic information on the country's new laws and Constitution, the United States supported development of an MOJ website for posting laws and printed 4,100 copies of select basic laws and the Constitution for distribution to all courts, prosecutor's offices, and MOJ branch offices. The United States also funded English classes for MOJ and Kabul University law faculty. A U.S-funded grant helped a U.S.-based university develop a masters degree program specifically designed for Afghan legal educators to improve the institutional capacity of this critical sector. The United States educated the Afghan public about the role of the legal system by widely distributing approximately 30,000 copies of a set of comic books on legal rights and 10,000 copies of the Afghan Constitution.
The United States trained police on community-based policing and the protection of human rights, with an emphasis on women's and children's rights. The United States trained 79 women, 12 of whom were counter-narcotics police officers. U.S. support helped the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) build its capacity and carry out its mandate of monitoring and investigating human rights violations. U.S. officials worked with the AIHRC, NGOs, and Afghan officials to identify areas of particular concern and encourage wider reforms within the Government. The AIHRC regularly monitored the human rights situation, published findings, and worked closely with the international community to resolve human rights issues, including those in Government-run prisons and TIP. The AIHRC has a total of 10 offices in Afghanistan, whose responsibilities as mandated by the Constitution include human rights monitoring, investigation of human rights violations, and development of domestic human rights institutions. The United States sponsored training programs for middle and high school teachers on human rights, including the rights of women and children.
The United States continued to prioritize the protection of the rights of Afghan women and support their active participation in government and community activities. The United States funded NGOs to hold workshops and educate women on their legal rights and the justice system, the new Constitution, and the National Assembly and Provincial Council Elections. Female turnout in the September National Assembly and Provincial Council Elections was 43 percent, and of the approximately 5800 total candidates tht stood for office, 582 were women. The United States integrated women's issues into virtually all of its programs, aiming to increase female political participation, education, economic opportunities, and their role in civil society. In partnership with the United States, the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, which was established in 2002, brought together private and public sector Americans and Afghans to support projects that Afghan women identified as most important. In particular, the Council supported the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MOWA). The Council facilitated U.S. funding to construct, furnish, and equip a network of 17 provincial Women's Resource Centers that served as the provincial offices of MOWA and provided rural venues for women to receive training and other services. MOWA and NGOs utilized the centers to provide training in literacy, legal and income generation activities, human rights, and political participation for women.
U.S. officials worked with civil society organizations to promote religious tolerance. The United States sent Afghan imams to the United States to participate in programs on democracy, civil society, and Islam in America. The United States provided assistance for the cultural preservation of the Mullah Mohamod mosque and the Shah Shaheed shrine and granted money to sponsor an Ulema (religious leaders) conference, which addressed the role of the Ulema in a democratic society and strategies for working with the Government.
The United States was the single largest contributor to UN High Commissioner for Refugees' assisted repatriation program, through which over 3.5 million Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan since March 2002 - 520,000 of whom returned in 2005. The United States assisted returnees by providing them with shelter, education, health care, livelihood opportunities, and water and sanitation services.
The United States raised the profile of TIP issues with the Government and civil society members. The United States developed a national Anti-Trafficking Action Plan with the Government to combat TIP in both the short- and long-term. The United States funded return and reintegration programs, training of government officials, capacity building, and campaigns against TIP. The United States worked with UNAMA to provide informational sessions on TIP to members of the UN protection working groups. These groups were established in eight provinces and met regularly to discuss alleged human rights cases and determine the most appropriate intervention. More than 40 child traffickers were arrested during the year.
Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy governed by a prime minister with strong executive powers. Bangladesh's elections are generally free and fair, although politics are traditionally acrimonious. Violence resulting in death was a pervasive element in the country's politics in 2005. The Awami League (AL) boycotted parliament for most of 2005, refused to contest parliamentary by-elections, rejected offers of dialogue from the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and threatened to boycott the general election expected in January 2007 unless the BNP accepted its demands for major changes in the caretaker regime and electoral systems. Weak political and governmental institutions, pervasive corruption, and general indifference by ruling parties to human rights continued to undermine basic civil liberties. Extrajudicial killings, torture, and other widespread abuses by law enforcement personnel such as the police and members of the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) went largely unpunished, and the BNP exploited its position to gain unfair advantage over the opposition. Trafficking in persons (TIP) and other abuses against women and children remained serious problems, and criminals, political activists, and Islamist militants threatened and occasionally attacked journalists. While the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Islam is the official state religion. The Government's record of protecting religious minorities was inconsistent, and police were often ineffective in assisting members of religious minorities who were victims of crime.
U.S. human rights and democracy goals in Bangladesh include full participation by political parties in free and fair national elections in 2007 and greater protection of human rights. The United States promoted democracy and human rights in Bangladesh by supporting democratic institutions and practices, encouraging transparency and accountability in government actions and policies, endorsing respect for the rule of law, and seeking justice for the perpetrators of political and extremist violence.
U.S. officials routinely highlighted the importance of democratic and rights-based practices in Bangladesh during senior-level visits and through discussions with Bangladeshi officials, members of civil society, and the press. The United States urged the opposition to exercise, not surrender, its rights, and pressed the Government to allow lawful opposition activity. The United States brought Bangladeshi-American public officials to Bangladesh to discuss democracy and the American political system, including such issues as voter rights and preventing voter intimidation.
The United States funded numerous projects to promote democracy in Bangladesh and lay the foundation for 2007 elections. These initiatives included a program to conduct professional leadership training courses for 355 mid-level leaders from all major parties and a program in which 20,000 members of those parties' student wings participated in festivals and training events aimed at better defining youth-related issues within party platforms. A U.S.-funded survey on the integrity of the 2001 voter list revealed that eight percent of its names were inaccurate, which became an important part of the public debate on whether to create a new list or revise the existing one. U.S. officials and U.S.-sponsored Bangladeshi monitors observed several parliamentary by-elections and the Chittagong mayoral election and confirmed that the AL incumbent won reelection freely and fairly. The United States funded the training of selected domestic groups to build their capacity to be long-term observers. The U.S. Government chaired a local consultative working group of international donors to coordinate programs and initiatives in support of elections.
The United States promoted media freedom and freedom of speech in Bangladesh. U.S. efforts focused attention on the security and freedom of journalists, who continued to face pressure from criminals, political activists, and Islamist extremists. Then-Ambassador Thomas and other U.S. officials frequently referred to these issues publicly, particularly during America Week in Khulna, one of the most dangerous regions for journalists. In Khulna, the then-Ambassador met with the families of slain journalists. The United States sponsored training for 48 journalists, emphasizing investigative reporting skills for those who cover stories involving violence against women and children's rights, and also sponsored training for reporters to serve as watchdogs in elections.
As the general election approaches, U.S. diplomacy efforts continued to promote respect for freedom of association and assembly for all participants in the democratic process. The United States promoted the development of stronger local government associations to act as advocates for enhanced local governance. Both the U.S.-supported Bangladesh Union Parishad Forum (comparable to an American city council) and the Municipal Association of Bangladesh held extensive strategic planning workshops to articulate a vision for short, medium, and long-term policy goals. The United States supported the formation of women's caucuses within both organizations to deal more directly with issues of gender representation, reserved seats for women, and the responsibilities of female council members.
In 2005, the United States was committed to promoting rule of law in Bangladesh. The United States worked with other donors and the Government to design a long-term, government-wide anti-corruption strategy, which led to a draft national integrity strategy. This draft was under review by several ministries and, once adopted, will set the road map for the Government's overall approach to combat corruption.
The United States collaborated with 11 local and international organizations to launch a test initiative entitled "In Quest of Good Governance," to promote citizen participation in the allocation and use of resources in their respective areas. The Moulavibazar district in northeast Bangladesh was the first pilot area. A tool kit for community coordination of activities, knowledge sharing, and peoples' empowerment was developed based on that experience. After receiving training from the United States, 65 Union Parishads held the first open local budget hearings, aimed at increasing financial transparency in 2005. Citizens had the opportunity to scrutinize the budgets of these local governments, prioritize development projects, and review reports of public expenditures. This transparency resulted in increased local revenue collection of approximately 15 percent on average.
To improve legal protection for abused women, a coalition of human rights organizations was launched with U.S. support to advocate for the criminalization of domestic violence. This coalition was drafting legislation to make domestic violence punishable with prison terms. The coalition published three major research reports on human rights abuses, including one on the prevalence of domestic violence in marriage.
Over 20,000 Rohingya refugees from Burma reside in camps run by the Government of Bangladesh. The United States provided funding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for its activities to assist refugees in Bangladesh. The United States supported UNHCR's efforts to encourage the Government to permit improvements to living conditions in the camps and to seek progress on other concerns facing the refugees, such as access to education and permission to work.
The United States continued to support religious freedom in Bangladesh. The Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs met with leaders of all religious minority groups to underscore support for their rights and safety against persecution and violence. The International Khatme Nubawat Movement of Bangladesh continued its often-violent campaign to force the Government to declare members of the Ahmadiyya sect as non-Muslims, but in 2005 the Government of Bangladesh took concerted steps to protect Ahmadiyyas, due in large part to U.S. and other diplomatic pressure. An Ahmadiyya missionary, along with members of other minority communities and human rights activists, traveled to various locations in the United States through the International Visitor Leadership Program. Because minorities, especially Hindus, were subjected to intimidation and other forms of pressure during previous election campaigns, the United States increased its monitoring of this issue in anticipation of the 2007 election.
The United States advocated for the adoption of international labor standards in Bangladesh's Export Processing Zones (EPZ). After legislation passed in 2004 under strong U.S. scrutiny, the first elections were held in 2005 for Worker Rights and Welfare Committees (WRWC), an interim step to full freedom of labor association expected in 2007. The United States supported training for the WRWCs to enhance their effectiveness and understanding of their legal rights and responsibilities. The WRWCs engaged with the EPZ oversight authority and individual factory owners to increase respect for workers' rights. When allegations of intimidation of Bangladeshi trade unionists by security forces were reported, U.S. officials raised the issue with the Government.
The United States worked closely with the Government to combat TIP. U.S. officials met with the Government to monitor the progress of the special anti-trafficking police unit and to discuss strategies for improving the Government's ability to prosecute TIP cases. An innovative U.S.-funded imam outreach program expanded to new parts of Bangladesh. More than 2,100 imams received training on the risks, threats, and modalities of TIP, and 100 imams received specialized training-of-trainers to replicate such training within their communities. As a result of these efforts, 2,667 imams delivered specific anti-trafficking messages during Friday prayer services in 2005, reaching millions of people.
The United States provided support to a shelter for child trafficking victims who were repatriated after working as camel jockeys in the Middle East. Most of these children were reunited with their families. The United States began programming to support a comprehensive approach to victim care services offered by both the Government and NGOs. These included primary health care, counseling, the provision of safe shelter, and assisting TIP survivors in pursuing alternative livelihood options.
Bhutan is in the process of a fundamental governance shift from a hereditary to a constitutional monarchy. On December 18, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck stated that by 2008 the nation will become a constitutional monarchy operating under a parliamentary system amalgamating ideas from many democratic systems and that he would abdicate to the crown prince. In preparation for the planned transformation, the King began devolving authority in recent years to a National Assembly and Council of Ministers. In 2005, the National Assembly met twice and passed legislation on a broad variety of topics, including evidentiary rules for civil and criminal cases and privacy rights, and debated the Government's policy toward Bhutanese refugees. The King met with citizens to explain their rights under the new Constitution, which is slated to come into effect before elections are held in 2008. The proposed draft Constitution legalizes political parties and guarantees fundamental human rights such as the right to life, liberty and security of person, the right of association, freedom of speech and press, freedom from torture or inhuman punishment, and freedom from discrimination based on race, sex, language, religion, or politics. Until these changes take effect, civil liberties remain limited. The Government restricted freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly, and association and prohibited the formation of human rights organizations and political parties. The Government also restricted freedom of religion. The ban on political parties allowed the Government a large degree of control over the expression of dissent.
The United States and Bhutan do not have formal diplomatic relations; the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi was responsible for following Bhutanese issues and communicated frequently and effectively with the Government. The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy for Bhutan focused on supporting its transition to democracy and finding durable solutions for the Bhutanese refugees of ethnic Nepali descent who were compelled to leave Bhutan for Nepal in the early 1990s. U.S. officials visited Bhutan in August and October to discuss the refugee issue, Bhutan's transition to democracy, human rights, religious freedom, and labor issues. The Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs raised the Bhutanese refugee issue during the year.
Over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees have been encamped in southeastern Nepal since the early 1990s. The United States has vigorously engaged with the Governments of Bhutan and Nepal over the years to promote durable solutions for these refugees. To date, no refugees have been permitted to repatriate to Bhutan, despite the 2003 agreement between the Governments of Bhutan and Nepal to arrange for Categories I, II, and IV refugees from Khudunabari Camp (over 9,000 people who were considered Bhutanese citizens when they left Bhutan) to voluntarily repatriate. No efforts were made since December 2003 to categorize and verify the remaining six camps through the Governments' bilateral Joint Verification Team process. Although the Government of Bhutan offered in fall 2005 to allow Category I and IV refugees from Khudunabari Camp (approximately 640 people) to return as a goodwill gesture, it did not establish a timeline for the repatriation or produce clear, acceptable terms and conditions for return.
In 2005, the United States approached the Government of Bhutan in New Delhi, New York, and Thimpu to discuss the Bhutanese refugee issue. The United States urged both the Governments of Bhutan and Nepal to establish a timeline for voluntary repatriation to Bhutan, produce acceptable terms and conditions for return, and communicate these terms and conditions to the refugees. The United States approached other interested parties, including donor countries, UN agencies, and NGOs on this issue.
During the year, four Bhutanese nationals traveled to the United States through the International Visitors Leadership Program, focusing on areas such as journalism, sustainable development, environmental protection, and judicial reform. Three Bhutanese nationals visited the United States under the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program to study law and human rights, higher education, and judicial reform.
India is a vibrant democracy with strong constitutional human rights protections. Democracy is fully entrenched in India, with 675 million people voting in the 2004 elections. This was the largest exercise of electoral democracy in history. While religious tensions do exist, India's leadership is representative of its religious diversity, with a Muslim President, Sikh Prime Minister, Christian head of the governing parliamentary party, and five states headed by Christian Chief Ministers, one headed by a Sikh, and one by a Muslim.
The Government generally respected the rights of its citizens and continued efforts to curb human rights abuses, although numerous serious problems remained. These included extrajudicial killings, disappearances, custodial deaths, excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests, torture, poor prison conditions, and extended pretrial detention, especially related to combating insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir. Societal violence and discrimination against women, trafficking of women and children for forced prostitution and labor, and female feticide and infanticide remained concerns. Poor enforcement of laws, widespread corruption, a lack of accountability, and the severely overburdened court system weakened the delivery of justice. Caste-based discrimination and exploitation of workers, including indentured and bonded servants and child laborers continued, as did religiously motivated violence against Christians and Muslims. The Government addressed a number of human rights concerns that arose in recent years. It rewrote school textbooks that had previously espoused a Hindu nationalist agenda. Also, for the first time, the Prime Minister apologized for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Efforts by the Government, such as withdrawing troops from Jammu and Kashmir, opening bus routes between Indian and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, and releasing several detainees, were positive steps toward addressing some past human rights concerns.
Prime Minister Singh's visit to Washington in July 2005 solidified the emerging global partnership between the largest and oldest democracies in the world. In September, President Bush and Prime Minister Singh inaugurated the UN Democracy Fund at the UN General Assembly and launched the Virtual Coordination and Information Center to promote democracy and development. The United States worked with India to strengthen this partnership and implement projects in third countries focused on institution building and providing technical assistance to energize democracies. The Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs met with Indian officials in early 2006 to discuss the partnership, which involves a wide array of initiatives focused on the economic development, democracy, combating HIV/AIDS, the environment, and science and technology cooperation.
U. S. human rights and democracy initiatives in India focused on the promotion of good governance and the rights of vulnerable groups, especially the rights of women and children. U.S. engagement on the full range of these initiatives included diplomatic interaction at the highest levels, sharing of information, public diplomacy, and funding of projects to encourage respect for democracy and human rights. U.S. officials met regularly with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to discuss human rights.
The United States supported human rights and democracy by sponsoring programs on conflict resolution, judicial reform, women's and children's empowerment, addressed stigmatization and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, disability issues, Muslim and minority outreach, and international exchanges. Highlights of these efforts include the English Language Access Program, which provided scholarships for underprivileged Muslim high school students, including students from Jammu and Kashmir, and religious outreach to minority communities, including Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Christians, and Dalits. The United States also expanded its Urdu and Hindi editions of SPAN magazine, which explored issues such as globalization, conflict resolution, human rights, academic freedom, and inclusiveness toward women and minorities.
The United States funded numerous efforts to promote the rights of women. U.S. assistance to NGOs and research institutions helped them conduct assessments of the prevalence of dowry deaths and sex-selective abortion, and helped concerned NGOs start a new organization known as WomenPowerConnect (WPC). Over the past year, WPC supported the passage of a new domestic violence law and worked to secure effective implementing regulations. The United States administered a program in Rajasthan and Karnataka that set up 36 new mediation and legal aid centers for women. The program established lawyer and paralegal networks in both states to expand outreach to women and provided over 30,000 women with information, advice, or support. Dalit women also benefited from this support.
The United States addressed the needs of Muslim women through its "Gender and the Law" initiative at the grassroots level, particularly regarding family matters. The United States supported and financed NGO efforts to increase Muslim women's awareness of their rights under the Koran and the Indian Constitution. The program organized a national level conference promoting dialogue between religious leaders, members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, women's rights activists, academics, and NGO representatives that resulted in grassroots rights awareness campaigns. In addition, the United States continued the program "Reaching and Educating At-Risk Children" that provided services to school children from vulnerable communities and assisted Dalits and other underprivileged groups.
The United States sponsored numerous conferences, lectures, and seminars on religious and racial tolerance, development of civil society and democracy, good governance, interfaith relations, multiculturalism, and peaceful conflict resolution.
The United States supported a wide range of initiatives to encourage religious and communal tolerance and freedom. During Ramadan, U.S. officials hosted several Iftaar dinners to reach out to the Muslim community and continued to meet with religious leaders of the Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and Buddhist communities. The United States continued its outreach to the Muslim community through its English- language program and micro-scholarship program at the Anjuman-e-Himayath-e-Islam school in Chennai. The United States revoked a senior government official's visa under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, which makes any foreign government official responsible for particularly severe violations of religious freedom ineligible for a visa.
The United States continued to support a joint U.S.-India "INDUS" child labor project implemented through the International Labor Organization. Each Government provided funding to bring children out of the workplace and into school. The project aims to remove 80,000 children from work situations over three years.
The United States worked with Indian officials, NGOs, and international organizations to combat the long-standing problem of trafficking in persons (TIP). U.S. officials raised TIP issues on numerous occasions with senior government officials. The United States funded projects to prevent TIP, established shelters, and set up female protection programs to help reintegrate victims into the local economy. Through the South Asia Regional Initiative on Equity for Women and Children (SARI/ Equity), the United States funded a three-year project convening trafficking prevention groups throughout South Asia and provided grants to anti-trafficking NGOs. The program was designed to enhance social and economic opportunities for women and children in order to prevent TIP and promote women's rights on a regional basis. SARI/Equity expanded its programs to include cross-border anti-trafficking efforts and a victim witness protection program in Mumbai. The program focused on protection, preparation of TIP victims to testify in court, and provided services for victims of TIP and sexual exploitation in government and private shelter homes. This initiative provided 17 TIP victims with employment opportunities in the corporate sector and more than 40 others received employment training. SARI/Equity also set up a cross-border vigilance program along the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bangladesh borders.
The United States funded an NHRC study on TIP. The Supreme Court ordered the study to be distributed to all states and encouraged them to use its recommendations as the baseline for their reporting on TIP. The NHRC report had a positive influence on proposed revisions to the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act. The Government cooperated with a U.S.-funded partner to present 20 India-wide workshops on TIP prevention. At the national level, the National Law Commission of India accepted SARI/Equity's Regional Victim Witness Protection Protocol, a piece of model legislation designed to improve prosecution and conviction rates. The United States funded a total of 24 NGO programs to raise public awareness of at-risk groups, expand victim assistance, and improve cross-border collaboration between law enforcement and civil society. The state of Maharashtra incorporated the Victim Witness Protocol into its draft State Plan for Trafficking Prevention. The states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and West Bengal altered their policies to permit NGO participation in the management of state homes for rescued victims of trafficking, resulting in noticeable and substantial improvements in the living conditions of the victims.
The Republic of Maldives has a parliamentary style of government with a strong executive branch, headed by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. President Gayoom began a process to strengthen democracy and introduce political reforms in 2004, and the Government's human rights record has improved slightly since that time. In 2005, the parliament unanimously agreed to recognize political parties. Freedoms of expression and assembly expanded, and prison conditions improved. The Government created a Judicial Services Commission to oversee the hiring, dismissal, and disciplining of all judges and drafted a number of bills to expand criminal justice reform and press freedom; however, serious problems remained. The President's power to appoint members of parliament constrained citizens' ability to change their Government. Despite some improvements, freedom of the press, religion, and expression continued to be limited. Mohamed Nasheed, the Chairperson of the opposition Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), was arrested in August and charged with terrorism and crimes against the state. Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in November, and a trial date has not been set. In October 2005, 14 months after her initial trial, human rights activist Jennifer Latheef, the daughter of MDP founder Mohamed Latheef, was sentenced to ten years in prison for her participation in a 2003 demonstration.
U.S. human rights and democracy goals in Maldives include encouraging the continuation of the President's reform agenda to improve awareness of, and respect for, human rights and democratic institutions such as political party development, voter education, an independent media and judiciary, and respect for the rule of law. The United States worked to promote human rights and democracy in Maldives through bilateral discussions, public statements, training of Maldivian security forces, and support for the Maldives Human Rights Commission.
U.S. diplomats engaged in discussions with Maldivian officials to encourage the fair treatment of detainees, advocate for increased freedom of the press, and urge expanded rights of expression and assembly. High-ranking U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, sent letters to President Gayoom encouraging him to continue the reform process. During multiple visits to Maldives, U.S. officials, including the Ambassador, raised human rights as a key area of concern. U.S. officials conducted prison visits and visited opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed under house arrest.
In September, the Embassy held a U.S.-Maldives Friendship Week in Male, the capital city. In an address recorded for that event, the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs stressed the importance of due process and political reform. The Ambassador also prioritized democratic reforms, both in his own opening address and in subsequent meetings with Government officials during Friendship Week.
The United States supported the efforts of the Maldivian Human Rights Commission (MHRC), including funding consultations for the MHRC with a U.S. law professor specializing in international human rights. The professor also met with Government officials, students, and civil society representatives with whom he discussed international human rights norms and how they might apply in a Maldivian context.
The United States funded consultations for the MHRC with a forensic specialist to help the MHRC build capacity in recognizing symptoms of torture and abuse. The specialist also conducted a seminar on investigative techniques for the Maldivian police. In August, the majority of the Commissioners resigned. The Government and parliament failed to appoint new members to the MHRC, leaving the organization unable to function.
Human rights training was a key component of all U.S.-Maldivian military-to-military programs. The United States sent Maldivian military officers to International Military Education and Training programs and other professional military education courses in the United States and funded Maldivian attendees at senior service schools, where they received training on respect for human rights.
Nepal's struggling multiparty democracy suffered a severe setback with the King's February 1, 2005 dismissal of the Government, declaration of a state of emergency, and suspension of basic human rights. Although the King lifted the state of emergency in April, restoring many civil freedoms, his restrictions on NGOs, the press, civil society, and political party activists were concerns, and Nepal's poor human rights record worsened. Amidst the ongoing Maoist insurgency, security forces engaged in serious human rights abuses, including arbitrary detentions, disappearances of detainees, torture, and arbitrary and unwarranted lethal force. In pursuit of establishing an authoritarian single-party state, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) systematically employed violence and terror and committed serious human rights abuses, including torture, killings, bombings, extortion, and conscription of child soldiers. Pervasive corruption and social, economic, gender, caste, and ethnic inequalities made many citizens susceptible to Maoist influence and propaganda. Institutional weaknesses hampered the Government's ability to respond appropriately and effectively to address human rights violations. Trafficking in persons (TIP) and the rights of women, children, and refugees remained serious human rights concerns.
The United States pursued two main goals in Nepal: preventing a Maoist takeover and restoring multiparty democracy by encouraging the King to reach out to the mainstream political parties. The United States engaged the Government, its security forces, the international community, and civil society to facilitate a common vision for a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Nepal. Because all efforts to protect human rights and develop democratic institutions were hampered by the insurgency, the United States worked to address Nepal's inequalities by encouraging these actors to translate principles of democracy and human rights into practice. Areas of engagement included electoral and political reform, civic education, good governance, and rule of law. Other areas included support for conflict management and mitigation, international humanitarian law, civil-military relations, anti-corruption efforts, rehabilitation of torture victims, women's political participation, support for refugee communities, and combating child labor and TIP.
The United States interacted regularly with political leaders, government officials, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), NGOs, and other sectors of civil society on the importance of restoring democratic processes and institutions, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. The United States, in repeated public and private statements, pressed legitimate political forces to reconcile and agree on a way back to democracy. The United States urged the Government to be inclusive and bring the political parties into the municipal elections planned for February 2006. U.S. officials encouraged balanced public statements on human rights, including criticism of Maoist violence, by the international community, including international organizations and NGOs. Nine statements by these groups during the year focused on Maoist human rights abuses, forcing the Maoists to declare their policies on human rights matters publicly and exposing the widening gap between their statements and their actions.
Senior U.S. officials, including the Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs, urged the Government to focus its efforts on restoring democracy and reducing human rights abuses. The Ambassador repeatedly emphasized the importance of protecting human rights, restoring democratic practices, releasing political prisoners, and political reconciliation between the King and the political parties.
The United States provided assistance for electoral processes and political party development and reform. In 2005, the United States began a program to support internal political party reform that developed dialogue among political party and civil society leaders and also provided assistance to expand the Government's election planning capacity. As part of this program, former U.S. Senator Tom Daschle visited Nepal and discussed intra-party reform and reconciliation with members of civil society, political parties, and the King. This message of reconciliation received broad media coverage. The United States assisted Nepal's political parties in working to develop healthy and transparent internal processes, represent their constituencies effectively, and expand internal opportunities for women and disenfranchised groups.
The United States spoke out strongly against the King's October media ordinance and subsequent seizure at gunpoint of radio equipment from private FM radio stations. In October, the Ambassador addressed democracy and freedom for journalists in the municipality of Butwal. The United States sponsored the participation of a group of Government officials and journalists in an International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) in the United States on how government can regulate media without abridging fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech.
The United States also spoke out strongly against the King's banning of demonstrations and preemptive arrests of political party leaders on January 19, 2006. U.S. officials met regularly with NGOs and civil society to provide public support for their activities, including urging the Government to release civil society members held for peacefully protesting.
The United States worked with the Nepali judiciary, Supreme Court Registrar, and civil society to modernize the justice sector and strengthen capacity to combat corruption. This initiative also worked to strengthen legal protections for women and the disenfranchised. U.S. assistance to improve Supreme Court case management, including training and the provision of computers, allowed the Court to promptly schedule and hear all habeas corpus petitions filed on behalf of disappeared persons. At the end of the year, the Court reported no backlog in habeas corpus cases. The United States sponsored members of the judicial community, including district and Supreme Court judges and members of the bar association, for training in the United States. The program involved judicial training, long-term technical assistance, and small grants to NGOs working on judicial sector reform. During the year, the United States sent Nepalese Government officials and media personnel to the United States to participate in rule of law programs through the IVLP.
The U.S.-sponsored community-based alternative dispute resolution program trained more than 5,000 Nepalese in peace building, including training in negotiation, strategic planning, communication strategies, and mediation. U.S. assistance to Nepal's Commission on Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) helped to increase its investigation and prosecution capacity. In 2005, the CIAA prosecuted 122 corruption cases, including three senior officials and one former minister. The CIAA began to focus on more serious corruption cases, with convictions in 22 fraud and five disproportionate property cases.
During the 61st session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, the United States worked with international partners and Nepal to successfully negotiate a technical assistance resolution that called on the Government to restore multiparty democracy and respect human rights and the rule of law. The resolution requested the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish an office to assist the Nepalese authorities in developing policies and programs for the promotion, protection, and monitoring of human rights. The United States worked to establish the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Kathmandu in May. The United States provided funding and worked closely with the OHCHR to monitor and improve the human rights situation in four regions of Nepal. To strengthen independent nonpartisan human rights groups, the United States provided funding to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to employ a software tool to securely record and store human rights investigations. The United States supported a local NGO to work with the NHRC in conducting a legal review of Nepali law that was inconsistent with international standards of human rights and norms of fair trial. The NGO also studied the impact of security-related laws on the local population.
The United States also provided key services to victims of conflict and vulnerable rural households, reducing poverty, building community solidarity, and addressing dissatisfaction with the governing system, thereby helping to prevent a Maoist takeover. Services included basic health care, income generation opportunities, job training, and psychological and legal counseling for victims of conflict. In 2005, U.S. programs provided wages to rural Nepalis, increased the household incomes of approximately 227,000 individuals, and provided scholarships to 4,889 child victims of conflict. The United States began a program to build the capacity of the Government's Peace Secretariat. U.S. assistance helped the Peace Secretariat formulate a master plan, and the Secretariat began focusing on the large number of internally displaced persons created by the ongoing conflict. To promote good governance, the United States encouraged 391 natural resource management users groups in Nepal to hold general assemblies and elections, and engage in democratic practices at the local level, including participation of women and minority groups.
The Foreign Military Financing section of the U.S. 2005 Foreign Operations Act required the Nepalese Government to improve human rights practices or face a loss of military assistance. The Government's five-member committee to investigate disappearance claims released four reports in 2005, cumulatively locating 580 persons previously listed as disappeared. While U.S. officials repeatedly emphasized the importance of meeting the Act's requirements in discussions with military officials, the judiciary, and the NHRC, the Government did not allow unimpeded access to places of detention by the NHRC. The United States funded seminars on Operational Law for Armed Conflicts and investigating human rights violations, and sponsored 28 soldiers to attend International Military Education and Training programs, many of which included instruction on respect for human rights.
To promote women's development initiatives and expand their political roles, the United States supported several rural and urban women's empowerment programs, enabling women to become financially independent. Through a four-year program, the United States trained 13,000 politically active women at the community level, strengthening their skills in campaigning, leadership, transparency, and democracy. Three percent of the trained women were elevated to higher positions within their political parties. The United States also supported the formation of the Women's Caucus at the national level, which advocated for increased women's participation in politics, government, and other sectors. Since women comprise only nine percent of the civil service, U.S. assistance provided training to 300 women to enable them to be more competitive candidates for the civil service.
The United States worked with the Government, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Tibetan community to seek continued safe passage of Tibetan refugees transiting to India through Nepal. Following the Government's closure of the Dalai Lama's office and Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office in January 2005, U.S. officials urged the Government to register a new organization, the Tibetan Welfare Society, to continue providing assistance to Tibetans. In addition, the United States made significant contributions to UNHCR that assisted over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. The United States engaged the Government and other interested parties to promote durable solutions for the Bhutanese refugee population.
The United States supported participation by Nepal in the IVLP on "Religious Diversity in the U.S." U.S. officials met regularly with religious leaders to provide public support for their activities.
Since 2001, the United States supported a four-year program to combat TIP. The program included providing economic alternatives to vulnerable groups, education programs, and rights-based training for the Government's anti-trafficking task force members. As an economic strategy to prevent TIP, U.S. assistance provided informal educational and vocational training to 537 vulnerable women and TIP survivors, and placed 375 of them in permanent gainful employment. Achievements in combating TIP included a policy to protect and promote the rights of migrant workers, increased convictions of traffickers, and more victims rescued at the community level. U.S. support of anti-trafficking efforts helped Nepal achieve Tier 1 status as a country that actively discourages TIP. The United States continued to sponsor participants to attend IVLPs addressing TIP. The United States also worked on a multi-year project to combat exploitive child labor through education.
Pakistan is a federal republic. The Head of State, President, and Chief of Army Staff Pervez Musharraf initially seized power in the 1999 overthrow of an elected civilian government. President Musharraf's continued tenure was later confirmed in a controversial 2002 national referendum and an equally controversial 2003 election by the National and Provincial Assemblies. The Head of Government is the civilian Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who was elected by the National Assembly in 2004 over the objections of opposition parties. Under the current arrangement, the Office of the Prime Minister is subservient to the Office of the President. Domestic and international observers found the 2002 National Assembly elections deeply flawed. During local government elections in 2005, observers again found serious flaws, including interference by political parties that impacted the outcome of the vote in parts of the country. Legislatures at all levels debated freely and took action on a wide range of issues, at times in opposition to the stated policies of the executive. The judiciary was subject to political influence and corruption and lacked public confidence. Civilian authorities maintained control of the security agencies; however, there were instances when local police acted independently of Government authority. Pakistan's human rights record remained poor, with serious concerns including abuses by security forces, treatment of women and religious minorities, child labor, and trafficking in persons (TIP). While generally independent, Pakistan's media faced periodic harassment by the Government, practiced self-censorship, and lacked the capacity to serve as an adequate check on Government action.
Pakistan's return to democracy is critical to the strength of our long-term relationship and will positively contribute to its effective participation in the Global War on Terror. The U.S. strategy in 2005 focused on promoting free and fair local and national elections, strengthening national and provincial legislatures, democratization and institutional strengthening of political parties, and encouraging local governments to be accountable. The United States also supported respect for the rule of law through professionalizing law enforcement personnel and promoting an appropriate role for the military. The United States continued to work with the Government, civil society institutions, and international organizations to strengthen the media and combat violence and discrimination against women and religious minorities, TIP, and child labor. The Secretary of State and other high-level U.S. officials repeatedly raised the importance of democracy.
The United States engaged in a multi-year strategy to strengthen Pakistan's democratic institutions. Through the legislative strengthening program, the United States provided training to national and provincial parliaments to enhance their secretariats and research capacity, helped develop a functioning committee system, and promoted regular dialogue between constituents and NGOs.
Through the political party strengthening program, the United States worked with the leadership of all major parties to train future political leaders in issue-based campaigning, grassroots party development, and internally democratic mechanisms for platform development and candidate selection. A separate program focused specifically on emerging female party leaders and provided training and assistance to improve their capacity to campaign for elected office and serve the public as elected officials. The program also strove to develop the local capacity of women political leaders to train other women members and elected officials.
The United States actively pressed for free and fair local elections in 2005. Senior officials engaged their Pakistani counterparts to encourage a level playing field for all political parties and the withdrawal of security and intelligence agencies from the electoral process. U.S. officials discussed specific concerns with the Chief Election Commissioner and the staff of the Election Commission of Pakistan. In advance of the elections, the United States funded voter education workshops in key districts. The United States fielded a team of observers for each of the three rounds of voting and raised concerns with the Pakistani Government about what were viewed as serious violations of election norms that prejudiced the results in certain areas. In addition, the United States funded a comprehensive elections study by a local NGO that raised serious concerns about the administration of the electoral process. U.S. officials stressed to the Government the need for improvements in upcoming national and provincial elections.
The United States regards the strengthening of Pakistan's media as critical to the long-term development of Pakistani democracy. The United States funded training for radio and print journalists and supported community radio stations in key areas such as rural North West Frontier Province and the adjoining Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The United States maintained active dialogue with journalists and advocated for improvements in journalism standards. Moreover, the United States supported the participation of eight journalists in International Visitors Leadership Programs. Senior U.S. officials routinely raised the need to respect press freedom with the Government, highlighted specific high-profile violations of press freedom, and pressed for redress.
During the year, the United States continued efforts to develop competent, professional security forces in Pakistan, a strategy that will both help end human rights violations by these organizations and contribute to greater respect for rule of law in the country. The United States worked with the National Police Academy and Police College Sihala to develop and implement new training curricula for law enforcement personnel. The curricula focused on criminal investigation techniques, strategic planning, and law enforcement management and included courses in developing professional standards and appropriate use of force. Courses incorporated elements that stressed the rule of law and respect for human rights. The United States provided training and material assistance to improve the professionalism and efficacy of Pakistan's security personnel engaged in counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics operations. Through engagement with senior Pakistani leaders, the United States pressed for broader judicial reform, encouraging the Government to augment judicial independence.
Through the International Military Education and Training program, the United States provided 111 emerging military leaders with professional development opportunities that emphasized the importance of civilian control of the military and improved civil-military relations. The Counter Terrorism Fellowship program provided similar engagement opportunities and enhanced Pakistan's capacity to combat domestic terrorist and extremist organizations. Military procurement cases under the Foreign Military Sales program funded training visits of Pakistani personnel to the United States, where young leaders gained exposure to the American military ethos in which the military is subordinate to civil authority. The rule of law and civilian control of the military were two topics consistently raised by the United States during interaction with Pakistan's military leadership.
As an ongoing part of its democracy and human rights strategy in Pakistan, the United States advocated for the elimination of discrimination against women. The United States assisted local NGOs in conducting training courses for lawyers, judges, civil society activists, and other opinion leaders to offer support to female survivors of abuse. The United States engaged with local women's rights NGOs and worked to support their advocacy efforts to strengthen penalties for domestic violence and so-called honor killings and to reform discriminatory provisions of the nation's legal system. As part of a U.S.-sponsored media project, Pakistani women developed a radio program focused on their rights and discussed such topics as violence against women and so-called honor crimes. Senior U.S. officials repeatedly raised with their Pakistani counterparts the need to do more to end violence against women and to protect victims of such violence. For instance, the Secretary of State and other high-level U.S. officials interceded when rape-survivor and human rights advocate Mukhtar Mai was temporarily prevented from leaving Pakistan. She subsequently met senior officials during a visit to Washington.
The United States supported programs to uphold the human rights of millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and built capacity within local organizations and the Government to carry out this work. The United States was the single largest contributor to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' assisted repatriation program, through which over 2.7 million Afghan refugees have returned home from Pakistan since March 2002 - 450,000 of them in 2005. The United States also supported programs to alleviate gender-based violence in refugee and host communities. Although Pakistan is not a signatory to either the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol, its treatment of refugees generally accorded with international norms. The United States worked to ensure that Pakistan abided by these norms as it sought to close down refugee camps.
The United States worked to combat religious discrimination and victimization of religious minorities. Senior officials strongly supported President Musharraf's efforts to combat extremist and terrorist organizations, and the United States provided direct training and equipment to security forces to aid in their counter-terrorism operations. Through information sharing and cooperative investigations, U.S. law enforcement worked with Pakistani counterparts to bring terrorists and extremists to justice for their crimes. Such extremist and terrorist groups have regularly been implicated in violent attacks. As part of its advocacy, the United States pressed the Government to reform discriminatory legislation such as the so-called anti-Ahmadi laws and encouraged efforts to prevent abuse of blasphemy laws. U.S. officials spoke out against sectarian violence in the country's majority Muslim community and urged the Government to continue its efforts to dismantle organizations responsible for such violence. The United States maintained close ties with Christian, Ahmadi, Shi'a, Sikh, Sunni majority, and Hindu communities, and raised cases of discrimination and violence against minority religious groups with the Government. The United States actively engaged with the country's religious leadership, advocating tolerance and supporting President Musharraf's vision of enlightened moderation. As part of its education program, the United States worked with Pakistani counterparts to improve the quality and availability of public education to provide a viable alternative to religious schools.
During 2005, the United States supported several programs geared toward the elimination of child labor, including the International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor in Pakistan and the Program for Promoting Quality Education for All and Addressing Child Labor. These projects targeted working children and children at risk of entering the work force by placing them in informal education centers to learn basic literacy and numeric skills, with the goal of mainstreaming them into government schools. U.S. officials pressed for revision of labor legislation to ensure its compliance with international standards. The United States funded work with local labor unions to strengthen their ability to advocate effectively for increased labor rights and to protect workers' interests. In 2005, the United States increased this funding to support NGO projects that promoted workers' rights through workplace policy changes and stressed the improvement of women's rights in the workplace.
In 2005, the United States restored benefits to Pakistan under the Generalized System of Preferences that were suspended in 1996 due to the Government's failure to take steps to grant internationally recognized workers' rights. The United States continued to urge the Government to allow workers in the Karachi Export Processing Zone and other such zones the right to organize and bargain collectively. The United States also urged the Government to address the issue of the broad application of restrictions on unionization in certain sectors under the provisions of the Essential Services Maintenance Act.
The United States assisted the Government in combating TIP, emphasizing prevention, prosecution, and protection of victims. The United States funded a series of awareness-raising activities in collaboration with the Government. The United States provided training to the newly created Anti-Trafficking Unit and funded the establishment of a shelter for TIP victims.
Sri Lanka is a constitutional democracy that continued to be fractured by the repercussions of the 1983 - 2001 conflict between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a terrorist organization advocating a separate ethnic Tamil state. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, elected in November, and the parliament share constitutional power. The election was generally considered free and fair; however, in both Government and LTTE-controlled areas, the LTTE enforced an electoral boycott. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, although serious problems remained. In 2005, both the Government and the LTTE frequently violated the 2002 peace accord. There were numerous reports that armed paramilitary groups, suspected of being linked to the Government and security forces, participated in armed attacks during the year. Police frequently used torture, sometimes resulting in custodial deaths, and did not investigate dozens of politically motivated killings. The LTTE engaged in politically motivated killings, disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, denial of fair public trial, arbitrary interference with privacy, denial of freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association, and recruited child soldiers. Through a campaign of intimidation, the LTTE denied those under its control the right to vote in the 2005 national election. Following the August 12 killing of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Government enacted Emergency Regulations that permitted arrests without warrants and non-accountable detentions.
The United States promoted human rights and democracy in Sri Lanka. In 2005, U.S. human rights initiatives focused on supporting the benefits of peace and on bolstering freedom of the press, freedom of religion, fair labor practices, and the rights of women and children. Recovery efforts from the December 2004 tsunami became a vehicle to promote dialogue and cooperation among ethnic and religious communities who were empowered to collaborate in identifying needs and distributing resources. This type of local decision-making was modeled on the devolution of power envisioned in the peace process.
Major democracy initiatives in 2005 focused on the November 17 presidential election. During the election, eight teams from the Embassy visited different locations around the country, excluding LTTE-controlled areas. To aid election-monitoring efforts, a U.S.-supported NGO funded the two largest indigenous election-monitoring groups in Sri Lanka. Following the presidential elections, there were complaints that 100,000 eligible voters were stricken from the voting roles. The U.S.-funded National Voter Register program began in late 2005 to provide technical assistance, training, and commodities to the National Elections Commission to computerize the national voter register.
The United States funded the Transparent and Accountable Local Governance Project, which aimed to strengthen the capacity of local government in management and service delivery, increase citizen participation in local government decision making, improve the capacity of community mediators through the Ministry of Justice's Mediation Boards Program, and train informal "para-legals" to represent marginalized communities. The program partnered with 33 local authorities across six provinces and more than ten percent of the local authorities in Sri Lanka. Twenty of these were in districts affected by the tsunami.
The United States funded 225 students from all across the country to participate in Sri Lanka's first Youth Parliament, permitting a new generation of community leaders to network, acquire new skills, and develop action plans for social change.
U.S. efforts in Sri Lanka included the promotion of media freedom. In Sri Lanka, journalism often lacks a balanced analysis about conflict and the peace process, with a tendency toward inflammatory and highly partisan reporting. Most journalists, especially those at the provincial level, never received proper training in the basics of their craft, nor were they aware of the role that they could play in support of peace. The United States supported the National Peace Council in conducting a series of workshops for 90 provincial journalists in conflict-sensitive reporting. This workshop generated understanding and support for a negotiated settlement among those who have the potential to influence the wider community.
The United States provided support for civil society in Sri Lanka. The post-tsunami relief and recovery process highlighted the tendency of government and NGOs alike to rely on their own data rather than the "voice of the people" when making decisions about services provided to communities. In Matara district, people called for better coordination between government agencies, NGOs, and community representatives. Aware of the need for stronger civil society participation in tsunami recovery, the United States developed a series of Community Consultation Workshops in the district. The program identified two multi-ethnic local divisions within the district and carried out initial mobilization and awareness-raising among 500 families. Communities were divided into groups of 50 for intensive, one-day workshops. Program coordinators ensured diversity in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, profession, and social status, and received an overwhelmingly positive reaction. The program demonstrated that active consultation can motivate an engaged, resourceful, and creative citizenry to produce a consensus that provides stronger public support for government initiatives and deepens community ownership of planning problems and their solutions.
The United States promoted the rule of law in Sri Lanka. Media reports aired charges by both the LTTE and the Government that tsunami disaster assistance was being used for political gain and personal profit. A U.S.-funded anti-corruption program began in late 2005 for the purpose of ensuring that relief was properly administered. A strategic assessment was completed, and the program provided technical assistance and training to the Auditor General's Department's tsunami auditors and legal and investigative staff from the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption. The program will continue to support provincial and national civil society organizations in raising awareness on issues of corruption and reporting of instances of corruption from tsunami-affected districts.
In line with the U.S. goal of promoting human rights and helping Sri Lankans achieve a political solution to conflict, the United States assisted in retraining the Sri Lankan police to focus on community-oriented policing. U.S. law enforcement professionals led courses on basic investigation and interrogation techniques aimed at reducing the use of torture. U.S. officers led a course entitled "Human Dignity and Ethics" and worked with their Sri Lankan counterparts to integrate these skills and techniques into the local law enforcement curriculum. A U.S. grant supported the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission's efforts to process more than 16,000 complaints of disappearances and to establish a national database on disappearance cases. Human rights training was a key component of all U.S.-Sri Lankan military-to-military programs.
In Sri Lanka's eastern province, incidences of violence and general strikes were common, and there was mutual suspicion between communities. An innovative program that was funded by the United States and designed by professional photographer Marie Ange Bordas improved communication between multi-ethnic youth and among members of their communities. Six girls and 11 boys between the ages of 15 and 21 learned new skills, such as photography, journalistic writing, and different modes of media and visual expression. At the end of the course, the participants produced and published a newsletter covering themes such as religious harmony, the experience of being handicapped, and thoughts about ethnic cooperation to be distributed to NGOs, schools, and other organizations in the area. Individual projects resulted in a series of posters that celebrate diversity and support peace that will be displayed in neighboring towns.
In speeches, press roundtables and op-ed pieces, the Ambassador, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, and the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs condemned human rights abuses committed by the LTTE and pressed the Government to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by Sri Lankan authorities.
Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist but also has sizeable Christian, Hindu, and Muslim populations. U.S. officials regularly met with representatives of all religious groups to review a wide range of human rights, ethnic, and religious freedom issues. The United States discussed religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialogue and policy of promoting human rights. In 2005, the Ambassador held high-level meetings with the current and former presidents of Sri Lanka to express concern about the negative impact anti-conversion laws could have on religious freedom. The Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom discussed the anti-conversion issue with Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the United States. By the end of the reporting period, the legislation had not passed. The United States continued to encourage government and religious leaders to find non-legislative means to address religious issues.
The United States sponsored a series of inter-religious peace building workshops in Sri Lanka using the interfaith training and dialogue workshop to refine and enhance religious leaders' involvement in influencing social and political change. A total of 32 Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders from three districts within the volatile Eastern Province explored peace building in their region from a religious perspective. The two-day activity introduced a process model to analyze the current conflict through an inter-faith framework and to seek resolution through inter-faith dialogue.
The United States funded a four-year program in Sri Lanka to create a National Plan of Action for Decent Work designed to promote good governance of labor standards and protection of labor. The United States also funded the Factory Improvement Program, a multi-supplier training program for the development of local factories' capacity in industrial relations, health, safety, and working conditions, linked to areas of productivity and quality.