"People across this country are awakening to their rights and seizing on the promise of the law. But you cannot be a rights lawyer in this country without becoming a rights case yourself."
--Gao Zhisheng, Chinese civil rights lawyer
The United States continues to support fragile democracies and to advocate for greater human rights reforms throughout the region. In 2006, there were both advances in freedom and human dignity, and setbacks. Candid human rights discussion between the U.S. Government and the governments of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia laid the groundwork for future progress; however, progress made in the region was overshadowed by coups in Fiji and Thailand, and continued human rights abuses and lack of freedom in countries such as Burma and North Korea. Despite expanding personal freedoms in some areas, China's government continued to suppress individuals and groups, including religious groups, it deemed threatening to Party authority.
In Vietnam, the United States resumed its human rights dialogue with the government for the first time since 2002, when the U.S. suspended the dialogue for lack of progress. During the year, the government of Vietnam released three high-profile human rights prisoners of concern, invited U.S. officials to visit two prisons, and initiated political and religious reforms. In Laos, senior USG officials met with the government for a comprehensive dialogue that focused on a broad range of issues, including human rights and religious freedom. The U.S. will continue to press Laos for greater human rights reforms. The Cambodian government took positive steps by releasing five human rights activists from jail, and partially decriminalizing defamation. However, the government continued to restrict freedom of speech and of the press through the use of defamation and disinformation suits. Additionally, impunity and lack of respect for the rule of law remained areas of concern.
Respect for human rights and the rule of law in Thailand were set back with the military coup d'etat on September 19. In response to the Thai coup, the United States suspended nearly $29 million in assistance and has consistently pressed for Thailand's quick return to democratic rule. Deteriorating civilian-military relations in Fiji culminated in a military coup on December 5, and the United States responded swiftly with the suspension of approximately $2.5 million in assistance and all sales of lethal military equipment, as well as a visa ban on individuals implicated in the coup.
China's human rights record deteriorated in some areas. During the year, there were an increased number of high-profile cases involving the monitoring, harassment, intimidation and arrest of journalists, Internet writers, religious and social activists, and defense attorneys seeking to exercise their rights under Chinese and international law. The government tightened restrictions on freedom of speech, including the Internet, and NGOs and non-registered religious groups continued to face scrutiny and restrictions. The government continued to pursue some criminal and judicial reforms, and, in a positive development, China's Supreme People's Court began implementing new appellate procedures for hearing death penalty cases. Although the United States has not resumed its Human Rights Dialogue with China due to the lack of results on key human rights issues, the United States continued to pursue a multi-faceted policy to encourage China to bring its practices into compliance with international standards. The United States raised human rights issues of concern at all levels of government, including travel to China by the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor for talks with various Chinese ministries. The United States also increased its efforts to work with other countries that have Human Rights Dialogues with China to amplify the voice of the international community on key issues and cases. In addition, the United States funds a robust program of projects to promote rule of law, public participation and civil society, and to support those in China working on reform.
Burma remains one of the most repressive countries in the world, and the authoritarian military regime continues to rule without respect for democratic and human rights. Nobel Laureate and National League for Democracy (NLD) General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi has been held incommunicado and under house arrest for most of the past seventeen years. In February the military extended by one year the house arrest of NLD Vice-Chairman U Tin Oo. Over 1,100 other persons in Burma are imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their political views. The United States and other countries introduced a resolution at the UN Security Council to express deep concern about the situation in Burma and support for the Secretary General's "good offices" mandate, and to encourage the Burmese leadership to take concrete steps towards greater freedom and improved humanitarian conditions for the Burmese people. The United States was pleased that the majority of Security Council members supported the resolution but was deeply disappointed that it was vetoed. Nevertheless, the Security Council has placed Burma on its permanent agenda and the U.S. remains committed to working with our partners and allies to address the deplorable conditions in Burma.
The U.S. Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, appointed in 2005, intensified USG efforts to highlight the dismal human rights conditions in that country, one of the most repressive regimes in the world. In order to avail North Koreans of information denied to them by their government, the USG supports independent radio broadcasts into North Korea. The Broadcasting Board of Governors expended $4.6 million on Korean broadcasting in 2006. The State Department administered a $1 million grant for the promotion of North Korean human rights. Consistent with the North Korean Human Rights Act, the U.S. also began admitting North Korean refugees in 2006.
Efforts to advance the promotion of human rights and democracy in East Asia focused directly on supporting civil society, advancing freedom of the media and the Internet, strengthening rule of law, encouraging increased women's political participation, promoting religious tolerance, and pressing for reconciliation for past abuses. The Global Internet Freedom Taskforce established by Secretary Rice in 2006 to monitor and respond to threats to freedom of expression on the internet, focused in particular on the challenge to internet freedom in China.
Despite the continued challenges, the Freedom Agenda remains a cornerstone of US foreign policy towards East Asia. The United States is committed to helping citizens throughout Asia seek a life free from chaos and marked by peace and dignity.
Advancing Human Rights Abuse Reporting in the Philippines
The Philippine Commission on Human Rights, an independent organization mandated by the Philippine constitution to promote and protect human rights, was perennially hampered by limited resources. A U.S. Government-funded program implemented by the Asia Foundation worked with the Commission and other local NGOs to strengthen and expand the human rights abuse reporting network throughout the country and in Mindanao.
The Asia Foundation provided the Commission and an informal group of several of the country's most respected human rights NGOs with software and training to improve the efficiency and security in documenting, storing, and reporting information on human rights abuses. This program has provided a critical tool to NGOs for systematically advancing human rights in the Philippines by monitoring, documenting, and submitting reports of abuse to the Commission. The end result is a stronger network among the Commission, its field offices, and human rights NGOs, particularly in Muslim Mindanao. Quick and reliable input of information on perpetrators of human rights violations into the software system will help serve as a critical check on human rights abuse.
Mindanao, the poorest and most unstable region of the country, is home to most Filipino Muslims. It is perhaps the most critical area of concern for human rights violations. In this volatile arena buffeted by conflict, the project helps the Human Rights Commission and NGO community to provide credible and impartial monitoring of human rights violations, and to promote trust among Muslim and non-Muslim communities.
Burma is ruled by an authoritarian military regime that enforced its firm grip on power with a pervasive security apparatus. The State Peace and Development Council, led by Senior General Than Shwe, was the country's de facto government. In 1990 the National League for Democracy won more than 80 percent of the seats in a general parliamentary election, but the regime ignored the results. During the year the regime's deplorable human rights record worsened. Security forces committed extrajudicial killings, custodial deaths, disappearances, torture, rape, and forcible relocation of persons, used forced labor and conscripted child soldiers. Citizens did not have the right to change their government. Although the government revoked its original order to the International Committee for the Red Cross that it close all of its five field offices, it has not granted the International Committee for the Red Cross permission to continue all of its activities from those offices. The army increased attacks on ethnic minority villagers in Bago Division and Karen State in an attempt to drive them from their traditional land. The government abused prisoners and detainees, held persons in harsh and life threatening conditions, and routinely used incommunicado detention. More than 1,100 people continued to languish in jails for the peaceful expression of their political views. National League for Democracy General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi and Vice Chairman Tin Oo remained incommunicado and under house arrest. The government restricted freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement. The government harassed and created difficulties for domestic human rights NGOs, and international NGOs encountered a restrictive environment. Violence and societal discrimination against ethnic minorities continued, as did trafficking in persons, including state-sponsored forced labor and widespread sexual exploitation of women and children. During the year the government released just a few political prisoners, among them labor activists Su Su Nway and Aye Myint, but arrested 17 others, including five leaders of the 88 Generation Group.
At year's end, the regime reportedly intended to promulgate a new constitution and handpicked the delegates to attend the National Convention, which was suspended in 1996 and reconvened in 2004. The National Convention did not permit free debate and, for that reason, the National League for Democracy has not participated since 1995. Apart from its Rangoon headquarters, the National League for Democracy offices nationwide remained closed. Although the regime allowed UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari to visit twice during the year, there was no discernable improvement in the government's human rights record or lessening of its harsh treatment of democratic opponents. Moreover, it continued to refuse permission for UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Paulo Sergio Pinheiro to visit the country.
U.S. human rights and democracy goals include the unconditional and immediate release of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 1,100 other political prisoners, an immediate end to military attacks on ethnic minorities, initiation of a credible and inclusive political process leading to national reconciliation, and unrestricted access for humanitarian assistance providers. The United States engaged in active bilateral and multilateral efforts with key partners and players in the Asia region, as well as the EU and like-minded countries, to raise international pressure on the regime to affect meaningful political reform.
The United States worked aggressively and multilaterally to press for change in Burma. Such efforts included support for the UN process led by Under-Secretary-General Gambari, the UN special rapporteur on human rights, as well as for the work of the International Labor Organization, the office of the UN high commissioner for refugees, and other international organizations. With the strong support of the United States, the UN Security Council agreed to place Burma on its permanent agenda on September 15. Following his two trips to Burma during the year, UN Under-Secretary-General Gambari briefed the Council on the continued deterioration of freedoms and called on the regime to release political prisoners, engage the democratic opposition in dialogue, stop its attacks on ethnic Karen civilians, and permit greater access to humanitarian organizations. The United States urged Burma's neighbors to press the regime to release all political prisoners and initiate a credible and inclusive political process.
The United States was a vocal advocate for the rights of democracy activists, including Aung San Suu Kyi. First Lady Laura Bush chaired a session on the situation in Burma in New York concurrently with the UN General Assembly. Speaking to key ASEAN leaders on the sidelines of the APEC summit in November, President Bush described the situation in Burma as "totally unacceptable" and encouraged them to engage the country more actively to improve its human rights record and move toward democracy. The United States also pursued the goal of promoting democracy and respect for human rights through vigorous public diplomacy and democracy programs. Following the regime's May announcement that it had prolonged Aung San Suu Kyi's detention for another year, the United States 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 junta. These sanctions signaled international disapproval while exerting pressure on the regime to end its human rights abuses and allow for genuine democracy. The U.S. Congress voted overwhelmingly to renew the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act for a fourth year, and President Bush signed the bill on August 1. U.S. sanctions included bans on the export of financial services by U.S. citizens, on imports from the country, and on new U.S. investment and a full arms embargo. Sanctions also blocked all bilateral aid to the government, Generalized System of Preferences privileges, and 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 also supported journalist training, civil society development, and scholarship programs inside the country and among exile communities to prepare citizens to assume leadership roles during a political transition. The United States promoted the rule of law and democracy by providing information on human rights, democratic values, and governance issues through speaker programs, exchange programs, publications, and other information outreach. U.S. officials in the country regularly disseminated news from Web sites blocked by government censors. U.S. courses on civics and good governance inspired political activists to create their own Burmese-language versions of the courses, as well as improving their organizational and speaking abilities. The United States also supported humanitarian assistance programs in the country and along the Thai border serving Burmese refugees. All U.S. humanitarian and democracy-related assistance was channeled through NGOs; none of the funding benefited the military regime.
The United States also sought an end to the egregious human rights abuses perpetrated by the army, many of which were carried out against ethnic minority civilians in border regions. The regime harassed and created difficulty for domestic human rights groups 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 the country, including murder, rape, and forced labor. During travel throughout the country and along the Thai-Burma and Thai-Bangladesh borders, U.S. officials personally interviewed victims of violence. The U.S. Government 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.
There was no change in the regime's infringement on religious freedom. The regime 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, forced Muslims to tear down their own houses of worship, and in some ethnic minority areas used coercion to promote Buddhism over other religions. During the year the United States responded by redesignating Burma as a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for the eighth 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 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 actively supported the work of the International Labor Organization liaison office in Rangoon, which sought to bring the regime into compliance with its international labor obligations. At the International Labor Organization's Governing Board meeting in November, the United States supported consideration of further actions to address the regime's lack of progress on the development of an adequate mechanism to address forced labor complaints.
To address the serious problem of trafficking in persons, the United States approved funding for NGO-implemented antitrafficking programs intended to raise awareness among vulnerable Burmese and to support antitrafficking efforts of local NGOs. The United States also pressed the regime to improve implementation of its antitrafficking law and to cooperate with NGOs and UN agencies such as the International Labor Organization on the serious issue of forced labor and the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls.
Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with an elected government. The royalist National United Front for a Neutral, Peaceful, Cooperative, and Independent Cambodia Party and the Cambodian People's Party formed a coalition government in 2004; however, the Cambodian People's Party dominated the government, with most power concentrated in the hands of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Although the country's human rights record remained poor, the government took some positive steps early in the year by releasing five human rights and labor rights activists jailed on defamation charges and allowing the opposition leader to return and restoring his parliamentary immunity. The government also partially decriminalized defamation by eliminating imprisonment as a penalty. However, impunity and a lack of political will to adhere to the rule of law remained chief areas of concern. Land disputes and forced evictions often accompanied by violence were a growing problem. Corruption was endemic and extended to all segments of society.
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. In the short-term, the U.S. Government seeks to continue opening political space by supporting political and legal rights groups. In the longer term, the U.S. Government seeks to develop a consensus for rule of law reform by strengthening legal professionals' skills, upgrading court administration, and supporting key human rights groups and legal aid providers.
To advance political pluralism, the United States supported one NGO that focused on internal democratization and decentralization of political parties and another NGO that held 127 public forums, attended by over 52,000 citizens, to increase debate on human rights and democracy. A U.S. program to broaden youth participation in political life trained over 24,000 young activists. Approximately 500 of the trained youth have engaged in a follow-on program encouraging voter registration and monitoring preparations for the upcoming commune council elections. One U.S.-sponsored program produced a radio program on democracy that reached over 1.2 million voters in eight provinces. Another U.S.-funded NGO supported electoral reform, NGO capacity building, political party reform, including increasing youth and women's participation, and 61 constituency dialogues attended by over 23,000 citizens and 53 members of the National Assembly.
U.S. efforts to promote media freedom centered on programs to educate journalists on their role in a democratic society and to improve the quality of reporting. A Pulitzer prize-winning journalist conducted a U.S.-sponsored lecture on reporting corruption. Other U.S.-funded programs included English training for working journalists, developing English teaching materials for the leading journalism school, sponsorship of the director of the Voice of Cham radio program for the inaugural Edward R. Murrow International Visitors Leadership Program, and the translation and distribution of the book, The Elements of 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 decriminalize defamation. In May the government responded by eliminating imprisonment as a penalty for defamation.
Following a meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary for East Asia and the Pacific Christopher Hill in January, Prime Minister Hun Sen requested that the courts release on bail the civil society leaders who had been detained on criminal charges of defamation in 2005. After the men wrote letters to the prime minister thanking him for their release, the government requested that the courts drop the charges. Additionally, the U.S. Government provided financial support for civil society organizations promoting human rights and democracy in the country.
U.S. officials continued to press for strengthening the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. The U.S. Government supported training and provided technical assistance for legal and judicial professionals. The rector and 10 other faculty members at the Royal University of Law and Economics were trained in interactive teaching techniques and provided with technical and financial support to develop new course materials. A Fulbright Scholar developed and taught a course on family law at the Royal University of Law and Economics. A U.S. federal judge conducted clinical education workshops on judicial ethics, land law, and judicial reform for more than 227 sitting judges, prosecutors, and lawyers-in-training in Phnom Penh and four provincial courts. A U.S.-funded anticorruption program strengthened the ability of the citizens to hold public officials more accountable for the use of public resources. The U.S. Government supported a December workshop to train judges and prosecutors on a new code of conduct, which was finalized by the Supreme Court and sent to the Supreme Council of the Magistracy for approval during the fall.
During the year more than 900 people in 15 provinces benefited from U.S. government-supported legal aid. U.S. programs promoted access to justice by providing legal assistance in more than 3,000 cases. Approximately 30 percent of these were handled successfully through the existing legal system and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. Fifty lawyers, including 17 women, completed U.S.-supported clinical legal education programs to increase the quality of legal professionals. As in 2005 10 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 human rights abuses 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. government officials continued to discuss human rights concerns when meeting government officials; these concerns were highlighted during the October visit of the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Barry F. Lowenkron. During his visit, Assistant Secretary Lowenkron met with members of the opposition and Prime Minister Hun Sen. Assistant Secretary Lowenkron also spoke at a public forum sponsored by a local civil society organization where he addressed freedom of speech, land rights, and good governance. 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 the country's only independent NGO devoted to investigating and documenting the crimes against humanity committed by the former Khmer Rouge regime to aid in bringing those responsible for the atrocities to justice. The U.S. Government also financed a project to train journalists to report on cases before the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.
U.S. officials continued to urge authorities in both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Interior to meet the country's obligations to grant the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees access to persons seeking asylum in Cambodia. The United States processed for resettlement Montagnard refugees referred by the high commissioner. One local NGO continued to receive 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 U.S. Government funded a "Baseline Survey of Violence against Women in Cambodia." The survey's findings will be used to design new activities by the Ministry of Women's Affairs, donors, and NGOs to fight violence against women.
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 U.S. Embassy continued distributing Khmer-language and Cham-language copies of Muslim Life in America at mosques and Muslim community centers and hosted its first-ever Ramadan Iftar dinner in the main chancery. The "Shared Futures" program expanded to include the creation of micro-enterprise centers through the distribution of 1,200 sewing machines to 60 Muslim communities. Additionally, a local NGO received U.S. funding to raise human rights awareness and reduce discrimination and stigmatization related to HIV/AIDS in Islamic communities through education and training. 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 targeted a potential audience of 500,000--roughly 80 percent of the country's Cham Muslim population. 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.
During the year, the United States expanded the use of English language micro-scholarships. More than 100 Muslim secondary school students in six provinces participated in this 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 in the country. 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 five 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 the International Labor Organization and other programs to protect worker rights through monitoring labor conditions in garment factories, supporting 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 Labor Arbitration Council, an International Labor Organization project, funded primarily by the United States, 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 a problem. The Better Factories garment project monitored and reported on working conditions and labor rights in the country's nearly 300 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 a continuing NGO 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. Another U.S.-funded child labor project supported government efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor and targeted children involved in brick-making, portering, rubber-making, domestic work, salt production, fish processing, and service industries.
Combating trafficking in person 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. A new project funded by the U.S. Government will support NGOs and government ministries to counter trafficking by strengthening prevention, prosecution, and protection while building bridges between civil society and the government. A local U.S.-supported NGO launched a women's economic empowerment program, which targeted women at risk of being trafficked. U.S.-funded programs trained 38 police officers in investigative techniques to improve law enforcement competency in combating trafficking in persons. 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 345 at-risk individuals and trafficking victims to obtain shelter services. U.S. programs assisted with the reintegration of 121 victims and helped 94 victims gain employment. Another U.S.-funded program aimed to reduce the number of children, especially girls, who fall victim to trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation through education and other programs appropriate to their needs in three provinces and certain areas of the capital.
The Chinese Government continued to deny citizens basic democratic rights, and law enforcement authorities suppressed those perceived to threaten the legitimacy or authority of the Chinese Communist Party. There were an increased number of high-profile cases involving the monitoring, harassment, detention, arrest, and imprisonment of journalists, writers, activists, and defense lawyers, many of whom were seeking to exercise their rights under law. The government tightened restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, including stricter control and censorship of the Internet. Chinese officials continued to enforce measures in an attempt to curb the growth of China's emerging civil society, and NGOs, especially those perceived as promoting democratic agendas or worker rights, faced continued scrutiny and restrictions. The government often used vague criminal and administrative provisions to justify detentions based on membership in social, political, or religious groups and prevented such groups from organizing or acting independently of the government or the Party. Chinese authorities often interfered with legal proceedings, intimidating attorneys or witnesses in politically sensitive cases, including by threatening to charge them with crimes. Authorities also used forms of administrative detention to circumvent the criminal process. 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. Trafficking in persons continued to be a serious problem.
The United States employed multiple strategies to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, making clear that progress in these areas would enhance the country's stability. The United States' comprehensive approach 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 the government to bring its human rights practices into compliance with international standards, to make systemic reforms, and to release prisoners of conscience. The United States continued to press the government to strengthen the country's 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. U.S. 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 and advocated for the release of political prisoners during meetings with President Hu Jintao in Washington in April, St. Petersburg in July, and Hanoi in November. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised concerns about these issues during multiple meetings with senior Chinese officials. In February the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Barry F. Lowenkron conducted a two-day visit to discuss key human rights issues in Beijing with Chinese officials. Members of Congress and their staff traveled regularly to the country to discuss democracy, human rights, religious freedom, corporate social responsibility, and rule of law concerns, and raised these issues with government officials. However, the Communist Party's on-going concern with growing social unrest led to deteriorating human rights in some areas.
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 was an active participant in the biannual meeting on the country's human rights record with other governments that have bilateral human rights dialogues with China. The goal of the dialogue was to share information about human rights issues and approaches concerning prisoners of conscience, as well as democracy, human rights, and rule-of-law programming.
The United States supported programs aimed at increasing popular participation in government and fostering the development of local elections. The country holds elections for village assemblies, local people's congresses, and urban community residential committees in certain cities. U.S. programs offered support for grassroots democratization efforts through training for elected village officials and deputies to local legislatures. U.S. officials and NGOs participated in election observation missions. 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, budget reform, and public participation in government decision-making.
The U.S. Government supported seminars and training on international standards for free expression, reaching out to journalists, lawyers, judges, and lawmakers. Visiting officials and experts discussed the need for greater freedom for the Internet and for the press, especially in light of increasing international attention on the 2008 Beijing Olympics. 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 senior Chinese officials.
The government continued to use strict regulations in an attempt to limit the growth of independent civil society, and NGOs operating in the country continued to face a restrictive environment. Nonetheless, the number of civil society organizations continued to grow and hundreds of mostly government-affiliated NGOs were active in health, environment, and other areas. Many small independent NGOs operated without official interference. The U.S. Government encouraged the development of civil society in China by supporting projects that increase the capacity of independent NGOs to address societal needs, expand access for marginalized citizens to legal services, and enable citizens to either individually or collectively provide input into public decisions. U.S. officials frequently raised concerns with the government over restrictions on NGOs, emphasizing the important contributions NGOs can make in addressing many of China's most pressing social issues.
The United States worked to promote legal reform, urge progress on rule of law and encourage judicial independence. The United States funded projects designed to provide legal technical assistance, assist efforts to reform the country's criminal law, strengthen legal education, support judicial independence, and enable average citizens to find the information necessary to seek protection under the law. For example, one U.S.-supported project provided training for prosecutors on trial skills consistent with international standards, and complementary projects focused on techniques for defense attorneys. Another program allowed a federal prosecutor to work with U.S. officials in the country to encourage criminal justice reform through interaction with the country's academic community and the government. This official lectured at government training institutions 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, U.S. officials coordinated programs for federal and state judges and other legal experts to discuss trial and criminal procedure reform, discovery and evidence rules, prison reform, and other rule of law issues with judges, lawyers, officials, and academics.
Through the U.S. International Visitors Leadership Program, numerous U.S. speakers traveled to China to discuss rule of law issues. Nearly half of the Chinese citizens sent to the United States to participate in various programs worked in democracy- and rights-related fields or in areas related to religious freedom. Both the Fulbright and Humphrey exchange programs devoted significant resources to rule-of-law subjects. For example, the Fulbright Visiting Research Scholar Program included opportunities for established scholars in the field of law to undertake independent advanced research at U.S. universities, and U.S. professors served in residence at top Chinese law schools and lectured at leading legal training institutions.
The government made some progress on legal reform. During the year the government announced plans to amend its criminal, civil, and administrative procedures laws and reform its judiciary to prepare for the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. During the year, the judiciary also made death penalty reforms a top priority and introduced new procedures for requiring the Supreme People's Court to review death penalty cases. The Supreme People's Procuratorate issued new regulations for prosecuting official abuses of power and clarified that police are accountable when they use torture to coerce confessions. U.S. advocacy helped political prisoners gain early release from prison or improved treatment. Journalist Jiang Weiping was released from prison in January after receiving a two-year sentence reduction. Labor leader Xiao Yunliang was released from prison early in February. Tibetan nun Phuntsog Nyidrol was permitted to travel to the United States in March for medical treatment; she was released from prison in 2004. Bishop An Shuxin of Hebei Province was released from prison in August after 10 years in custody. In May China was elected to a three-year term on the UN Human Rights Council thus obligating the government to fulfill its obligations under numerous human rights accords and submit to a peer review of its human rights record.
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 the government 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 forcibly repatriate North Koreans and to allow the UN High Commission for Refugees access to this vulnerable population, as required by international conventions to which the country is a party. In March officials met with the UN high commissioner for refugees.
The president and senior U.S. officials consistently called upon the 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 meetings with Chinese leaders. The 2004 Regulations on Religious Affairs provided some legal protections for registered religious groups so long as they do not engage in activity deemed threatening to Communist Party authority. However, the regulations continue to allow the government to define lawful religious activity and to punish activity by those who have not registered, and enforcement of the regulations increased during the year.
The United States promoted compliance with international labor standards. U.S. officials worked to monitor compliance with the 1992 U.S.-China Memorandum of Understanding and 1994 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 addressed unacceptable working conditions in manufacturing facilities that produce goods for the U.S. market. The U.S. Government also supported projects to deal with wage arrearages, workplace injury, and excessive overtime through education and other means consistent with labor provisions under Chinese law. 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 U.S. Government continued to advocate vigorously for improvements in human rights conditions in the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas of China. In February envoys of the Dalai Lama met with Chinese officials for the fifth time since talks began in 2002. In public remarks, the Dalai Lama continued to call for a "middle way" approach, which included "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet but not independence. When President Bush met with President Hu Jintao in Washington in April he encouraged the government to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama and suggested they invite the Dalai Lama to China. The Secretary of State reiterated the president's message during her October visit to Beijing and urged officials to improve the human rights situation in Tibetan areas. In August Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, who is also the U.S. special coordinator for Tibet, raised a broad range of Tibet issues with Deputy Foreign Minister Dai and Assistant Foreign Minister Cui during her trip to China. During the year State Department officers raised human rights concerns with government officials during official visits to Tibetan areas. Tibetan nun Phuntsog Nyidrol, who was released from prison in 2004 and who met in Lhasa with members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2005, was permitted to travel to the United States for medical treatment in March. U.S.-funded programs focused on sustainable development and cultural and environmental preservation continued during the year.
Fiji is a constitutional republic with a constitution that provides for an elected president, prime minister, and parliament. On December 5, armed forces commander Commodore Voreque Bainimarama overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase of the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Party in a bloodless coup d'etat and announced the establishment of an interim military government. Bainimarama also proclaimed a state of emergency, effectively suspending the constitutional provisions for freedom of expression, association, and assembly, and the right to privacy, subject to the military's interpretation and without recourse to courts. The human rights situation deteriorated dramatically as the military government arbitrarily detained, and sometimes abused, coup opponents; engaged in intimidation of the media; restricted the right to assemble peacefully; and conducted searches without warrants. Prior to the coup, human rights problems included poor prison conditions; attacks on religious facilities, particularly Hindu temples; government corruption; continuing deep divisions between indigenous Fijians (55 percent of the population) and Indo-Fijians (37 percent); violence and discrimination against women; and child prostitution.
U.S. policies and activities in support of democracy, good governance, rule of law, and human rights in the country focused on engaging and reinforcing relevant NGOs, building capacity within the media, and fostering accountability and transparency at all levels of government and society, including the military. Prior to the coup, U.S. officials encouraged and assisted civilian and military leaders to participate in meetings, seminars, speeches, conferences, and courses that underscored the themes of rule of law and democratic practices.
Human rights and democracy issues in the country were dominated by the abiding ethnic divide between the majority indigenous Fijians and the minority Indo-Fijian community and the recurring tension between the elected government and the military. U.S. officials focused their efforts in the country on these two issues. Visits by high-ranking military officials, Congressional delegations, visiting speakers and regular diplomatic contacts and media events were all used to underscore U.S. concerns regarding the country's human rights and governance lapses.
The United States engaged with government authorities, political parties, and other stakeholders throughout the May election process to underscore transparency, fundamental democratic principles, and the rule of law. U.S. officials independently observed the election process. U.S. civilian and military officials, including the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and the commanders of the U.S. Central and Pacific Commands, met with government and military leaders to underscore the importance of the principle of military subordination to lawful civilian rule.
Prior to, during, and following the December coup, the United States, through its public and media statements, maintained its firm commitment to democratic order, support for the rule of law, and opposition to any illegal military takeover. Following the illegal overthrow of the Qarase government, the United States publicly condemned the coup, expressed its support for the democratically elected government, and called on the military to withdraw immediately from all political involvement. On December 19, the State Department announced a series of measures, including the cessation of military-related Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training assistance, the imposition of visa sanctions on the coup leaders and members of the illegitimate interim government, and suspension of military participation in U.S.-sponsored training, joint military exercises, or other events. U.S. officials consulted closely with foreign diplomatic missions in support of a common call for a rapid return to democratic rule and for rigorous respect of human rights principles.
During the year the United States used its grant programs to promote capacity building in the media and to support a conference on mediation techniques. A number of promising young journalists, who have shown an interest in freedom of the press issues, participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program. U.S. officials regularly contributed pieces for newspaper publication and worked closely with the media community to provide U.S. views on media freedom. In the wake of media and freedom of speech restrictions under the post-coup state of emergency, the United States spoke out strongly for a free press and called on the military to respect and uphold the country's constitutional rights, including freedom of speech.
Prior to the coup, the United States provided funding to a multiyear, post-2000 coup mediation process and for a multinational conference on conflict mediation at the University of the South Pacific. U.S. support for local NGOs and civil society intensified following the 2006 military coup. In the weeks after the coup, a small, courageous group of human rights NGO representatives and democracy activists demonstrated and spoke out to the media, only to be unlawfully detained, interrogated, and intimidated by the military. U.S. officials met with several of these activists and offered support to promote democratic and human rights ideals in helping the country confront and recover from the coup.
Corruption was a significant problem, and in an attempt to justify the coup, the military repeatedly cited reports of corruption. It dismissed numerous individuals from offices and boards on the basis of claims of corruption. Indeed, the military itself has been accused of corruption. Prior to the coup, U.S. officials met with the auditor general, who annually produces reports uncovering government corruption, to discuss corruption issues.
The country has historically benefited from a strong and independent judiciary that has played a key role in defending human rights, principles of democracy, and the rule of law. Following the coup, the military suspended the chief justice and chief magistrate, a move that has compromised the independence of the judiciary. U.S. officials have met repeatedly with the chief justice and criticized his dismissal in deliberations with international stakeholders in the Pacific Islands Forum.
In an effort to silence critics of the coup, the military on numerous occasions detained citizens for publicly criticizing the coup and the military's violations of civil and human rights or for vocally advocating democracy and the rule of law. Other persons were arbitrarily detained for minor complaints on the basis of accusations by third parties. Victims were subjected to threats, humiliation, intimidation, and beatings. In several instances, physical punishments were carried out anonymously in the dark or under blinding lights. Several women were threatened with sexual violence. In response to abuses, U.S. officials interviewed victims to assess the situation and determine ways to assist the organizations in their efforts to promote respect for fundamental civil and human rights. The United States condemned the military's tactics in a public statement and warned the military that human rights violations would have consequences for future assistance and training.
Sexual violence and discrimination on the basis of sex are pervasive problems in the country. Prior to the coup, the United States funded community outreach activities by the Fiji Women's Rights Movement to educate the public on the rights of women and children under the new Family Law Act.
The right to freedom of religion was widely respected. U.S. officials maintained close contact with a broad range of religious leaders. With some exceptions, the three large religious communities -- Christian, Hindu and Muslim -- lived together in relative harmony. However, religious differences are largely along ethnic lines. Most ethnic Fijians are Christians, and most Indo Fijians are Hindu, with a sizable minority of Muslims. A worrying trend of break-ins, vandalism, attempted arson, and thefts directed at houses of worship, predominantly Hindu temples, may reflect inter-communal strife, but there is evidence that common theft is also a frequent contributing factor. Such acts are condemned by all local religious denominations.
The United States has increased its outreach to women's and children's rights organizations in response to the small but reportedly growing problem of child prostitution. U.S. officials met with representatives of these organizations to better assess the extent of the problem and discuss potential cooperation in addressing it.
Indonesia, the world's third most populous 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. Implementation of peaceful, free and fair district level elections continued during the year. The first local elections since the 2005 peace accords were held in Aceh, ending three decades of strife and human rights abuses. In addition, there was a substantial reduction in killings and unlawful disappearances of suspected rebels and civilians in sensitive areas. The government also strengthened some basic human rights by adding Confucianism to the list of officially recognized faiths, conferring citizenship rights on foreign spouses and children of Indonesian citizens, and applying the more expansive press law rather than the more punitive criminal law in press freedom cases. The Constitutional Court declared articles of the penal code criminalizing defamation of the president and vice president unconstitutional. Despite these positive developments, the country experienced many challenges to its nascent democracy. The rule of law was weakened as the government failed to bring to account security forces engaged in unlawful killings. Pervasive corruption undermined good governance. Basic human rights such as freedom of religion, speech, and press came under pressure from fundamentalist religious groups, and in a few cases, the government itself. Other problems included sexual abuse and violence against women and children; trafficking in persons; and failure to enforce labor standards and violations of worker rights, including forced child labor.
U.S. human rights and democracy goals included supporting the country's new democracy by helping to transform governmental institutions into efficiently functioning entities; promoting civilian control over and internal reform of the security forces; encouraging accountability and ending impunity for past human rights violations; and fostering good governance. The United States urged the government and civil society to defuse separatist and communal conflict by promoting peace processes and assisting victims. The United States also encouraged government policies and civil society actions that promoted democracy, good governance, and human rights.
Senior U.S. officials used bilateral meetings, press releases, speeches, and interviews to highlight the need for strengthening democratic institutions, enhancing the rule of law, and protecting human rights. During the year, the United States provided technical assistance to the Independent Election Commission of Aceh to successfully implement the historic, first-ever direct election of a governor, mayors, and district chiefs in the province. Forty U.S. officials worked as election monitors to help ensure a free and fair election. In Sulawesi, the United States supported election commissions and several NGOs conducting local election monitoring. The United States also funded civil society groups focused on ensuring free and fair elections and educating voters on their rights and responsibilities.
The United States held over 20 lecture programs and workshops across the country featuring speakers on human rights and democracy. The United States used the International Visitor Leadership Program to send 49 persons to the United States to foster a deeper understanding of issues critical to democracy such as respect for international standards of human rights and good governance. In addition, 39 students participated in a month-long youth leadership program in the United States, studying the rights and responsibilities of citizens in a democracy. In another program, 10 students were paired with American counterparts for a reciprocal program on civic responsibility. The United States also sponsored 18 secondary school English teachers to travel to the United States to study the civil rights movement and supported a program encouraging increased women's political participation, particularly within political parties.
The United States took several steps to promote media freedom and freedom of speech. It supported an indigenous, pro-democracy radio news program based in Jakarta and provided equipment and training to radio stations to enable effective reporting on democratic reforms and human rights. The United States produced press training materials, held workshops and video conferences on investigative journalism, and sponsored a program to raise reporting standards by local television journalists. The United States strongly supported efforts to pass a Freedom of Information Act and assisted civil society groups to review the draft criminal code to ensure protection of freedom of speech. During the year senior U.S. officials conveyed concern to the government over the small number of peaceful protesters jailed for "insulting the president" or "spreading hatred against the government." In December the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the two provisions of the criminal code criminalizing defamation of the president and vice president.
The United States encouraged respect for freedom of association and assembly for all participants in the democratic process. The United States collaborated with and funded civil society groups working in areas such as good governance and anticorruption, reform of the judicial system, human rights and conflict management in sensitive areas, and women's empowerment. As part of this effort, the United States engaged mass-based Islamic organizations with members numbering in the millions to spread knowledge of democracy and human rights by funding educational programs, visitor exchanges, and informational brochures. Dozens of members of civil society participated in U.S.-sponsored programs, such as the International Visitor Leadership Program, in which they increased their understanding of democratic principles, including freedom of assembly and association.
To strengthen respect for the rule of law, the United States provided professional training programs to over 1,000 prosecutors, police, anticorruption commissioners, and judges on issues including ethics, corruption, and money laundering. The United States provided expertise to the Constitutional Court on the development of a case tracking and management system. With U.S. assistance, an interagency group preparing a new criminal procedure code introduced significant changes that addressed human rights concerns. The United States helped the Attorney General's Office begin drafting a code of conduct for prosecutors and provided technical assistance, training, and equipment on issues such as terrorism, money laundering, and trafficking in persons cases. The United States supplied training and equipment to support programs in criminal investigation including cyber crime skills and the proper collection, handling, and analysis of physical evidence. To advance understanding of law and human rights, the United States awarded Fulbright fellowships to 10 individuals.
The United States closely followed trials with important human rights implications and spoke out against impunity, stressing the importance of achieving accountability for human rights violations committed in past years. Ending impunity for human rights crimes continues to be the biggest unfinished human rights task in the country. U.S. officials met human rights activists and the widow of murdered human rights campaigner Munir Said Thalib and publicly supported their demand for a reinvigorated investigation into Munir's 2004 murder. At the end of the year, the police chief reopened the investigation at the request of President Yudhoyono. The United States provided forensic assistance to the new investigative team.
The United States continued to help the national police make the transition into a civilian law enforcement agency based on the principles of democracy and human rights. The U.S.-sponsored Police Survival Skills project included training in the appropriate use of force. The expanded International Military Education and Training program provided defense-related training to 125 personnel representing all branches of the military. This training incorporated human rights topics such as the law of war, the law of armed conflict, rules of engagement, and humanitarian law.
In Aceh, the United States supported civil society organizations that assisted human rights victims. To support implementation of the memorandum of understanding between the government and the Free Aceh Movement, also known as GAM, to end the conflict, the United States funded ongoing activities including public forums, peace concerts, and a new Aceh Magazine focused on peace. The United States helped to develop the Aceh Joint Forum Supporting Peace which served as a think tank on peace issues. During the year, a U.S.-funded peace advisor was attached to the Joint Forum Secretariat office. The United States helped design and support the "Building Lasting Peace in Aceh Workshop," which brought together civilians, Free Aceh Movement members, local and central government officials, and security forces to discuss implementation of the memorandum of understanding in Aceh. Since 2002, the United States has been funding a program for survivors of torture that strengthens the capacity of local NGOs to assist victims of past acts of abuse and torture.
In Papua and West Irian Jaya provinces, where the security forces have a history of repression, the United States took steps to improve monitoring of human rights abuses and engaged in continued outreach to a broad cross section of Papuan society. The United States provided further assistance in the investigation of the 2002 murders of two Americans and an Indonesian near Timika, Papua. In November an Indonesian court found one person guilty of murder and six others guilty of lesser, related charges. The United States funded a public-private partnership in the province to improve local governance through better decision making, enhanced participation of local communities, and increased local government transparency.
The United States helped combat domestic violence and supported a media campaign to inform women of their rights. The United States sought to empower women through educational programs in Islamic boarding schools. Dozens of women took part in the International Visitors Leadership Program, the Voluntary Visitor Program, the Fulbright Summer Institute, and other programs, many of which focused on human rights issues. U.S. support of the National Commission on Violence against Women resulted in the establishment of regional women's crisis centers.
The United States promoted interfaith dialogue and freedom of religion. U.S. officials met Muslim and other religious leaders and urged the government to bring to justice perpetrators of violence against minority faiths. U.S. officials traveled to Maluku and North Maluku provinces to meet leaders and encouraged continued efforts at reconciliation and effective sectarian conflict resolution. U.S. officials closely monitored ongoing interreligious violence in Central Sulawesi.
The United States supported the Islam and Civil Society program, which promoted messages of tolerance through religious leaders. As part of this program, the United States provided assistance to 48 Islamic universities and 40 Islamic boarding schools, trained 80 teachers and 90 university instructors at these Islamic schools, and distributed flyers on democracy at 443 mosques in 21 cities. Five American Corners operated in Muslim institutions of higher learning across the country. The United States also funded an international center to promote linkages among progressive Muslim intellectuals and activists.
The United States worked with international NGOs and civil society to combat the problems of child labor and trafficking in persons and repeatedly raised the importance of the issue with senior government officials. The United States devoted significant funding to protecting children from sexual exploitation, trafficking, and exploitative and dangerous employment. U.S.-funded training of law enforcement officials in antitrafficking increased this year. For example: 70 religious judges in Aceh were trained in adjudicating trafficking cases; 150 police and NGO representatives were trained in joint classes; and 60 prosecutors from the newly formed national traffickers task force as well as local prosecutors also received training. The United States also began helping the police expand a 12-person trafficking unit to hundreds of officers. These efforts resulted in an increased number of investigations, arrests, and convictions for trafficking.
To reduce the vulnerability of women and children to trafficking, the United States funded projects improving their education, economic prospects, and political participation. Subgrants to 48 NGOs and community groups resulted in local antitrafficking actions focused on prevention, rehabilitation, and advocacy. An International Visitor Leadership Program alumna was given funding to produce an antitrafficking television program. U.S. funding supported the creation of new shelters for victims and two new hospital treatment centers and assisted the safe return and reintegration of victims. U.S. grantees continued technical assistance in the drafting of a strong and comprehensive antitrafficking bill. In Aceh, U.S.-funded NGOs continued to work with authorities and community groups, including Muslim communities, to respond to the increased risk of trafficking.
Korea, Democratic People's Republic of
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. The regime also severely restricted freedom of movement and worker rights. There were widespread reports of women and girls being trafficked in China.
The North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 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 North Korean human rights issues. Since his appointment in 2005, Special Envoy on Human Rights in North Korea Jay Lefkowitz has urged other countries, including the Republic of Korea (ROK), Japan, and the European Union, to join the growing international campaign urging the DPRK to address and improve its human rights conditions. In April at the White House, President Bush met with a group of North Korean defectors and the family of a Japanese girl abducted by the DPRK.
During the year the U.S. Government continued to fund an international advocacy campaign focused on North Korean human rights. In March, for the first time, several North Korean defectors testified before the European Parliament about the human rights conditions in the DPRK, and in July a conference was held in Rome. In addition, the U.S. Government continued to provide funding to promote international awareness of the North Korean human rights situation and to increase the flow of independent information into North Korea.
Numerous U.S. officials worked to raise awareness of the country's human rights abuses with the international community in both bilateral and multilateral fora and before U.S. audiences. U.S. officials also urged other governments to call for concrete, verifiable, and sustained improvements in North Korean human rights as an important component of their bilateral relations with the country. Human rights remain part of the U.S. Government's comprehensive agenda with North Korea, and U.S. officials have repeatedly stated that improvements in the DPRK's human rights record would be necessary for the country to join the international community and normalize relations with the United States. During a congressional hearing on North Korean human rights in April, Special Envoy Lefkowitz criticized the North Korean government for abducting ROK and Japanese citizens.
In November the United States cosponsored a resolution before the UN General Assembly Third Committee that condemned the country's poor human rights record, expressing "very serious concern" at "continuing reports of systemic, widespread, and grave violations of human rights." In December the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution, marking the second time such a resolution has passed. The resolution called on the DPRK to fulfill its obligations under human rights instruments to which it is a party. The resolution further urged the government to invite UN special representatives to visit the DPRK and to ensure that humanitarian organizations have free access to the country. The resolution also requested the secretary general to submit a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the DPRK.
The United States remained deeply concerned about the plight of North Korean refugees and asylum seekers and continued to work to find durable solutions for this vulnerable population as outlined in the North Korean Human Rights Act. The United States granted asylum to nine refugees and resettled them in the United States during the year. 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 U.S. Government has consistently and at high levels urged China to adhere to its obligations as a party to the 1951 refugee convention and its 1967 protocol, including by: 1) not expelling to North Korea (refouling) North Koreans protected under those treaties and 2) undertaking to cooperate with the office of the UN high commissioner for refugees in the exercise of its functions. The United States also urged China to cease deportation of North Korean asylum seekers and allow the office of the high commissioner access to them. The United States has addressed the issue of North Korean refugees in China with the office of the high commissioner, and sought to coordinate the U.S. approach with allies who share U.S. concerns. In April the White House expressed grave concern about China's deportation of a North Korean asylum seeker who had sought refuge at a Korean school in China and urged the Chinese government not to return the asylum seekers. President Bush also raised the issue with Chinese President Hu Jintao during his visit later that month.
During the year, Secretary of State Rice again designated the DPRK a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for severe violations of religious freedom.
The Lao People's Democratic Republic is an authoritarian one party state ruled by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP). Although the 1991 constitution outlines a system composed of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, in practice the LPRP continued to control all branches of government and the choice of leaders at all levels through its constitutionally designated "leading role." The government's overall human rights record worsened during the year. Citizens continued to be denied the right to change their government. Government security agents committed unlawful killings. Prison conditions were harsh and at times life threatening. Corruption in the police and judiciary persisted. The government infringed on citizens' right to privacy and did not respect the right to freedom of speech, the press, assembly, or association. Local officials at times interfered with religious freedom and restricted citizens' freedom of movement. There were no domestic human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Trafficking in persons, especially women and girls for prostitution, remained a problem, as did discrimination against minority groups, such as the Hmong. Workers' rights were restricted. The government continued to deny publicly ever holding a group of 27 Hmong, including 26 children, who were deported from Thailand in December 2005.
The U.S. Government worked to encourage transparency and more responsible behavior by the government. It promoted respect for religious freedom, ethnic minority rights, women's and children's rights, and the rule of law in order to inculcate within the bureaucracy a sense of responsibility and improve the lives of Lao citizens. U.S. officials traveled and reported on human rights and governance issues; encouraged official U.S. visits to Laos; worked with key ministries to build trust, promote transparency, and encourage the Lao to address issues of concern; and cooperated with international organizations and NGOs, including the funding of projects and programs that support human rights and good governance.
The United States used the occasion of visits from senior U.S. administration and legislative branch officials to raise human rights concerns. The Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Barry F. Lowenkron, raised religious freedom and ethnic minority rights concerns with the Lao vice foreign minister during his October visit to Laos. Additionally, the deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs visited Laos twice during the year and led a delegation which held the first comprehensive dialogue meeting with the government to discuss a broad range of issues, including human rights and religious freedom. During the year U.S. diplomats traveled 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 U.S. Ambassador visited Bolikhamsay and Vientiane Provinces, speaking with government officials in both provinces about the ongoing insurgency as well as human rights and religious freedom issues.
The Untied States used three separate U.S. Congressional delegation visits to address human rights as well. For example, Representative Betty McCollum visited Laos in December and met with the deputy prime minister, vice foreign minister, and members of the National Assembly. She pressed the government to accept a greater role for nongovernmental organizations, to allow international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to monitor prisons as well as the situation of the Hmong, and to resolve the case of the 27 detained Hmong, most of whom are children. Representative McCollum also attended Christmas mass and made it known that she would not have visited the country had she been unable to attend mass. Congressional staff delegations from the offices of Representative Henry Hyde and Senator Brownback also visited in during the year. Both delegations raised human rights, religious freedom, and prison access issues as well as the need for greater transparency on the part of the government.
Visits such as these helped the United States gather the information needed to draw a more complete picture of the insurgency and of government efforts to resettle former insurgents who had surrendered. U.S. diplomats also met with many senior government officials, including members of the Politburo and provincial governors, to encourage increased respect for human rights and a peaceful resolution to the insurgency. The government permitted some international assistance to 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, to discuss ways of resolving the insurgency.
The United States worked to support freedom of speech and media freedom. U.S. programs supported a workshop on "News and Document Production for Television" from June 27 to 29. A small democracy grant was provided to the Creative Writers Group for a September 6 to 27 workshop to train writers and journalists in preparing scripts for news stories and documentaries for radio and television in Champassak Province. Funding was also provided to the Participatory Development Training Center for a June 5 to 30 workshop to improve the capacity of video filmmakers and producers who have their own studios. Additionally, a journalist from the country's primary English language newspaper, the Vientiane Times, participated in the International Visitors Leadership Program on investigative journalism. One of seven Lao to receive Fulbright Fellowships during the year will pursue a master's degree in journalism.
The United States has consistently encouraged the government to allow the development of domestic associations and NGOs (which the government chooses to refer to as nonprofit organizations, or NPOs). In 2005, the government took a first step in allowing for the development of domestic non-profit organizations through the establishment of the Lao Union of Science and Engineering Associations, which is tasked with vetting applications from non-profit organizations and overseeing their operations. The United States donated computers in 2006 to the Lao Bar Association as well as to groups involved in drug treatment and in providing shelter and counseling to human trafficking victims.
Promoting good governance is an important element of the U.S. government's efforts to support democracy and human rights. Through a project supported by the State Department's Women's Issues Fund, the Asia Foundation is working to strengthen women's political leadership in the country by encouraging public awareness of the value women bring to government, pressing the need to promote decision making that is responsive and accountable to women, and providing training to improve women's capacity to shape policy processes and outcomes. Another Women's Issues Fund project carried out by Save the Children Australia seeks to improve the livelihood of women in three northern provinces and also attempts to expand the role of women in community decision making. The U.S. Government funded projects both to work to reduce opium production in the country, and to bring villagers into the decision-making process, promoting grass roots participatory governance. The United States held a seminar on managing the prosecutorial function for 45 prosecutors and prosecutorial staff members and met with officials of the Ministry of Justice as well as the Office of the Supreme People's Prosecutor during the year. The seminar and related meetings stressed the importance of effective dissemination and enforcement of laws. A U.S. Department of Justice delegation visited the Lao Bar Association and has shown interest in holding a future seminar for Lao defense attorneys.
U.S. diplomats used the International Visitors Leadership Program to promote human rights, sponsoring Lao officials' visits to the United States to study aspects of the U.S. judicial system, U.S. foreign policy and human rights issues, investigative journalism, and anti-trafficking programs. The U.S. supported American Centers also provided information in English and Lao on 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 the country's prison system. U.S. diplomats met frequently with members of international organizations and with other concerned embassies to discuss strategies for convincing the government to open its prison system to outside scrutiny. The United States also closely follows the cases of known political prisoners, using official meetings to raise its concerns with the Lao leadership.
The U.S. Ambassador repeatedly raised the issue of a group of 26 ethnic Hmong children who were detained by Lao authorities in December 2005 and whose fates remain unknown. The United States, along with like-minded missions and the UN, agreed to deliver a joint demarche to the government on the issue, but the government refused to receive the demarche. Nevertheless, the United States continued to raise the issue, often in the context of official administration and congressional visits. The U.S. ambassador also met with the governor of Vientiane Province and leading central government officials regarding allegations of an April 6 massacre in Vientiane Province of 26 unarmed Hmong, mostly women and children.
The United States endeavors to promote religious tolerance in Laos. The U.S. ambassador continually raised the issue of religious freedom with top government officials, including provincial governors. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Barry Lowenkron, as well as a visitor from the State Department's International Religious Freedom Office, also raised the issue of religious freedom in meetings with senior Lao officials. Representatives of the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) visited the country in January 2007 and gave a presentation on the importance of religious freedom to a group of more than 60 central government officials. IGE representatives also visited Catholic and Protestant churches and met with the governors of Bolikhamsay and Savannakhet provinces, areas that have witnessed numerous instances of religious persecution in recent years.
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 more expeditious resolution of problems.
The United States provided assistance to the country in its effort to combat human trafficking, a serious human rights concern. The U.S. Government funded more than $1.4 million for anti-trafficking projects carried out by international organizations and locally based NGOs for projects extending from 2005 through 2006. These projects focused on strengthening the rule of law, public education, alternative vocational education for those most vulnerable to trafficking, as well as return and reintegration assistance. The United States also provided funding for two Laos-based NGO staff members to attend a Trafficking in Persons Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, in an effort to expand their knowledge of the issue and to develop regional contacts. Additionally, a representative from the U.S. Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Office visited the country in March 2006 to encourage greater efforts on the part of the government to address the issue. Through increased efforts and improved communication, Laos was upgraded from its previous trafficking tier.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is a federal multiparty parliamentary democracy with an elected unicameral parliament. The most recent general elections were held in June 2002. The coalition put together by Prime Minister Somare has remained in office for the full term, being the first government to complete its term since independence in 1975. A national police force, the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary, was under overall civilian authority, but it lacked resources, training, and leadership. The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were serious problems in some areas. Human rights abuses included arbitrary or unlawful killings by police; police abuse of detainees, including of children; poor prison conditions; lengthy pretrial detention; infringement of citizens' privacy rights; government corruption; violence and discrimination against women and children; discrimination against persons with disabilities; and continuing intertribal violence. 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.
U.S. officials continued to advocate high standards for democratic processes and respect for international human rights standards. Although the U.S. Government ended most of its assistance programs in the country in the 1990's, the United States remained a respected voice in Papua New Guinea.
During the year U.S. officials worked closely with the Media Council of Papua New Guinea to sponsor and provide support for a workshop on investigative journalism. The workshop was led by an Emmy Award-winning American professor of journalism. As a result of the workshop, participants began organizing a society of professional journalists. International Visitor Leadership Programs also provided exposure to democratic systems and values to future leaders.
The United States continued to provide training that emphasized respect for human rights to defense and police personnel through the International Military Education and Training program, Title X military conferences, and the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.
The U.S. Government's counterterrorism efforts in the country and the surrounding region emphasized human rights protection. The United States strongly supported Australia's Enhanced Cooperation Program, 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, with a population of 87 million, is a democracy with an elected president, an elected bicameral legislature, and a multiparty system. The May 2004 national elections for president and both houses of congress continued to be a source of contention, with unsuccessful attempts in 2005 and during the year to impeach the president on grounds of alleged election fraud. The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were serious problems in certain areas. Some elements of the security forces were apparently responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and arbitrary arrest and detention. Members of the security services committed acts of physical and psychological abuse on suspects and detainees, and there were instances of torture. Corruption remained a problem in all sectors of the criminal justice system, including police, prosecutorial, and judicial organs.
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, strengthening civil society and promoting rule of law, including transparency, in the judiciary and government. Strengthening democracy continued as an essential U.S. goal.
A U.S. Government grant assisted Philippine NGOs in promoting voter education and training election monitors. The grant also supported an electoral modernization program of the Philippine Commission on Elections in preparation for May 2007 national and local elections. Programs at both the local and national level promoted equity, transparency, and popular participation- all key factors for the healthy functioning of a democracy.
Improving 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 fell short of accepted journalistic standards. During the year, the U.S. Government sent several young journalists to the United States as participants in International Visitor Leadership Programs with the intention of enhancing their knowledge and understanding of American life and the U.S. media. An American expert, sponsored by the United States, spoke on public relations, the Internet, and blogging. His audience was comprised of individuals actively engaged in the growing community of political and public affairs bloggers. During the year new publications produced by the State International Information Programs office, including, "Media Emerging," and "Handbook of Independent Journalism," were widely distributed to journalists and editors across the country by representatives of the U.S. Government.
Support for NGOs and civil participation in the processes of government were the foci of the U.S.-funded Transparent and Accountable Governance Program. This program was active at 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, the program supported implementation of the new procurement law by training NGO volunteers to observe procurements carried out by bids and awards committees and established a system for reporting irregularities to the Office of the Ombudsman. At the local level the program assisted 16 city governments to implement a range of anti-corruption and good governance reforms. From 2002 through the current year, the program also assisted 98 municipalities in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and adjacent conflict-affected areas to reform and increase citizen participation in their budgeting and planning processes.
The U.S.-funded Rule of Law Effectiveness Program supported the Philippine Government's effort to make corruption a high risk, low reward activity by providing assistance to several Philippine judicial court systems including the Anti-Graft Court, and the Court of Tax Appeals. Assistance directed toward two of the courts included training and the installation of case management systems designed to make the disposition of cases more efficient and effective. This program also supported assessments of selected government agencies for their vulnerability to corruption. A separate but complementary Threshold Country Program under the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account focused on countering corruption by providing assistance to the Office of the Ombudsman, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the Bureau of Customs.
To encourage respect for due process and anti-corruption among members of the Philippine National Police and other law enforcement agencies, the United States sent approximately 111 law enforcement officials to the International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok for courses with human rights, ethics, rule of law, leadership, and anti-corruption components. In addition, U.S. law enforcement agencies conducted in-country seminars and training on ethics, human rights, anti-corruption, jail management, and U.S. law enforcement standards for personnel from the Philippine National Police, National Bureau of Investigations, Office of the Ombudsman, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Bureau of Immigration, and the Armed Forces. Training included a visit to the FBI's National Academy in Virginia. Under a new program a U.S.-funded Senior Law Enforcement Advisor and his staff provided assistance to the Philippine National Police force's transformational program to devise and implement reforms that will make the Philippine National Police a more transparent, modern, and effective institution. This included cooperation with the police force's Task Force Usig, created in May to investigate allegations of unlawful and extrajudicial killings.
U.S. assistance helped institutionalize alternative dispute resolution systems and improved judicial transparency and case management in the courts. At the community level, the Barangay Justice Program worked in some 800 barangays (precincts) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, enabling marginalized individuals and groups to obtain redress for grievances and settle disputes. As a result, community disputes were resolved more rapidly. Support for alternative dispute resolution in the courts also led to the referral of more than 22,000 cases to mediation during the year. Since court-referred mediation was introduced with U.S. support in 2001, the country's court backlog has steadily declined.
United States officials continued to coordinate closely with the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, an independent government agency tasked to monitor and investigate alleged human rights abuses, in the vetting of all military and police officials attending training funded by the USG, as required by the Leahy Amendments.
The International Military Education and Training Program continued to strengthen the professionalism, commitment to human rights, discipline, and technical expertise of the Philippine military. The program was an important component of U.S. Government efforts to professionalize the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Graduates of the program populated top armed forces ranks, which actively supported close and professional U.S. and Philippine military-to-military relationships. During the year these senior leaders continued to support constitutional processes and civilian control over the military, despite efforts by some members of the armed forces to stage a coup d'etat in February. The army participated in the United States 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 initiative, with funding assistance from the United States, continued to work to make the Philippine armed forces more transparent and professional. A major strategic benefit of the initiative was the reinforcement of civilian authority over the military, thereby strengthening the overall stability of the Philippine Government.
A U.S. Government 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. A third program focused on women serving as advocates for peace to resolve conflicts in Mindanao.
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. The U.S. Government organized numerous public conferences and gatherings throughout the year to promote interfaith dialogue among Filipinos, making use of programming tools such as the U.S. Speaker Program. Programs to foster interfaith dialogue included a citizen exchange program, which enabled 25 high school students and five young adult community activists, a mix of Muslims and Christians from Mindanao, to travel to Chicago for training on conflict resolution and interfaith dialogue. Also, the Youth Exchange and Study Program, funded by the U.S. Government, brought 15 Muslim students to the United States to attend a full year of high school (school year 2006-2007) and live with American host families. These students learned about U.S. society, developed leadership skills, and educated Americans on Philippine Muslim culture. In addition, U.S. Government funded Democracy Grants were awarded to local NGOs to educate and mobilize communities for human rights protection and promotion; to engage grass roots anti-corruption activities; and to support efforts by Muslim women to attain political and economic empowerment. For the second year in a row, the United States sponsored an American imam's visit 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. Another program gave Muslim college students and young professionals an opportunity to work as interns in the Philippine Congress. During the year the United States sent both Muslim and Christian leaders on International Visitors Leadership Programs to the United States. The programs covered a wide range of topics aimed at the promotion of human rights and democracy; including grassroots activism, religion and the community, youth empowerment, the role and responsibility of a free press, leadership development for Muslim women, accountability in government and business, and community service and NGOs.
Trafficking in persons remains a serious problem in the country. Due to an improved record of prosecutions and convictions in cases handled by prosecutors trained by a U.S.-funded program for Philippine prosecutors, enforcers, and social workers the situation has improved somewhat. Other U.S. grants helped to create and strengthen mechanisms to combat trafficking at the local government level, provide preventive anti-trafficking education, and support public information campaigns. To strengthen worker rights, the United States continued to support a project to develop an early warning system aimed at preventing deterioration of labor standards compliance, and several other projects focused on combating the worst forms of child labor.
Democratic rule and respect for human rights in Thailand suffered severe setbacks with the military coup on September 19. Prior to the coup, which resulted in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the country was a democratically governed constitutional monarchy. Immediately following the coup, the military coup leaders repealed the constitution, abolished parliament, declared martial law, and issued decrees limiting civil liberties. On October 1, the military coup leaders renamed themselves the Council for National Security, promulgated an interim constitution, and established an interim government. During the year, security forces continued to use excessive force against criminal suspects and committed or were linked to dozens of extrajudicial, arbitrary, and unlawful killings. Reports of disappearances in the southern provinces, in many cases after the missing allegedly had been questioned by security officials, continued. There were reports that police tortured, beat, and otherwise abused detainees and prisoners, generally with impunity. Prior to the coup, the use of defamation suits and, in some cases, charges of sedition, encouraged self censorship by the media and NGOs. Human rights workers, particularly those focusing on disappearances and the violence in the south, experienced government harassment. The country continued to be a source, transit, and destination for trafficking in women and children for a variety of purposes, including indentured servitude, forced labor, and commercial sexual exploitation. Members of hill tribes without proper documentation continued to face restrictions on their movement, could not own land, and were not protected by labor laws.
To promote and improve human rights, the United States focused its efforts on the threats against the country's longstanding freedom of the press, extrajudicial killings, trafficking in persons, the rights of other ethnic minority groups residing within its borders, and the increased violence in the Muslim-majority provinces in the south. U.S. officials also maintained close contact with the many domestic and international NGOs in the country that seek to protect and defend human rights. After September 19, the United States consistently pressed the military to return the country to democratic rule, urging authorities to quickly draft a new constitution and hold new elections, fully lift martial law, and restore civil liberties to all citizens. In immediate response to the coup, the U.S. Government suspended nearly $29 million worth of military assistance and continued to carefully review all significant interactions with the government, including military exercises, on a case-by-case basis. To support a quick return to democratic rule, the U.S. Government funded various programs to address issues of constitutionalism and other democratic principles.
The United States promoted democracy in the country by organizing a series of digital video conferences to address issues of good governance. The United States also hosted a week-long program on civic participation with local government officials, academics, and leading women civil society figures.
The United States promoted media freedom and freedom of speech, particularly focused on the broadcast press, by offering a series of training and speaker opportunities over the course of the year. The United States also provided a large grant to the community radio association to conduct conferences and training for community radio operators so that they might provide an alternative to the government-owned or controlled broadcast media. The U.S. programs in the country brought a former FCC commissioner to the country for a two-week program to advise the Thai on the importance of neutral media regulators. The United States also translated and distributed a variety of publications related to press freedom, including the Handbook of Independent Journalism and the Unfettered Press.
Following the September 19 coup, the United States initiated programs to address press restrictions. A press organization received a U.S. grant to hold a conference on democracy and broadcast media freedom, create a publication, hold legislative drafting workshops, and promote broadcast media freedom in general. Another journalist association received U.S. support to hold a series of training seminars and instruction manuals aimed at investigative journalists interested in reporting on corruption and other issues. The United States also provided assistance to an NGO to assist in the production of media reform proposals.
Immediately after September 19, the military imposed martial law and placed restrictions on various civil liberties, including a ban on gatherings of more than five people for a political purpose and the prohibition of political activities at local levels. The United States urged the military at its highest level to lift martial law and restore civil liberties as soon as possible; restrictions on gatherings of more than five people were repealed in November. On November 28, the interim government announced that it would lift martial law in 41 of the country's 76 provinces. However, at year's end 35 provinces remained under martial law.
The United States supported a resident legal adviser in the country who effectively developed and participated in seminars dealing with intellectual property enforcement, witness protection, plea bargains, and obstruction of justice issues. The United States also supported the development of rule of law by continuing an annual grant to a lawyer's organization that cosponsored workshops and seminars with U.S. officials aimed at comparing and improving ethics codes for lawyers, prosecutors, and judges, as well as a regional conference on combating judicial corruption. To address corruption issues, the United States worked with the government in an effort to bring an end to the personal cash rewards system for law enforcement officers.
The United States helped to enhance the legal, professional, and technical capabilities of government institutions. In an ongoing example of bilateral partnership, the United States and the government continued to comanage the Bangkok-based International Law Enforcement Academy, a U.S.-funded regional training center for police, immigration, customs, and other law enforcement officials. During the year the academy hosted courses that addressed regional issues such as human trafficking, combating terrorism, leadership development, police accountability, and forensic investigation. All curricula focused on 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 U.S. Government continued to send Thai police officers for advanced training in the United States, which included U.S. and international standards for human rights as related to law enforcement.
The United States continued to raise concerns over the lack of progress in prosecuting those responsible for human rights abuses, including during the Tak Bai incident of October 2004 and the Krue Se Mosque Incident of April 2004. The government has not yet prosecuted those responsible for the possible extrajudicial killings of at least 1,300 suspected drug traffickers during the 2003 "war on drugs" campaign. On December 14, the Department of Special Investigations under the Ministry of Justice reopened four of these cases. The interim prime minister traveled to the south on November 2 and offered a public apology for abuses at the hands of security officers. The United States continued to urge the government at the highest levels to respect human rights and take appropriate legal action to punish responsible officials and end practices that allow security forces to operate with impunity.
The United States supported the efforts of the National Reconciliation Commission, headed by former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, which sought to address underlying causes of the violence in the south. The now-defunct commission released its findings in June. To reach out to the Muslim community in the far south, U.S. officials sent 32 citizens, including nine Muslims and 13 women, to the United States to learn about key issues including multiculturalism and religious tolerance in the United States, human trafficking, media freedom, conflict resolution, civic activism, and human rights. The United States increased activity at the five American Corners in the country, three of which are located in the far south, through continued personal outreach, funding, and purchases of new computers, enabling persons living outside of the capital to learn more about U.S. society and culture. U.S. officials gave speeches on subjects such as U.S. human rights policy, U.S. democracy, and U.S. values (religious tolerance and freedom of expression) during visits to universities and in digital video conferences with the American Corners. The U.S. speakers program also brought in speakers to address issues such as human trafficking and counterterrorism, as well as a visit by a Thai-American imam to discuss Muslim life in the United States with Muslim audiences around the country. U.S. officials also distributed reference materials, including the Arab-language versions of the Principles of Democracy, in an effort to increase outreach to the non-Thai speaking communities who studied Arabic in the south.
The United States supported a local NGO that educated hill tribe villagers about their legal rights and helped those persons entitled to full citizenship to apply for it. The NGO created a comprehensive database of villagers and their biographic information in order to help track pending cases. 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, which makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation, such as government corruption and human trafficking. With the creation of this project's database, more than 100 hill tribe villagers obtained citizenship by year's end.
The United States continued to press the government at the very highest levels to use its influence with the Burmese regime to push for positive democratic change and the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. The U.S. Government translated the Burma Country Report on Human Rights into Thai and held forums with university students in an effort to raise awareness of this issue.
The United States, in conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other international organizations, maintained close contacts with Burmese refugees, political activists, and NGOs in the country. 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-Burma 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 the High Commissioner's operations in East Asia that included protection of Burmese refugees in the country. The United States also advocated for the humanitarian treatment of ethnic Hmong from Laos living in the north. U.S. officials urged the government to allow the UN access to the Hmong to determine whether any have valid refugee claims. The United States also continued its program to resettle Burmese refugees and ethnic Hmong living with unofficial status in the country.
During the year, there were no instances of restrictions to religious freedom. However, at the end of 2005, U.S. officials received complaints from Hmong refugees that graves at their former refuge in Thailand were being desecrated. The Wat Tham Krabok monastery had originally provided a portion of its land to the refugees for their use as a cemetery, but removed the bodies after the cemetery expanded beyond the allocated plot and the decomposing bodies reportedly contaminated ground water. U.S. officials urged the local Thai authorities to practice cultural sensitivity in their treatment of these graves.
On numerous occasions, U.S. officials urged the government to support Burmese migrant workers' rights. In January 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 legal protections to those workers.
Trafficking in persons for commercial sexual exploitation and labor remained serious problems. The United States supported more than a dozen government agencies and NGOs involved in combating trafficking and helping 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 human trafficking victims willing to return to their country of origin. The number of trafficking cases reported in the north has decreased over the past three years as a result of increased attention devoted to this issue. 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. One outcome of this program is that Cambodian street children used for forced begging and repatriated from Thailand are now thoroughly screened and provided with psychosocial counseling before being reunited with their families.
Vietnam is a single-party authoritarian state ruled by the Communist Party. The government's human rights record remained unsatisfactory and some local government officials continued to commit severe abuses; however, there was an increase in grassroots political and labor related activities, which the government generally tolerated. The government released the only remaining religious prisoner to have been incarcerated for reasons solely connected to his faith. It also released all but two remaining political prisoners of concern. The government continued to significantly restrict freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association during the year, but eased restrictions on freedom of religion. Vietnam continued to censor domestic media, sporadically blocked foreign radio stations and websites, and denied citizens the right to form independent organizations.
The United States promoted the development of human rights and democracy in the country by consistently focusing attention on areas of concern. At the same time, the United States supported good governance and legal reforms necessary for country's integration into the global economy. In addition, U.S. officials maintained close contact with the country's 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 and multilateral meetings at all levels, including during the visit of the President in November. In February, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Barry F. Lowenkron, led a delegation to Hanoi to resume the bilateral human rights dialogue which was previously suspended due to lack of progress in 2002.
The United States promoted democracy at the grassroots level in the country by pressing the government to respect the right of citizens to peacefully express their views. The government granted two amnesties over the course of the year, and a number of prisoners of concern were released, including four prominent political prisoners. They and others who were released had been the subject of long-term U.S. Government advocacy efforts. The United States also encouraged the government to grant greater freedom of movement and activity to recently released political activists and to protect these individuals from violence and discrimination. In addition to leading the U.S. delegation at the human rights dialogue in February, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor returned to Hanoi in October to urge Government officials to follow-up with human rights reforms and press for greater political freedom.
Though citizens had no right to change their government and no true elections were held during the year, the United States closely monitored Communist Party debates in the period leading up to the April Party Congress concerning possible political reforms and continued reduction of the party's preeminent role in society. Throughout the year, U.S. officials also closely monitored the status of a nascent political opposition movement, comprised of various activists who established new political advocacy groups with the aim of promoting peaceful political change.
The United States supported media freedom and freedom of speech through comprehensive outreach programs to Vietnamese officials and journalists. For example, in October, the U.S. Government worked to develop an exchange program for the country's television senior current affairs journalist and his producer. A prominent Foreign Affairs reporter was also nominated to participate in the prestigious Georgetown Leadership Seminar and two other journalists for Foreign Press Center reporting tours. 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. U.S. officials also maintained close contact with government and party officials during sessions of the National Assembly to encourage greater emphasis on freedom of expression in the country's legislation and the operation of the Assembly.
The United States supported the development of civil society and freedom of assembly and association in the country through direct advocacy by senior officials for revisions to the draft law on associations. The United States also funded programs aimed at building the capacity of civil society institutions, including NGOs working in a number of development areas. During the year, these programs included funding to empower women, civil society advocates, and journalists with Internet organization skills.
The United States promoted the development of a transparent and responsive legal system in the country through rule of law programs related to reform of the judicial system and the development of new legislation and regulations. The United States continued to fund a program to 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 and the country's WTO commitments. Among the activities supported by this program during the year were the development of eight legal and institutional improvements in the country's court operations, the training of 170 Ministry of Justice personnel through 40 policy workshops, and the establishment of 13 public fora for national legislators to discuss legal and regulatory reform. As a result of these efforts, five new laws were passed by the National Assembly and 12 legal, regulatory, and institutional actions were taken to improve the country's implementation or compliance with international trade and investment agreements. In December, a U.S. government sponsored International Visitor program for nine senior National Assembly officials met with U.S. government and non-governmental organizations and learned the complexities of the local, state, and federal lawmaking process. The United States also hosted several U.S. speakers on judicial and legal reform issues. These guest speakers addressed lawyers, judges and law students at various venues to promote and expand the understanding of the U.S. legal system.
U.S. diplomats closely monitored a politically motivated prosecution and deportation in Ho Chi Minh City. Throughout the year, U.S. diplomats, including Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Barry F. Lowenkron, encouraged the government to promote due process for its citizens by abolishing Administrative Decree 31, which allows government officials to detain and imprison individuals without a trial. In November and December, the government committed to rescinding the decree and pledged to act on this by year's end.
U.S. diplomats in Ho Chi Minh City extensively investigated one credible allegation of an extrajudicial killing during the year. The United States helped combat violations of the rights of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities, primarily through advocating consistent application of existing laws that protect individual rights. U.S. officials and six U.S. Cabinet-level visitors to the country 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 the country 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, the government committed to address a number of important religious freedom concerns. During the year, U.S. officials at all levels and the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, John Hanford, encouraged the government to carry through with these commitments under the exchange of letters, particularly in the area of recognition of new religious organizations and registration of sub-congregations of previously recognized faiths. The Ambassador for Religious Freedom also participated in the human rights dialogue and made follow-up visits to the country in order to press for greater progress.
In November, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice removed the country from the list of "Countries of Particular Concern" for continued violations of religious freedom in recognition of the significant progress the government made in easing restrictions on and facilitating religious worship by its citizens. Restrictions remain on religious worship for some ethnic minority Protestant groups in the Central Highlands, and the slow progress in registration of Protestant groups in the Northwest Highlands continued to be a focus of U.S. diplomatic efforts. The U.S. government sponsored an International Visitors Leadership Program for four provincial officials and members of the Committee on Religious Affairs to examine religious freedom in the United States, which offered them a unique opportunity to meet with U.S. Government officials, NGOs, and faith-based organizations.
The United States, through continued advocacy of international labor standards and through targeted programs aimed at helping victims of trafficking in persons, domestic violence, and discrimination helped to combat trafficking, supported efforts against child labor, promoted employment access for the disabled, strengthened government institutions, and improved worker/management relations. The United States encouraged the government to ratify additional International Labor Organization conventions addressing worker's 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. To combat trafficking, the United States sponsored international NGOs that operated two shelters for trafficking victims repatriated from Cambodia and China and vulnerable populations at risk of trafficking, and conducted anti-trafficking training for law enforcement institutions. Other programs assisted in the re-integration of 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 human trafficking issues with their government counterparts, and U.S. officials played an important role in coordinating and focusing the international community's response to the trafficking problem in the country.