"The Lebanese people are determined to build a strong state: a state which can reclaim the position of Lebanon as a haven of moderation, where tolerance and enlightenment triumph over fanaticism, ignorance and oppression; where individual initiative and potential can be fulfilled; a state that rekindles the beacon of freedom and democracy in Lebanon where justice and the rule of law prevail."
--Fouad Siniora, Prime Minister of Lebanon
Despite sobering challenges in the Middle East and North Africa, citizens, civil society organizations and some governments continued to call for greater personal and political freedoms.
Beyond elections and more open political processes in countries like Kuwait and Morocco, civil society groups are mobilizing throughout the region as never before, women are becoming more aware of and acting upon their rights, and there is increased discussion of reform.
The yearly Forum for the Future has become the centerpiece of the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) Initiative, which brings the G8 and European nations together with governments, businesses, and civil society organizations of the region to strengthen democracy and prosperity. The U.S. has continued to provide targeted financial and sustained diplomatic support to this multilateral initiative.
The 2006 Forum witnessed unprecedented participation of civil society organizations, including nearly 50 civil society leaders representing hundreds of NGOs from 16 countries in the BMENA region. Secretary Rice's attendance at the Forum underscored the United States' deep commitment to advancing reform in the region. Civil society organizations and their respective governments made presentations on the progress of initiatives relating to the rule of law, transparency, women's and youth empowerment, and the legal environment for non-governmental organizations. The Foundation for the Future, which was announced at the 2005 Forum, organized a board of directors that has highlighted the rule of law, independent media, women's empowerment, and civic education as program priorities and will begin issuing grants directly to civil society organizations this winter.
In many areas of the Middle East, specifically among the Arab Gulf states, women have been able to exercise greater political rights than ever before, with several notable 'firsts' taking place in 2006. Kuwaiti women now have greater political rights and ran for office and voted for their parliament for the first time this past fall. In 2006 the United Arab Emirates held its first ever elections for half the Federal National Council seats and elected a woman to the Council. Eight additional women were appointed bringing the total female participation in the Council to approximately 22%. Women also played an active part in the political process in Bahrain, participating as candidates and voters in parliamentary elections.
As President Bush said in his 2007 State of the Union Address, "Our goal is a democratic Iraq that upholds the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides them security, and is an ally in the war on terror." In working toward this end, in 2006 the United States supported programming which strengthens democratically oriented political parties and provides leadership and advocacy training to Iraqi women, thereby equipping women to more fully participate in the political process. Another U.S. program in Iraq worked toward the development of a vibrant civil society by providing human rights education and helping to develop human rights NGOs.
The United States utilizes a variety of tools to promote and support democracy and human rights across the region. Our work ranged from educating and training Egyptian women on how to obtain ID cards and then register to vote so that they could participate in a democratic electoral process, to helping establish community centers in rural Jordan for women to learn advocacy skills, mobilization techniques, and methods for identifying community needs. U.S. funded programming includes strengthening the rule of law, helping improve women's political participation, supporting reconciliation of atrocities and missing persons, strengthening independent media, developing anti-corruption programs, and supporting labor and union organizing.
In addition, we consistently stand in solidarity with, and advocate on behalf of, human rights activists, the indigenous voices for reform across the region who are detained or harassed for defending those rights in all countries in the region, be it Iran and Syria or Egypt and Tunisia. The United States defends the rights of individuals who have been banned from travel for championing human rights and reform within their country, and for individuals who seek to end abuses against minorities. We also defend those who desire to exercise their freedom of belief and worship according to the dictates of their conscience.
The United States uses its bilateral and multilateral relationships to promote democracy and human rights throughout the region, including working to advance United Nations (UN) and other international resolutions supporting the struggle for human rights. For the fourth year in a row, the United States co-sponsored and actively supported a resolution that passed in the UN General Assembly's 61st Plenary condemning the human rights situation in Iran.
The United States promotes religious freedom and advocates for tolerance in the Middle East and North Africa. Egypt's failure to redress longstanding legal discrimination against Copts - the region's largest Christian minority - and refusal to grant Baha'is valid identity documents continue to raise concern. As a result of bilateral discussions in 2006, the Government of Saudi Arabia confirmed its policies on religious practice and tolerance, including halting the dissemination of intolerant literature and extremist ideology, both within Saudi Arabia and around the world. The U.S.-Saudi Strategic Dialogue Working Group seeks to promote mutual understanding between the United States and Saudi Arabia by addressing issues of bilateral concern and increasing exchanges between the two countries. Along with the international community, the United States continues to advocate for greater religious freedom for all religious groups in Iran. Significant challenges remain as both Saudi Arabia and Iran were designated Countries of Particular Concern for continued severe violations of religious freedom.
The United States actively promotes labor rights in the context of free trade agreements in the Middle East. Pursuant to free trade negotiations with the United States, in 2006 Oman passed a number of far-reaching reforms to its 2003 Labor Law. Under the reforms, workers now are allowed to organize unions, conduct peaceful strikes, and engage in collective bargaining - freedoms that were unimaginable just one year earlier. In the same context, Bahrain is in the process of modifying its sponsorship system to make it easier for workers to move legally from one employer to another, which in turn will encourage employers to improve working conditions. Bahrain banned retaliatory dismissal of employees for trade union activities and is revising its labor code to conform to International Labor Organization standards. In addition to new antitrafficking legislation, the United Arab Emirates worked to rescue, rehabilitate, and repatriate more than 1,000 children who had worked as camel jockeys, with the last known case of a child being used as a jockey occurring in March 2005.
Empowering Egyptian Women for Advocacy, Access and Action
Around the world, the United States is partnering with indigenous voices for reform, to ensure that women have a role in the political discourse.
In Egypt, the United States funded an extraordinary program through Catholic Relief Services (CRS) called Empowering Egyptian Women for Advocacy, Access and Action, which helped rural Egyptian women register and obtain national identity cards and voter registration. The goal of the project was to empower poor and marginalized women at the grassroots level in two governorates (Sohag and Qayoubia) to participate fully in political and civic life.
By the end of the project, the Egyptian Government had issued 61,100 ID cards, 6,975 birth certificates, and 27,433 voter registration cards to women in rural areas—resulting in civic benefits while also meeting a tangible social need for Egyptian women to obtain proof of their birth and identity. For example, one Egyptian woman, abandoned by her husband for 10 years without an ID or marriage certificate, was able to take her case to court and prove that she was eligible for the government's social pension. She is now receiving monthly payments.
The program also employed seminars and awareness campaigns about citizenship, leadership skills, voter rights, and legal and cultural barriers which exclude women from full political participation and civic life.
The lasting implications of this program will be felt for decades as the women who obtained ID cards through this program have been able to claim inheritances, receive a deceased husband's pension, register for literacy classes, find formal employment, obtain passports, formally register as married, and obtain government health insurance, loans, and voting cards. Some of the women who participated in the program even went on to run for elective local office, and may well be among Egypt's future leaders.
Algeria is a multiparty republic governed by a president elected by popular vote to a five-year term. President Bouteflika was reelected in April 2004 from among five other candidates in a generally transparent election in which the military remained neutral. Aspects of the human rights situation in Algeria have improved. The president pardoned journalists convicted of defamation; the police required formalized human rights training; and local governments began providing death certificates and compensation to some family members of the thousands of persons who disappeared while in detention during the 1990s. However, problems remained. The government failed to account fully for the thousands of disappeared. There continued to be credible reports of abuse and torture; progress was slow on judicial reforms; and the government continued to place restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. Other problems included limitations on religious freedom, including increased regulation of non-Muslim worship; discrimination against women; and restrictions on workers' rights.
U.S. human rights and democracy goals included the realization of a democratic, transparent, and accountable political system with full respect for the rule of law. The United States sought to accomplish these goals through targeted programs and technical assistance, as well as through sustained diplomatic engagement. These programs aimed to promote reform of public institutions and governing practices and increased participation by civil society organizations in the political process.
U.S. officials emphasized at every opportunity the importance of democratic practices with government officials, members of political parties, civil society, and the media. The United States provided technical assistance aimed at promoting democratic practices, in addition to programs that educated voters and encouraged the participation of women in politics and their communities. The United States funded programs that exposed members of parliament to U.S. democratic principles. International Visitor Leadership Programs contributed to the development of political parties and candidates and promoted the participation of youth in the political process. The United States also encouraged youth involvement in the political process through a program utilizing a roundtable series for political parties.
The United States underscored the importance of freedom of the press in both private and public exchanges with high-ranking government officials and nongovernmental leaders. In July President Bouteflika pardoned 200 journalists convicted of defamation. Following the pardon, U.S. officials continued to encourage the decriminalization of defamation. To encourage and support press freedom, the United States sponsored training on responsible journalism and greater coverage of critical issues.
U.S.-funded programs aimed to strengthen civil society organizations and promote freedom of association through a program focused on the country's law of association. Algerian participants attended the Forum for the Future preparatory meeting on NGO law reform, and one was elected to represent Arab civil society on this issue at the Forum itself. U.S. officials met regularly with members of civil society organizations.
The United States promoted reform and independence of the judiciary with projects that encouraged judicial reforms, anticorruption efforts, and greater adherence to the rule of law. These efforts included a program aimed at improving the business environment in Algeria by training judges and supporting efforts to increase transparency on commercial law issues. Through another program, the United States expanded training for judges and students at the National Institute for Magistrates and supported work on establishing a code of ethics for judges.
The United States encouraged improved human rights practices and protections throughout Algerian society and governmental institutions. U.S. officials met frequently with human rights NGOs and government officials dealing with human rights and placed particular emphasis on issues related to President Bouteflika's National Reconciliation Plan. A U.S.-funded program focused on building the capacity of civil society, including the media, by providing training and facilitating information-sharing among local NGOs. The United States supported governmental efforts to integrate human rights principles and practices fully into professional training for the security forces. Over 30 individuals participated in seminars that covered human rights issues and civilian control of the military. The United States sponsored the participation of a specialist in international human rights at a UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization conference held in Oran. In addition, the U.S.-funded film Les Citoyennes promoted the rights of Algerian women by encouraging their equal participation in society.
The United States continued its dialogue on religious freedom with the High Islamic Council, the Council of Algerian Religious Scholars, and representatives of moderate Islamic political parties. The Ambassador raised with the religious affairs minister concerns about the rights of non-Muslim worshipers following the adoption of Ordinance 06-03.
Algeria is a transit and destination country for persons subject to sexual and labor exploitation. The government did not comply fully with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. U.S. officials continued to raise concerns about trafficking in persons with the government, particularly the need to screen and protect victims, and encouraged the government to follow through on its promises to establish an antitrafficking office.
Bahrain is a monarchy led by King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa. In 2002 the country adopted a constitution that reinstated a bicameral legislature consisting of a 40-member Shura Council (consultative) appointed by the king and a 40-member elected Council of Representatives (Nuwab). Parliament has the authority to propose and review legislation; however, the king, as head of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, holds most legislative authority. Citizens over the age of 20 have the right to vote. Political parties are not permitted under the law, but in July 2005 the government passed legislation that legalized political societies that function somewhat like political parties. The country held parliamentary and municipal elections in November and December, and all registered political societies participated, including four opposition political societies that boycotted the 2002 legislative elections. Election observers did not report significant problems during the voting itself, although there were allegations of some manipulation, particularly related to the general polling stations. Both Shi'a and Sunni citizens were represented in the government, including the first Shi'a deputy prime minister in the recently-formed cabinet.
Among the most serious human rights challenges were reports of discrimination against the Shi'a majority population in leadership positions and the need for greater transparency in the political process. The lack of respect for the one-person, one-vote principle inherent to democracy remained a problem. The judiciary lacked full independence. Discrimination against women and third-country nationals continued. During the year the government prohibited at least one U.S.-based democracy non-governmental organization (NGO) from continuing to work in the country. The government also infringed on the privacy rights of citizens and in some cases restricted freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association.
Advancing human rights and democracy in the country was a U.S. priority. The United States promoted the rule of law, greater political participation, freedom of the press, judicial reform, civil society development, labor rights, the protection of foreign workers, and actions to combat trafficking in persons. U.S. officials regularly met with officials in the country to advocate respect for human rights and a proactive approach to democratization. U.S. officials also met with civil society activists and representatives from a range of political societies, including the opposition, and encouraged their participation in the political process.
U.S. diplomatic efforts and programs worked to strengthen the democratic movement leading up to the November and December municipal and parliamentary elections. The United States engaged political societies in dialogue and encouraged them to be involved in the political process and voice their concerns within the system. The opposition is represented in the new parliament (18 of 40 seats) and is working within the democratic process to address the concerns of their constituents. The United States sponsored efforts to help the country's political societies strengthen their institutional capacity and transparency and to assist civil society initiatives. The United States provided resources to civil society groups to train volunteer election observers and conduct public awareness campaigns that discouraged vote-buying and educated the public about the confidentiality of the vote. U.S. experts held trainings on election processes, suggested ways to increase election transparency, and conducted campaign training for women candidates. A U.S. program sponsored a delegation composed of representatives of government and political societies to visit the United States to observe the U.S. midterm election process.
The U.S. Government focused on civic education initiatives as a key to long term consolidation of democracy in the country. A Civic Education Program trained more than 100 Ministry of Education officials and teachers on a curriculum that focused on the value of participation in the community and in government, individual responsibility, and collective problem solving. Approximately 1,000 students in 18 secondary schools participated in the Arab Civitas Project Citizen program.
Freedom of expression and press liberties were priorities for the United States in the country. U.S.-funded programs trained journalists in investigative journalism and on the role of media in society and worked to promote broader and more balanced reporting on political and social issues. One program designed specifically for the elections focused on the ethics of press coverage and balanced reporting. Participants discussed components of an effective code of conduct for election coverage, and the principles of the training were evident in subsequent reporting on the elections. The U.S. Government regularly sponsored journalists on International Visitor Leadership Programs to study the role of the media in a democracy and the responsibilities of an investigative journalist.
The United States promoted a free and robust civil society and freedoms of association and assembly through diplomacy and assistance programs. U.S. officials met regularly with leaders of various civil society organizations focused on human rights, women's rights, youth, labor, protection of domestic workers, and transparency in government. The U.S. established an additional embassy position in order to better outreach to NGOs and support civil society programs. In September a U.S. expert conducted a workshop on NGO management to increase civil society capacity. In addition, U.S. officials met with government officials to discuss new U.S.-developed guiding principles for NGOs.
Judicial reform was another U.S. priority that was supported through a multi-faceted project facilitating programs in the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs. The United States continued to support the development of the country's Judicial and Legal Studies Institute through targeted consultation with institute leadership to develop a strategic plan and standard operating procedures for the institute. Throughout the year the project sponsored a series of trainings and workshops using outside experts, including a media course for judges, a workshop to develop a judicial code of conduct, a review of appellate court procedures, and an election monitoring seminar. The project continued to train lawyers and judges in Alternative Dispute Resolution that resulted in the resolution of some previously intractable cases. Training for judges on the newly-automated case management system continued.
U.S. programs promoted women's rights and progress in the country. In March the joint-sponsored regional women's conference highlighted the successful progress of women in legal, political, and economic reform. Women from across the Arab world participated, including scores of Bahraini women, who gained practical tools to encourage further reform in their respective countries. A U.S.-funded NGO began to coordinate with the country's reformers in the area of family law legislation to develop strategies to build grassroots support for family law reform. U.S. officials reached out to encourage human rights organizations and activists, including women and youth, to network and leverage their efforts in this area.
The United States promoted and monitored religious freedom through regular meetings with representatives of different sects and faiths. U.S. officials supported Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs programs promoting moderation and tolerance in religious discourse and cross-cultural communication. To that end, four clerics visited the United States which enabled them to meet their religious leader counterparts in the United States as well as their counterparts from other religions. To foster better relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, the United States sponsored the Ramadan visit to the country of a prominent American imam, who is the president of the Islamic Affairs Council of Maryland. He met with clerics, government officials, and members of the public, delivered lectures, and gave interviews to the local media to promote tolerance and moderation.
According to recent statistics, 57 percent of the country's work force is composed of expatriates. Some foreign workers, particularly household workers, were victims of human trafficking. The government opened a shelter to protect victims of both trafficking and domestic abuse. U.S. diplomatic efforts focused on this and the need for labor law protection for foreign household workers. U.S. programs provided consultation on antitrafficking legislation and training to increase awareness about trafficking to a diverse audience, including government officials, civil society representatives, and members of the business and labor communities.
The Arab Republic of Egypt has been governed by the National Democratic Party since 1978. In September 2005, President Hosni Mubarak won a fifth 6-year term, with 88 percent of the vote, in the country's first multi-party presidential election, a landmark event that was otherwise marred by low voter turnout and charges of fraud. The government's respect for human rights and the overall human rights situation remained poor. Significant human rights problems included limitations on citizens' ability to change the government and broad use of a decades-old Emergency Law, including the use of emergency courts and indefinite administrative detentions. Human rights organizations and independent observers questioned the government's commitment to protecting and expanding human rights as a result of several events, including the imprisonment of an opposition leader, Ayman Nour; persistent and credible reports of abuse and torture at police stations and in prisons; and police violence against protestors, including during May demonstrations in support of judicial independence. The government remained publicly committed to a program of political reform, but did not make significant progress during the year. Human rights groups and other independent observers criticized new laws restricting the press and the judiciary. A culture of impunity discouraged prosecution of security personnel who committed human rights abuses. There were arbitrary and sometimes mass arrests and detentions, poor prison conditions, executive influence over the judiciary, restrictions on religious freedom, corruption, a lack of transparency, and societal discrimination against women and religious minorities, including Christians and Baha'is.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy addressed human rights problems and supported efforts to build a more robust civil society, promote the rule of law, and encourage the growth of democratic institutions, including an independent media. On February 21 in Cairo, the secretary of state reiterated the U.S. position that "Egypt, which has so often led this region in times of decision, needed to be an important voice in leading this region again as it faces questions of democracy and reform." While noting positive changes in 2005 and "a president who has sought the consent of the governed," the secretary further remarked that, "There have been disappointments and setbacks as well, and we have talked candidly about those because the United States comes to discuss these issues as a friend, not as a judge...But this is a country of greatness and this region needs this country to be at the center of positive change." On May 21 in Sharm El Sheikh, the deputy secretary of state said the United States urged the government to "follow through" on its political reform plans and reiterated U.S. concerns about the conviction and imprisonment of opposition politician Ayman Nour in December 2005. He criticized the government's use of security forces against the political opposition but also urged opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood to make clear their commitment to following a democratic process and to nonviolent solutions. Other senior U.S. officials urged the government throughout the year to lift the Emergency Law and implement other critical political reforms. In official exchanges, senior officials raised U.S. concerns about civil society development, political participation (including electoral reform), and basic political rights, including the imprisonment of opposition leader Ayman Nour.
The United States promoted a democratic, open, and participatory political process through diplomacy and technical assistance. U.S. programs focused on promoting greater participation, accountability, and transparency for Egypt's elections. U.S. democracy programs supported international and local NGOs working to improve Egypt's electoral processes. Major U.S. nongovernmental democracy institutes continued their programs for the first six months of the year, assessing assistance needs of political parties, facilitating discussions on electoral administration, and assisting in the development of an alternative election law. In June, the government ordered the suspension of these activities—on the grounds that they had not yet received legal status in Egypt. As a result these groups were unable to continue their work in support of electoral reform and political party strengthening. With U.S. support, local NGOs worked to sustain the engagement of election monitors trained in 2005 by using them to document inaccuracies in voter registers and to advocate for an effective voter registration system.
The United States promoted freedom of speech and of the press. Local media, opposition figures, and civil society were able to voice strong public criticism of the government and its policies. However, these freedoms were challenged during the year by several defamation lawsuits against outspoken independent journalists, as well as the passage of a new press law, which allows for imprisonment of journalists who "vilify" heads of state and for levying harsh penalties against journalists and bloggers whose writings are judged by the government to have spread false news or disturbed public order. The United States continued its efforts to promote greater independence and professionalism in the media and to assist Egyptian television, radio, print, and electronic media to improve professionalism, sustainability, and diversity. Several grants to local NGOs complemented these activities by documenting and countering instances of intolerance and hate speech in the print media, providing legal support to journalists, supporting freedom of expression, and using the media to promote civic participation.
To strengthen civil society, the United States supported local organizations working on human rights, religious tolerance, and women's and children's issues. Several dozen small grants supported local, grassroots initiatives, including training for youth activists, support for both model parliamentary workshops and a model U.S. Congress program at Cairo University, legal systems training and exchanges for lawyers and judges, civic education summer camps, and programs focused on women's and children's rights. The International Visitors Leadership Program supported exchanges on civil society, as well as human rights, good governance, the media, elections, and women's rights. Other grants supported advocacy by domestic NGOs in support of judicial independence and anti-corruption. The United States provided two grants to the NGO Support Center to build the capacity of local democracy NGOs in proposal development and project implementation and to promote business social responsibility and collaboration between NGOs and the business community at the community level.
The United States supported lawyers and civil society advocates to improve the legal and political environment for civil society and facilitate NGO registration. Other significant grants promoted the efforts of NGOs to increase citizen awareness and political participation throughout Egypt. These programs focused particularly on women and youth. They helped citizens seek accountability from elected and appointed government officials at the national and local levels.
U.S. programs continued to support nationwide reform of the judicial system, with a pilot program streamlining court procedures and enhancing judicial transparency. The bilateral assistance agreement also initiated a program to provide more effective counsel to criminal defendants and improve administration of criminal justice through development of a public defense system and a human rights curriculum for prosecutors and judges as well as automation of selected areas of the prosecutor general's office. Under an ongoing criminal justice project with the prosecutor general's office, Egyptian judges and prosecutors visited the United States to study best practices and network with U.S. federal judges. The United States expanded its involvement in the rule of law by initiating a program to build the capacity of the Council of State, which oversees the Administrative Courts. The program will strengthen the competency of State Council members and administrative officers in several legal areas and share international experience in comparable areas of administrative justice.
In support of an Egyptian government initiative, the United States provided support for improved public accountability, in order to improve the quality, transparency, and scope of dissemination of government budgets; strengthen the government's capacity to promote public accountability and transparency; increase public understanding and exposure to transparent budgets; and improve public awareness and understanding of corruption.
The United States funded a number of human rights initiatives, including reaching an agreement with the National Council for Human Rights to undertake a media campaign to build a culture of human rights. With U.S. support, two other councils will strengthen legislation and regulations that protect the rights of women and children. U.S.-funded civil society organizations responded to acts of violence against women and children. Local NGOs produced human rights books for children and integrated human rights education into university programs.
The United States promoted religious freedom for all and raised specific concerns about the issue of the government requiring notation of religious affiliation on national identity cards, a practice that discriminates against citizens who wish to convert away from Islam and members of religions not recognized by the Government. U.S. officials also raised concerns about discrimination against the country's Christians, Baha'is, and other religious minorities. U.S. officials maintained excellent relations with representatives of the country's various religious communities.
There were reports that Egypt was used as a transit country into Israel for women trafficked for sexual exploitation. The Embassy also worked to support media attention to the issue of trafficking in persons.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic, constitutional republic dominated by Shi'a religious leaders. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dominates the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, directly controls the armed forces, and controls internal security forces. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a four-year term after a flawed election in 2005 and heads the executive branch. The unelected 12-member Guardian Council and parliamentary electoral committees screened candidates for the December 15 Assembly of Experts and Municipal Council elections respectively, disqualifying hundreds of reformist candidates as well as some hardliners. The election of a conservative and ideologically driven president in 2005, following the seating of a hardline conservative parliament in 2004, negatively impacted the human rights of Iranian citizens. Hardliners opposed to change closed down many reformist newspapers, and continued to pressure and intimidate the media and control the flow of information by other means as well.
During the past year, the government committed a number of serious human rights abuses. Summary executions, denial of fair trials, discrimination based on ethnicity and religion, harassment and arrest of journalists and bloggers, disappearances, extremist vigilantism, widespread use of torture, and other degrading treatment remained problems. The government continued to detain and torture dissidents and individuals exercising freedom of expression, including scores of political prisoners. Bloggers continued to endure arrest and stiff penalties for expressing their ideas on the Internet. There were also reports of executions based on charges of homosexuality, but details remained difficult to verify.
Although the United States does not maintain diplomatic relations with Iran, it continued a multi-faceted effort to support the Iranian people's aspirations to live in a democratic country with an accountable, transparent government that respects the human rights of its citizens. For instance, the United States publicly condemned specific human rights abuses and funded programs to support the efforts of the Iranian people to promote democracy and the respect of human rights. The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy included urging friends and allies to condition improvement in bilateral and trade relations on positive changes in the country's human rights policies. Furthermore, the United States actively supported the UN and other international scrutiny and other resolutions condemning the government's human rights record and practices and publicly highlighted the government's abuse of its citizens' fundamental rights and freedoms. The United States also supported in various ways the continuing efforts of the Iranian people to broaden real political participation and reassert their right to fundamental freedoms.
For the fourth year in a row, the United States cosponsored and actively supported a resolution that passed in the UN General Assembly's 61st Plenary Committee condemning the human rights situation in the country. This sent an important signal to the people and their government that serious concerns regarding the government's overall behavior would not be overshadowed by other concerns regarding Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and support of terrorism.
The United States also regularly raised concerns about the government's poor human rights record in consultations with allies, urging them to raise these concerns during any formal human rights dialogue or other bilateral contact with the government. U.S. policy consistently called for the government to respect the human rights of its citizens, and public statements reflected this core issue. In the run-up to the December Assembly of Experts and Municipal Council elections, the United States issued a statement condemning the disqualification of hundreds of aspiring candidates on purely ideological grounds and the continued crackdown on media outlets. The statement expressed continued support for the Iranian people in their efforts to exercise their basic rights including the freedom of expression and participation in electoral competition. President Bush and senior U.S. officials repeatedly expressed support for the population in its quest for freedom, democracy, and a more transparent and accountable government. U.S. officials reached out to the Iranian people to convey the U.S. message and gave interviews to U.S. and European Persian language media highlighting the Iranian public's aspirations for increased respect for human rights and civil liberties and a more democratic and open government.
Under current law, the country is ineligible for most assistance from the U.S. Government. However, the United States continued to obligate funds for democracy and human rights promotion programs through an Iran-specific appropriation from Congress to promote democracy and human rights. These funds allowed the United States to initiate a wide range of democracy, human rights, educational, and cultural programs, as well as to significantly expand efforts to improve the free flow of information.
Under the limited special authority granted by Congress, the United States renewed a grant to document the abuses of citizens. This program provided subgrants to educational institutions, humanitarian groups, NGOs, and individuals to support the advancement of democracy and human rights. The project sought to raise public awareness of accountability and rule of law as an important component of democratization. This program produced and disseminated a case report illustrating chronic, systemic problems in law enforcement and justice systems. The report examined specific violations of Iranian and international law that occurred and identified numerous structural impediments to accountability for human rights violations, concluding that significant reform of the judicial system is needed to counter ongoing impunity for violators.
In addition to this program, other U.S.-funded programs promoted respect for human rights and advocacy for freedom of assembly, free speech, political participation, independent labor activities, and rule of law. During the past three years, the United States directed funds to projects that promoted respect for human rights, empowered citizens in their call for more representative political participation, and supported NGOs to conduct capacity-building training and to provide technical assistance to domestic NGOs.
In addition, the United States continued to support the advancement of democracy and human rights standards inside the country via Voice of America radio and television broadcasts, a Web site in Persian carrying stories promoting democracy and human rights issues, and Persian-language Radio Farda, which operated 24 hours a day.
U.S. officials regularly met with individuals and members of various groups suffering human rights abuses, documenting incidents for dissemination to other governments and for inclusion in the annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices and the Report on International Religious Freedom. The secretary of state also redesignated Iran as a Country of Particular Concern for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. At the end of the year, a U.S.-funded program documenting abuses inside the country sent to publication a report on the persecution of the Baha'is, exploring how Baha'i religious practice has effectively been criminalized. The report found rising levels of persecution since the 2005 election of President Ahmadinejad and resurgence of other conservative political figures.
Iran was believed to be a source, transit, and destination country for commercial sexual exploitation and labor-related trafficking in persons. Although lack of access prohibited a full assessment of official anti-trafficking efforts, the government took measures to sign memoranda of understanding with source countries and international NGOs to prevent human trafficking. Victims of trafficking in the country reportedly have access to counseling, legal, and health services; however, victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation were vulnerable to arrest, prosecution and sometimes execution for prostitution and adultery. The United States encouraged the government to improve screening of trafficking victims to distinguish them from illegal immigrants and to pursue cooperation with neighboring countries to monitor borders.
Iraq is a republic with a freely elected government. The current administration assumed office on May 20 after the Council of Representatives voted in a unity government comprising the major political parties. The December 2005 elections met international standards for free and fair elections. During the past year, widespread violence prevented effective governance in parts of the country, and the government's human rights performance was handicapped by insurgency and terrorism, sectarian violence, and militia and death squad activity. Elements of the security forces frequently acted independently of governmental authority, committing serious human rights violations. Weak political and governmental institutions, pervasive corruption, and widespread violence continued to impede respect for basic civil liberties. Extrajudicial killings, torture, and other abuses by law enforcement personnel including some members of the Iraqi police went largely unpunished. Some ministries that were engaged in security and counterterrorism operations, such as defense and interior, began to hold their personnel accountable to the rule of law and showed a willingness to investigate and consider appropriate action against offenders. Many women were threatened and intimidated into adopting conservative behavior and dress, with most forced to wear the hijab (veil) in public; honor-related crimes against women increased. Although Islam is the official state religion, the constitution includes protections and guarantees of religious freedom. While the government generally endorsed these rights, its efforts to prevent or remedy violations were hampered by substantial political and sectarian violence, harassment of non-Muslims, and the courts' lack of capacity to adjudicate such claims. Trafficking in persons for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor also remained a serious problem.
To combat these conditions, the United States supported the development of institutional safeguards for democracy and human rights, underscoring the importance of an inclusive, transparent, and responsive government in preventing abuses and ensuring stability. The United States also supported measures to strengthen the justice system and establish greater accountability in government. Toward this goal, the United States employed a variety of diplomatic and programmatic tools in support of good governance, rule of law, institutional capacity, independent media, civil society, human rights, and democracy. Senior U.S. officials promoted the constructive engagement in the political process of all segments of society, including minorities and women.
The United States supported the formation of a unity government, representing political parties from across the spectrum. The United States also supported the inaugural session of the first permanent Council of Representatives and the subsequent constitutional review process. The United States helped establish the Council's Research Directorate and trained a professional staff in legislative research, drafting, and analysis. The United States helped build the capacity of a diverse range of political parties and supported a variety of NGOs conducting advocacy and civic education campaigns.
At the national level, the United States continued to support the elected legislature's development of new processes, rules of procedures, and regulations. The United States also strengthened legislators' capacity to craft legislation, offer constituent services, and strengthen oversight of governmental institutions. The United States funded numerous educational events on the constitution, supported female National Assembly members, as well as provincial and civic leaders advocating constitutional protections for women's rights, and fostered youth participation in the political process.
The United States promoted participatory, representative, and accountable government in rural and urban communities nationwide, working under hostile conditions to prevent and mitigate conflict across gender, ethnic, sectarian, and religious lines. Expansion of U.S. provincial reconstruction teams during the year supported improvements in the rule of law, promoted political and economic development, and fostered improved service capacity in provincial administrations. The United States supported local government capacity-building projects in major cities and all 18 governorates.
The United States further promoted media freedom and development through the establishment of an independent news agency and the training of journalists and media managers on subjects ranging from investigative journalism to strategic media management. U.S. training focused on building skills to produce informative and responsible reporting by a professional, independent press and included regular events at the International Press Center. The United States also supported the development of a civil society media watchdog group that monitors programming on the Independent Media Network.
Civic education programs supported by the United States promoted democratization and civil society development. Training, technical assistance, and outreach to civil society organizations benefited more than 6,000 members of civil society organizations during the year, resulting in organizations better equipped to advocate for good government and human rights protections. Over 250,000 citizens were trained through civic forums and cascading instruction programs to define and exercise their role in democratic practices. Despite rising violence, the United States supported nation-wide reconciliation efforts, working with partner civil society organizations to conduct over 200 workshops and to initiate a reconciliation campaign.
Four civil society resource centers served as regional hubs for capacity-building services for local NGOs, providing training to strengthen operational competencies, enable advocacy and awareness-raising on specific issues, encourage the building of networks and coalitions, and foster inter-institutional policy dialogues and productive engagement between NGOs and the government. In partnership with local organizations, the centers sponsored a variety of anticorruption, independent media, civic education, human rights, and women's advocacy activities. The United States also facilitated broad participation in public dialogues, promoted interaction between citizens and public officials to encourage responsive and accountable local government, and provided start-up resources and training to strengthen the institutional capacity of grassroots organizations.
The United States supported indigenous efforts to strengthen the rule of law and work toward an independent and impartial judicial system. The United States worked closely with the UN and the EU to support a Rule of Law Working Group chaired by the Chief Justice. U.S. programs provided training to judges and funded security measures to protect both judges and witnesses to allow them to remain impartial by remaining free of intimidation. U.S. training and advisory programs were directed at improving the skills of judiciary officials as well as fostering more efficient judicial processes and a culture of lawfulness.
The United States also focused significant resources in strengthening and coordinating anticorruption efforts through the Office of Accountability and Transparency. Through this office the United States supported the inspector general system, the Board of Supreme Audit, and the Commission on Public Integrity. U.S. funding also supported the development of civic organizations such as the National Anti-Corruption Legislative Coalition in its lobbying efforts against corruption. The United States supported the Iraq Property Claims Commission, (now known as the Commission for the Resolution of Real Property Disputes), established in 2004 as an independent commission designed to resolve claims for real property confiscated, forcibly acquired, or otherwise taken for less than fair value by the former regime for reasons other than land reform or lawfully applied eminent domain. U.S. support included a capacity-building program managed by the International Organization for Migration and the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Through bilateral assistance to the Ministry of Displacement and Migration and multilateral assistance to UN partners, the United States also enhanced legal and physical protections for growing numbers of refugees, returnees, and internally displaced persons.
The United States promoted efforts to protect human rights and improve the rule of law climate by focusing on detention facility conditions. In response to complaints of serious prisoner abuse and torture in Interior Ministry facilities, senior U.S. officials encouraged prosecution of those responsible for the abuses and the re-establishment of inspections of all detention facilities by internal affairs units. In response to detention facility overcrowding concerns, the United States continued to invest in the construction of new prison facilities and facilitated the transfer of Ministry of Interior detainees to the Ministry of Justice prison facilities where U.S. prison experts provided critical mentorship on effective management and human rights standards.
The minister of interior requested and the United States incorporated a strong human rights and rule of law component in the training of all police forces. This training has continued as local nationals assumed lead instructor positions at the various police training centers. Police advisors in the field have reinforced principles learned at the academies while mentoring their local counterparts. Additionally, with U.S. support, the Ministry of Interior has begun to implement measures designed to prevent and correct human rights violations, including the investigation, indictment, and dismissal of officers implicated in human rights abuses. These efforts also included Iraqi Police Service applicant screening and background investigations and continued in-service training of local police, National Police, Department of Border Enforcement, and other officers. The United States worked to build capacity to protect human rights both in the government and through NGOs that address human rights issues. U.S. programs supported the opening of the Human Rights Education Center in Baghdad, sponsored human rights workshops for government officials, and supported the establishment of a human rights defenders network. U.S. grants to NGOs fostered treatment and reintegration of victims of torture, spurred collection and documentation of human rights abuses committed by the former regime, enhanced awareness of human rights standards throughout society, and encouraged the development and strengthening of human rights organizations.
The United States placed a high priority on the issue of equality for women, supporting this goal through diplomatic advocacy and programming. The U.S.-funded Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative provided women with training and education in the skills and practices of democratic public life. The U.S.-Iraqi Women's Network, a public-private partnership, linked local NGO representatives and business leaders with American counterparts, strengthening women's skills and enhancing their participation in the political and economic sectors of their country. The United States held workshops for women political leaders and sponsored numerous regional meetings and workshops across the country on women's rights and women in the political process and civil society. The United States also sponsored delegations of Iraqi women to the UN Commission on the Status of Women as well as to U.S.-Arab economic forums aimed at advancing economic empowerment of women.
U.S. officials regularly engaged with religious leaders and government officials to urge that legal protections for minority rights and freedom of religion be respected. The United States supported seminars, conferences, and interfaith dialogue aimed at uniting religious groups against violence and fostering an environment of tolerance, particularly between the Sunnis and Shi'a, as well as towards non-Muslims. U.S.-funded projects brought together members of different religious and ethnic backgrounds to discuss common problems. With U.S. support, community groups were formed with diverse membership, including women and youth, in an effort to promote reconciliation. In ethnically or religiously mixed communities, these community groups included representatives from all segments of society. The Iraqi Institute of Peace, an interfaith dialogue center established with U.S. financial and organizational support, continued to focus on mitigating conflict and building peace primarily through its forum work. These forums targeted specific groups such as women, youth, and the media and focused on human rights and religious dialogue.
The United States acted to prevent trafficking in persons, distributing information and working with officials to increase awareness of trafficking issues.
Jordan is a constitutional monarchy; the constitution concentrates executive and legislative authority in the king. Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit heads the government. During the year the government respected human rights, although its overall record continued to reflect problems. While the government sought to promote social and political reform, progress lagged in some areas. Citizens' right to change their government remained restricted. Official restrictions on the rights of women and societal discrimination against women continued, as did restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion. Citizens participated in the political process through their elected representatives in parliament. The Royal Commission for the National Agenda completed a 10-year comprehensive reform plan, which was in the parliament for review at year's end.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy strives to promote rule of law and legal reform, civil society development, civic participation in the political process, and women's rights. Through a broad portfolio of programs, the United States worked in close collaboration with its Jordanian counterparts to increase citizen participation in the political, economic, and social development of the country; increase the capacity of the parliament to promote transparency and accountability within the institution; strengthen independent media; improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the judicial system; strengthen the rights of women; and increase religious freedom and interfaith dialogue and tolerance. The United States pursued this strategy through direct dialogue with the government, training on rule of law and political participation as well as civilian, government, and military exchanges.
U.S. assistance programs served as a catalyst for democratic reform in the country. Programs helped modernize parliament's research department, strengthened capacities to conduct meaningful monitoring and evaluation of public expenditures, and increased transparency and accountability within key committees of parliament. The United States funded programs to assist political parties in the country, improving the ability of parties to develop platforms, diversify membership, and more effectively advocate for the passage of legislation in line with party values and citizen interests. A U.S. exchange program facilitated the visit of parliamentarians to the United States to study American legislative models and create partnerships with American institutions.
U.S. assistance continued to help field-test civic education modules to educate youth on the responsibilities of citizens in the democratic process. Citizens improved their understanding of democracy and governance through exposure to and participation in numerous U.S.-funded comprehensive outreach projects and exchange visitor programs conducted on democracy, the rule of law, and participation in the legislative process.
The United States launched a comprehensive media professionalization project to support development efforts to strengthen university-level journalist education, media business management practices, and community-level journalism. Several smaller U.S. initiatives provided expertise to local broadcast journalists reporting for the country's leading investigative television and radio broadcast program and sponsored a speaking tour by an American expert on media law on the U.S. courts' experience in handling media cases.
Several efforts, including a number of U.S. exchange programs, worked to strengthen local NGOs. These programs focused on fostering networking and cooperation between groups working to promote democratic reform and human rights norms, and on strengthening their capacities to inform and communicate with national decision-making institutions to encourage reform. U.S. officials regularly attended local NGO activities, regardless of sponsoring agency.
U.S. programs aimed to promote respect for the rule of law and improved court efficiency while simultaneously promoting greater accountability and transparency in the judicial system. U.S. assistance facilitated leading stakeholders to draft and adopt the country's first comprehensive code of judicial conduct. Through U.S. programs, 50 percent of the courts in the country were automated during the year. A new Arabic-language case management system was developed and installed in Amman courts and is scheduled to be extended to all civil and criminal courts in the country over the next two years. Approximately 500 judges and court staff received training on the new automated system. In addition, approximately 350 judges received training in ethics, mediation, media and human rights, and for the first time, judges from rural areas received training through U.S. programs. In June, U.S. programs supported the first court mediation center in the court of Amman, which resulted in over 150 cases settled through mediation.
U.S. programs promoted greater judicial independence through opening dialogue between stakeholders and providing expertise to develop plans towards achieving independence. Programs strengthened capacities of the Ministry of Justice, the Inspectorate and Monitoring Department, and the Jordanian Judicial Institute. Exchanges for lawyers, law students, and Shari'a court judges exposed the country's judiciary to democratic legal institutions and helped to introduce democratic legal models. U.S. programs also introduced alternative dispute resolution and presented a model for criminal justice reform.
The United States continued to work with the quasi-independent National Center for Human Rights, which published its second report on the status of human rights in the country during the year. U.S. assistance designed to advance and promote the role of women in society achieved tangible successes during the year. The U.S.-supported programs promoted advocacy against gender-based abuse, and funded an annual antiviolence campaign with events held throughout the country. The United States supported and organized numerous training and exchange programs, including developing the skills of female trade union leaders and women who led civil society grassroots initiatives outside Amman. Several civil society discussions with female leaders were held during the year, which often coincided with the visits of high profile U.S. officials and civil society leaders.
One of the primary purposes of the U.S. military education and training in the country is to strengthen bilateral relations by exposing members of its military to democratic principles and to raise awareness and respect for human rights. Most of the training offered consisted of short technical courses; however, all long-term courses included seminars on the U.S. government, judiciary, and culture. All Professional Military Education courses included a bloc of instruction on the Law of War. Additionally, the Counterterrorism Fellowship Program taught the country's military personnel how to combat terrorism while respecting the rule of law, human rights, and civil rights. During the year approximately 300 Jordanians received U.S.-funded training through these programs.
Working to promote religious freedom and tolerance, the United States sponsored numerous exchange visits and two major regional conferences that encouraged interfaith dialogue and understanding. A U.S. grant supported exchange visits between Americans of diverse religious backgrounds and Jordanian Shari'a judges, scholars, and students. A multi-year project to strengthen social dialogue and address labor administration and labor-management relations continued during the year. The project included the successful creation of a Jordanian Economic and Social Council and the establishment within the Ministry of Labor of a Tripartite National Committee. Following allegations of trafficking and human rights abuses in factories in the Qualified Industrial Zones, a U.S.-sponsored independent short-term assessment team investigated the working conditions. The United States also provided funding to the NGO Friends of Women Workers, which lended support and assistance to foreign domestic workers in the country. The United States expressed to the government its concern over child labor and trafficking in persons.
Kuwait is a constitutional, hereditary emirate ruled by the Al-Sabah family. The 1962 constitution grants the emir executive authority. The emir shares legislative authority with the elected National Assembly, which can propose legislation independently and must ratify all laws promulgated in the country. The assembly also appoints a prime minister, who then proposes candidates for ministerial positions subject to approval by the emir. The constitution permits dissolution of the elected National Assembly by emiri decree, although it also stipulates that new elections must be held within 60 days of any such dissolution. The emir exercised his constitutional right to dissolve parliament on May 21, and elections were held on June 29. The National Assembly passed a law in 2005 granting women the right to vote and run for office. Women exercised these rights for the first time on April 4 in a race for a vacant seat on the Municipal Council, and again during the June parliamentary elections. Most members of the military and police do not have the right to vote. While not strictly illegal, political parties were effectively banned by the government. Despite the lack of political parties and some reports of vote-buying by both the government and certain candidates, the year's elections were considered generally free and fair by local observers and the press. The National Assembly is able to influence or overturn government decisions. One example was its passage of a major parliamentary redistricting law in July that the government had originally opposed. Kuwaiti law provides for an independent judiciary and the right to a fair trial; however, the emir appoints all judges, and the Ministry of Justice must approve the renewal of most judicial appointments. Civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. A new press law passed in March enabled the licensing of new daily newspapers for the first time in decades. Freedom of worship was protected, although Shi'a Muslims and Christian groups faced difficulties in obtaining permission to build adequate places for worship. Expatriate laborers continued to face significant violations of their human rights due to the country's labor laws and practices. Trafficking in persons and forced labor continued to be a significant human rights issue in the country.
The U.S. strategy for promoting human rights and democracy in the country was multifaceted, involving study tours to the United States, U.S. government outreach, and digital video conferences between Kuwaiti and American students, journalists, subject experts, and government officials. The United States worked to instill the values of democracy and participatory civil society, especially among youth and women, through support of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), participation in the International Visitor Leadership Programs, and educational and training programs. A major focus of the U.S. government's activities during the year was raising awareness about human trafficking in society and among government officials.
During the year the United States took a number of diplomatic and programmatic steps to promote democracy. Three participants went to the United States on a U.S. Government-funded program that helped emerging leaders gain a better understanding of and appreciation for the democratic political process. The program taught young people about American social and political values through a combination of academic study, meetings, lectures, and roundtable discussions with American civic leaders and academics. Students also learned about civic participation through experiential learning, community service, and meeting and engaging with American citizens. A similar program based in the country exposed young Kuwaitis to transparent systems of commerce, rule of law, and participatory governance. English language microscholarship grants were awarded to 115 high school students and helped to instill the values of democracy and civic participation through in-class elections and community service projects.
During the year women voted and ran for office for the first time in the country's history. The United States, in cooperation with nongovernmental partners, provided training to women and men on campaign strategies, including platform development, working with the media, and advocacy. A U.S.-funded program allowed female candidates to have individual sessions with political campaign experts to plan their campaigns. The training also brought a female parliamentarian from another Arab country to share her experiences with Kuwaiti women running for office for the first time. The United States supported the production of nonpartisan radio and television spots and printed materials encouraging women to vote. Approximately 58 percent of eligible female voters voted, but no female candidates won their races. U.S. funding was used during the year to conduct follow-up polling on what contributed to voters' decisions and to see how political views were evolving, which will be a valuable tool for candidates who wish to run issues-based campaigns in future elections.
The U.S. Government engaged in ongoing and frequent discussions with Kuwaiti parliamentarians and government officials to encourage further progress in the development of democracy in the country.
The U.S. strategy to encourage media freedom has been to implement programs that increase reporters' exposure to U.S. counterparts and encourage objective reporting on people, policies, and events. During the year the U.S. Government arranged for two female reporters, one from the state news agency and one from an Arabic-language daily, to participate in a program that explored the role of a free press in democracy and investigated how the media and other entities influence the crafting of foreign policy in the United States.
Another U.S. objective was to support the Kuwaiti Journalists Association's efforts to improve its capacity to provide training for journalists and become a more effective advocate for the profession of journalism. During the country's election season, the United States arranged for an American journalism professor to conduct a two-day workshop on accurate and fair coverage of election campaigns. Twenty-seven print and broadcast journalists attended and learned about ethics, responsibility to the public, how to conduct an interview, and how to present both sides of an issue. Follow-up workshops were conducted later in the year that emphasized basic reporting skills, the role of the media in a democracy, and effective coverage of the parliament. A separate workshop on the role of the media in a democracy was conducted for reporters of the state news agency. These workshops gave journalists and editors tools for better reporting and also helped bring to light the limits imposed on journalists in the country by the new press and publication law's broadly worded restrictions on reporting certain issues.
NGOs in the country operate in a difficult environment, since they are prohibited by law from engaging in overt political behavior. To strengthen the country's NGO community, the United States funded a number of programs through small grants. In one project, a local NGO carried out a study on how the government's budgeting affects women. Another NGO conducted a survey that measured support for women's political rights. In the interest of strengthening civil society, the United States awarded a grant to a local group to produce a series of civic-minded films by young filmmakers. Another U.S.-funded NGO created a summer entrepreneurial and civic action training program for youth.
Several U.S.-funded projects supported the rule of law in the country through International Visitor Leadership Program exchanges. The United States hosted a legal counselor who specializes in women's and human rights issues to learn about the U.S. legal system and to observe it in practice. The program stressed legal frameworks to safeguard the rule of law and fundamental human rights and promoted judicial reform. Another program provided young women in business and law the skills and experience needed to help them grow as professionals and advocate for legal reforms.
The United States promoted religious freedom and tolerance through diplomacy and exchange programs. U.S. officials met with government officials and various religious groups to encourage the government to allow religious groups to establish places of worship adequate to serve their expanding congregations. U.S. officials also worked with the government to send a Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs official to five representative cities in the United States on an International Visitors Leadership Program entitled "Promoting Interfaith Dialogue." The project showed the scope of religious freedom in the United States and encouraged the promotion of tolerance and interreligious understanding. The participant met with counterparts of different religious backgrounds and discussed issues related to their vocation.
Expatriate laborers, who form the majority of the country's labor force, face significant problems, particularly household workers, since they are not covered by labor laws. U.S. officials made public addresses concerning the need for the country to address the problems domestic workers face. The United States implemented a program to raise awareness among foreign workers of their rights and duties. U.S. officials worked closely with labor-sending countries to compose text for a nine-language brochure and print media campaign publicizing information to help expatriate workers avoid some of the common problems that befall them. The United States engaged in ongoing and frequent discussions with high-ranking and working-level government officials, in addition to conducting outreach with media outlets to raise awareness of the problems faced by foreign workers in the country.
Lebanon is a parliamentary republic in which the president is a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the chamber of deputies a Shi'a Muslim. In 2005, the country made significant progress with respect to human rights under a democratically elected parliament and a reform-oriented government. With the end of the Syrian occupation, press and media self-censorship decreased, and government attempts to restrict freedom of assembly during mass demonstrations dissipated. On July 12, Hizballah killed three and abducted two Israeli Defense Force soldiers during a cross-border attack from southern Lebanon, resulting in a conflict that lasted until August 14. According to the UN, Israel's air and ground operations in Lebanon killed 1,191 persons and injured 4,409 persons. Approximately 900,000 Lebanese were internally displaced, and sectarian tensions were heightened. Following the conflict, political tensions between the democratically-elected government and the antigovernment opposition, led by Hizballah, rose significantly. Sectarian demonstrations further increased tensions, particularly after the November 23 assassination of Maronite leader Pierre Gemayel.
There are still areas in the government's human rights record that require improvement to meet international standards, specifically poor prison conditions; insufficient legal protections for certain segments of society, particularly the poor; migrant workers and child laborers; and lack of judicial independence, especially when dealing with politically sensitive cases. During the year, before the conflict broke out, the government took significant steps to increase freedom of assembly and association at mass demonstrations and by facilitating the formation of new political associations and parties. The government also took concrete measures to prevent unauthorized eavesdropping on private citizens.
The United States continued to help Lebanon rebuild as a sovereign and independent country founded on respect for human rights and democratic principles after decades of Syrian occupation and civil conflict. The United States worked with the government and international allies to support the goals outlined in UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701 and worked with a coalition of international partners, known as the Core Group, to support Lebanese plans for economic, fiscal, and political transparency and reform.
Governance programs funded by the United States further enhanced the government's efforts to promote transparency and accountability, strengthened civil society, built greater independence of the judiciary, promoted respect for the rule of law, and supported the conduct of free and fair elections. U.S. diplomatic engagement also promoted freedom of the press, women's rights, and universal education.
U.S. assistance programs promoted the development of independent political parties with members from all religious groups represented in the country. The United States identified a diverse representation of young political leaders for local, regional, and U.S.-based training programs and seminars that included discussions of independent platform-based electoral politics. The United States also continued to support a municipal reform program that has been credited with successfully rebuilding essential local government foundations. This assistance focused on enhancing administrative and financial capabilities, expanding social services, encouraging public participation, and increasing accountability.
The domestic press is generally independent and free. In the wake of the Syrian withdrawal in 2005, journalists were emboldened to speak out, but some of the country's most courageous voices for democracy were killed. U.S. officials emphasized the importance of protections for freedoms of speech and press and noted the critical role of journalists in advancing democracy and human rights protections. The press benefited from a number of U.S.-funded programs to strengthen press freedom and independence of the media, which included training for the media and civil society in the role of the press and on the importance of free expression in promoting democracy and human rights.
Because the role of civil society continued to grow in the country, the United States expanded its support of local advocacy groups, NGOs promoting transparency in government, and civil society organizations. U.S. programs continued to support building effective civil society networks in isolated and underserved municipalities in the north and the eastern Bekaa valley. Numerous street demonstrations throughout the year emphasized the high value citizens place on freedom of assembly and their willingness to play a role in effecting changes in their government and society.
The law provides for equality among all citizens, but in practice, some aspects of the law and traditional customs continue to discriminate against women and other disadvantaged groups. The United States supported a wide range of programs to promote rule of law and improve legal rights without bias, as well as wider access to education and health care for women. With U.S. funding, an international NGO incorporated substantive and practical human rights within the legal education framework. The United States worked to protect the rights of persons with disabilities through grants that assisted persons with disabilities to earn a dignified wage. The United States continued to advocate on behalf of the refugees in the country and supported numerous unilateral programs in training and education. It remained the largest contributor to UN Relief and Works Agency and UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
To promote religious freedom, which is provided for under the Constitution, U.S. officials met regularly with religious leaders and members of the Council on Religious Understanding and facilitated an International Visitors Leadership Program, including an Islamic-Christian interfaith dialogue. The United States maintained contact with a variety of faith-based organizations and documented incidents for dissemination to other governments and inclusion in the annual Report on International Religious Freedom.
The United States continued to press the government to acknowledge trafficking in persons as a serious issue and take immediate steps to eliminate it. In March the United States sponsored an International Migration Organization training course for law enforcement officers and supervisors on the most advanced techniques for combating human trafficking activities. A U.S. program continued to fund a local NGO to protect trafficking victims, a first for the region. NGO officials interviewed victims with the support of social workers, as well as screened and referred trafficking cases to the country's judiciary so that abusive employers could be prosecuted. The United States continued its support of the only safe house in Beirut for victims under governmental protection.
U.S. officials met regularly with labor leaders to reiterate U.S. support for labor rights and for economic liberalization and reform. U.S. officials encouraged labor leaders to engage in dialogue with the private sector and government to promote reforms, and U.S.-funded programs provided the country's labor unions the opportunity to train with American unions on labor organization, labor law, and workers' rights.
The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is an authoritarian regime led by Colonel Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi since 1969. In theory citizens rule the country through a pyramid of congresses, committees, and communes; however, in practice, Qadhafi and his inner circle monopolize political power. The government's human rights record remained poor. An extensive security services network, lack of an independent judiciary, and rigid government control of the media stifled political reform and denied citizens some basic civil liberties. Security forces operated without judicial restraint; they tortured and detained individuals without formal charges and held some detainees incommunicado, often without charge or trial. Corruption and impunity were widespread. Government control of the media, prohibitions on the establishment of independent human rights organizations, and a continued ban on political parties precluded freedom of speech or assembly. Minority religions, women, and tribal minorities encountered some government repression and societal discrimination. The government denied basic worker rights and did not prevent discrimination against foreign workers.
U.S. human rights and democracy work in the country aimed to empower citizens to play a more active role in their government and to secure basic civil liberties for all inhabitants. On May 31, the United States upgraded its diplomatic representation to an Embassy. On June 30, it rescinded the country's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism and a country not fully cooperating with U.S. counterterrorism efforts. To promote human rights and democracy effectively, the United States continued to normalize bilateral relations and foster a meaningful and multifaceted relationship to address human rights concerns. The United States strengthened working relations with key local actors, advocated for greater transparency in government decision-making, promoted enhanced respect for the rule of law, and identified and supported nascent civil society actors. The United States regularly raised human rights issues at senior levels within the government by urging adherence to international human rights standards and publicly condemning the country's human rights abuses.
The government maintained complete restrictions on all political activities by banning all political parties, criminalizing membership in any association not approved by the government, and preventing meaningful elections for any public office. U.S. officials routinely advocated for greater transparency of government decision-making and greater public participation in political life. From April 17 to 25, the United States facilitated the first National Democratic Institute visit to the country to begin preparations for future work on electoral and constitutional reform.
The United States consistently supported greater media freedom, particularly focusing on the distribution of foreign media within the country. On July 1, a quasi-official government body began to allow the distribution of some foreign publications. In addition to urging more regular access to foreign publications, U.S. officials advocated greater professionalism of journalists by nominating for the first time a television correspondent for an International Visitor Leadership Program focusing on investigative journalism.
Since the government prohibits the establishment of truly independent NGOs, U.S. efforts centered on identifying and supporting nascent civil society individuals and organizations that may develop into NGOs. The United States sponsored the director of a quasi-official NGO focusing on disaster relief on an exchange visit to learn how U.S. NGOs manage assistance operations and how his own organization could provide better humanitarian services in the country and abroad. U.S. officials also supported international NGOs looking to travel to or work in the country.
The United States called for respect of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary from political pressure or outright manipulation. U.S. officials supported government plans to hold retrials for Muslim Brotherhood members held in prison since 1988. On March 2, the government released 86 members of the Muslim Brotherhood and 46 other political prisoners. During the year the United States arranged for a member of the Supreme Judicial Council, an official entity outside of the justice system that reviews court decisions for political implications, to participate in a visitor's program on the U.S. legal system and judicial independence. The United States nominated a prominent lawyer specializing in women's issues for a similar program. The United States consistently raised the issue of political prisoners, including the continued detention of democracy advocate and outspoken regime critic Fathi al-Jahmi.
The United States collaborated with international counterparts to encourage fair and humane treatment for six foreign medical personnel accused of intentionally infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV in 1999. U.S. participation facilitated the 2005 establishment of the International Benghazi Families Support Fund to assist the infected children. Throughout a retrial between May 15 and December 19, U.S. officials routinely stressed the importance of ensuring the medical personnel receive a fair trial, access to their lawyers, and access to any evidence against them. After a court again sentenced the health workers to death on December 19, the U.S. continued to urge additional judicial review of the court decision, with an emphasis on the consideration of all pertinent evidence in the case. The United States urged that a means should be found to allow the medics to go home.
To promote women's rights, the United States nominated a pioneering female engineer at the Libyan National Oil Company for an exchange program focusing on women as economic and business leaders. Beyond working to modernize administrative practices in the state-owned oil firm, the nominee plays a key role in economic reform through her seat on the National Economic Planning Council.
The United States promoted religious freedom by sending the head of the Islamic studies faculty at a major Libyan university to the United States on a visitor's program focusing on religious tolerance and interfaith communication.
A U.S.-funded program aimed to raise government officials' capacity to combat human trafficking and to raise awareness of trafficking in society.
Morocco, with a constitution and an elected parliament, is ruled by a hereditary monarchy; ultimate authority rests with the king. The king may terminate the tenure of any minister, dissolve parliament, call for new elections, and rule by decree. The country's human rights record showed notable progress, although problems remained. The government began addressing past human rights abuses by providing compensation for specific cases of arbitrary arrest and disappearance. In March the government enacted an antitorture law, although reports of torture by various branches of the security forces persisted. The judiciary lacked independence and transparency. There was extensive and largely open debate in public and in the press, despite continuing restrictions on freedoms of the press and speech. Many journalists practiced self-censorship. Trafficking in persons, particularly for sexual exploitation, and child labor remained issues of concern; however, both the government and civil society were increasingly active in addressing the issues.
The U.S. strategy for promoting human rights and democracy integrated assistance programs and public diplomacy outreach to promote freedom of the media and speech, support the development of civil society, strengthen human rights principles and core democratic values, strengthen the rule of law, and support human rights and democratic reforms implemented by the government. Implementation of the strategy was through formal programs such as roundtable discussions, debates, speaker and training programs, and U.S.-based training, and advocacy by U.S. officials.
U.S. officials promoted democracy by assisting the country's development of a more competent, effective, and responsive government. U.S. programs focused on integrated capacity building for parliament and political parties, including ongoing training of parliamentarians and their staff members on the effectiveness of committees, budget analysis, oversight and expertise, and the development of parliamentary and civil society advocacy capabilities. U.S. programs enhanced the capacities of parties to run transparent and effective campaigns in the 2007 parliamentary elections. During the year key parliamentary staff members participated in a study tour focused on legislative committees. Visiting U.S. congressional delegations met regularly with parliamentarians to share ideas and experiences. U.S. initiatives included support for local good governance, promotion of regional and municipal efforts to respond more effectively to citizens' needs, improvement of the long-term financing capacities of local government, and support for the implementation of the 2004 Family Law.
U.S. officials regularly discussed media freedom and freedom of speech with senior government officials and actively encouraged their efforts to expand freedom of expression. Senior U.S. officials encouraged the government to reform the press code, including the need to eliminate criminal penalties for libel. U.S. outreach programs promoted freedom of the press and discussed journalistic ethics, professional standards, and research skills. Thirteen journalists participated in U.S.-funded programs on media ethics, investigative journalism, free access to information, and freedom of speech. One journalist participated in a program focused on human rights advocacy and another in a program focused on the role of civil society organizations.
U.S. officials frequently held discussions and consultations with members of civil society organizations to promote respect for human rights and increase understanding of societal changes. U.S. officials and programs actively promoted interactions and partnerships between the government and civil society organizations through specific programming in which the two groups interacted, including travel for training in the United States, debates, and speaker programs.
U.S. assistance aided the continuing development of an informed, participatory citizenry. U.S. programs concentrated on effective dissemination of the 2004 Family Law and educating the population about the changes. U.S. regional programs enabled Moroccan participation in seminars on Islam, governance and the rule of law. More than 10,000 high school students and teachers received training on participatory government and citizenship. In February five secondary students participated in a regional citizen workshop.
U.S. officials advocated the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and judicial and penal reform with government counterparts and civil society. U.S. programs to help educate the judiciary on the Family Law progressed significantly during the year. The United States focused on judicial independence and transparency, as well as legal education. A U.S. program worked closely with the government, universities, and lawyers to strengthen institutional capacity. This same program actively supported civil society by strengthening the capacity of a local NGO advocating judicial independence.
The government's reform agenda included penal reform, gender equity legislation, and safeguards for the physically and mentally impaired. To complement this agenda, the United States supported a program, in partnership with a local university law school, to develop a human rights law clinic. This program included development of curriculum and teaching modules and encouraged law students to provide legal assistance under the supervision of the law faculty and private human rights lawyers. U.S. officials worked closely with the government to provide professional training, including human rights awareness, for public security officials. During the year more than 200 members of the military received human rights training through a variety of programs and conferences. The United States advocated penal reforms, including improved conditions in prisons, and supported a local NGO working to improve the penitentiary system through training and institutional capacity building. U.S. officials strongly advocated for the application of human rights protections, including in the disputed Western Sahara. U.S. officials discussed allegations of torture and lack of due process with the government.
Women's rights remained a significant concern for the government. Female NGO leaders participated in programs to enhance their leadership skills. Many U.S. programs relating to the Family Law were directed towards women to help them advance their legal rights. The U.S. and NGO partners used the Family Law as subject matter in literacy classes to help educate women about the law and increase women's literacy rates. U.S. programs promoted the application of human rights laws to illegal migrants and asylum seekers.
Religious freedom is provided for by the constitution, despite the recognition of Islam as the state religion and the king as the commander of the faithful. U.S. officials met regularly with members of all religious communities to promote religious tolerance and freedom. U.S. officials facilitated meetings between the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs and visiting U.S. religious leaders. U.S. programs enabled a university professor and 14 journalists to study the relationship between religion and civic education, and a U.S. sponsored Muslim religious leader highlighted religious tolerance and freedom in the United States.
U.S. officials met regularly with local NGOs working to support the government's efforts to eliminate child labor, forced labor, and TIP and with those supporting the reintegration of children and trafficked persons into society. Many trafficked noncitizens were returned to their home countries at the expense of the government and international organizations. The United States continued to support NGOs working to end child labor and provided alternative educational programs for children in the labor force.
The United States funded a consortium of Moroccan and international NGOs striving to end child labor. One project implemented by an international NGO improved access to education for working and at-risk child maids, as well as child laborers in sectors such as auto repair and handicrafts. This assistance targeted more than 7,000 children in the areas of Rabat/Sale/Temara, Marrakech, Fez, and Casablanca, and enrolled them in informal education and vocational training programs. The project included a joint child labor awareness-raising campaign to mainstream child labor concerns into broader education and development strategies. During the year the United States supported a four-year program to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. The government estimates 7,334 children are working in or are at-risk of entering hazardous agricultural activities or exploitive child labor.
Since King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud assumed the throne on August 1, 2005, he has continued to pursue an incremental reform agenda. The 178 all-male municipal councils, half of whose members were elected in April 2005 and half appointed in December 2005, performed limited administrative duties, reviewed budgets, and made recommendations to the Ministry of Rural Affairs and Municipalities. In December, the government finally announced the appointment of the Board of Directors of the Human Rights Commission. There was greater involvement in government activities by the Majlis Al-Shura (the Consultative Council) and the 178 municipal councils. Despite increased public and media discourse about human rights, the overall human rights environment remained poor. There were reports that some authorities practiced physical abuse and torture. Security forces also continued to arbitrarily arrest, detain, and hold persons incommunicado. The Mutawwa'in (religious police) continued to intimidate, abuse, and detain citizens and foreigners with impunity, although to a lesser extent than in the past. Strict limitations on women's rights continued, including a prohibition on voting or participating in governmental elections, harassment by the religious police, restrictive dress codes, a prohibition on driving, restrictions on ability to travel domestically and internationally, discrimination in family law and other legal proceedings, and extraordinary segregation in schools, most workplaces, and public facilities. However, in February 2006, women voted and ran as candidates in elections for the Board of Directors of the Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry, but were not elected. Violence against women and children, as well as discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, continued. Most trials were closed, and defendants usually had no legal counsel. The government continued to infringe upon privacy rights and restricted freedom of speech and the press. The government did not provide legal recognition or protection for freedom of religion, and it was severely restricted in practice. The government restricted freedoms of assembly, association, and movement. Some cultural fora were further restricted.
The U.S.-Saudi Strategic Dialogue continued with a meeting in May, as well as other meetings of its working groups, notably the Partnership, Education, Exchange, and Human Development working group. The dialogue reinvigorated the bilateral relationship and raised the profile of key issues such as improving citizen participation in decision-making, religious freedom, fighting trafficking in persons, and promoting tolerance.
U.S. officials frequently urged the government to promote political participation, transparency, accountability in government, religious freedom, and rights for women and workers. Numerous high-level U.S. officials, including the vice president, secretary of state, members of Congress, and cabinet secretaries, used visits to the kingdom to discuss these and related concerns with King Abdullah and senior officials. The United States continued to raise human rights concerns at all levels of the government, notably on religious freedom, labor conditions amounting to involuntary servitude, trafficking in persons, and women's rights. U.S. officials met with and encouraged the work of the Human Rights Commission, the National Society for Human Rights, and the still unrecognized NGO Human Rights First Society.
The United States sponsored exchanges with and provided training to Saudis to promote an independent judiciary, community involvement in government decision-making, and grass roots democracy. Through the International Visitor Leadership Program, the United States sponsored participation by members of government and civil society in U.S. seminars and exchanges focused on the rule of law, religious and public education in the United States, NGO administration, participatory democracy, and volunteerism.
U.S. officials participated in civic organization meetings and press roundtables to discuss internal political reform, as well as the rights of women and minority groups. U.S. officials occasionally participated in weekly majlis gatherings, open-door meetings held by the king, other members of the royal family, or an important national or local notable during which, in theory, any male citizen or foreign national may express an opinion or a grievance.
In November, the King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue held the Sixth National Dialogue Forum in Al-Jawf called "Education: Reality and Promises." The Dialogue produced a "road map" for educational reform, including revision of textbooks, curricula, and teaching methods to promote tolerance.
The United States continued to provide education and training to the country's military, which increases awareness of international norms of human rights and fosters greater respect for the principle of civilian control of the military and the rule of law.
The United States strongly advocated for religious freedom, which is severely restricted in the Kingdom. In September, the secretary of state re-designated Saudi Arabia as a Country of Particular Concern for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The ambassador and other senior officials raised the issue of religious freedom with senior Saudi officials. The ambassador also protested raids on private homes and the detention of religious groups for practicing their faith in private. The United States encouraged officials to honor their government's policies to halt the dissemination of intolerant literature and extremist ideology, both within Saudi Arabia and around the world, protect private worship for all religious groups, curb harassment of religious practice groups, and promote tolerance towards all religious groups. The United States supported provisions calling for religious tolerance, including elimination of discrimination against religious minorities, improved human rights standards, and state accountability.
The government failed to show concrete efforts to criminally prosecute and punish trafficking crimes, but reportedly used its September 2005 labor law to address some issues affecting foreign workers, such as non-payment of wages; the labor law, however, does not cover foreign domestic workers. The U.S. Government strongly encouraged the Saudi Government to take a proactive criminal law enforcement response to all trafficking crimes. The United States similarly recommended the government raise public awareness of abuse of foreign domestic workers and extend labor protections to domestic workers, as part of long-term improvements in the status and legal rights of foreign laborers under labor law. In coordination with source-country embassies, the United States worked to promote better legal protections for foreign workers, the prevention and protection of trafficking victims, and the investigation and prosecution of traffickers.
Syria is a republic under the authoritarian presidential regime of Bashar al-Asad. The president makes key decisions with counsel from a small circle of security advisors, ministers, and senior members of the ruling Ba'ath Party (Arab Socialist Resurrection). Civilian authority over the security forces is weak, and members of the security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses. During the year, the government's human rights record remained poor, and the government continued to commit serious abuses. Citizens did not have the right to change their government. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals, while lengthy pretrial and incommunicado detention remained a serious problem. Beginning in April 2005 and continuing throughout the year, the government increasingly violated citizens' privacy rights and stepped up already significant restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association in an atmosphere of government corruption and lack of transparency.
As a state sponsor of terrorism, Syria remained ineligible for all forms of economic assistance from the United States. While contact with government officials was limited because of strained bilateral relations, U.S. officials encouraged the development of democracy and respect for human rights through discussions with allies, regular contact with Syrian and international human rights and civil society advocates, and public diplomacy and other programs designed to strengthen civil society and stimulate dialogue on key issues for promoting human rights and democracy.
The United States consistently called on the government to respect the human rights of its citizens, and public statements reflected this core value. The United States raised concerns about the government's poor human rights record in discussions with allies, urging that these be raised during any formal bilateral contact with the Syrian government. On December 13, the United States issued a statement condemning the government for its continued harassment and detention of civil society activists and political prisoners. The statement by President Bush expressed continued support for the Syrian people's desire for democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression. During the year the U.S. government's contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was limited by the al-Asad regime; however, U.S. officials continued to stress to the government the importance of respecting human rights, including the freedom of assembly, association, speech, and the press. U.S. officials actively participated in a diplomatic monitoring group that exchanged information on the human rights situation and coordinated diplomatic responses and related assistance programs.
The United States also supported in various ways the efforts of the population to broaden real political participation and reassert their right to fundamental freedoms. Although the government is ineligible for most assistance from the U.S. Government, the United States obligated funds during the year through a Syria-specific appropriation from Congress to promote democracy and human rights. These funds allowed the United States to support activities that promote democracy, human rights education, and the free-flow of information to the population.
During the year the United States sent approximately 15 Syrians on various International Visitors Programs to the United States to promote journalistic integrity, develop a free and independent media, raise awareness of issues related to human trafficking, and foster the development of the rule of law. In addition, the United States used the International Visitors Programs to provide training in leadership, management, and policy advocacy to promising young leaders in a number of fields including academia, the media, and civil society. The United States used these programs to contribute to the professional development of the next generation of activists and leaders, investing in their potential to develop a vibrant and robust civil society.
U.S. officials used public diplomacy and reporting to highlight human rights abuses and urged the government to improve its practices. The United States maintained contact with a variety of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society activists throughout the year, documenting incidents for dissemination to other governments and inclusion in the annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices and the Report on International Religious Freedom. Through regular contacts with human rights activists reporting on significant abuses, the United States monitored the government's repression of organizations and democratic activists who sought to peacefully assemble and associate.
U.S. programs supported the promotion of rule of law by providing funding to an NGO to incorporate substantive and practical human rights policies within the legal education framework. In April the United States also provided 90 copies of the 200-page Arabic publication "An Outline of the U.S. Legal System" to the University of Damascus Law School, which were distributed to graduate students.
The United States also sponsored a number of public events to promote religious freedom in the country, such as providing a grant to help support the visit of an American rabbi to promote interfaith dialogue and strengthen efforts for conflict resolution. In addition, the United States hosted a number of celebratory gatherings in connection with the holy month of Ramadan that brought together members of the Islamic clergy, other religious leaders, influential actors in civil society, and prominent members of NGOs.
Few Syrians actively work to combat trafficking in persons and forced labor or assist its victims. To help foster concern for this issue, U.S. officials sponsored a Syrian candidate with academic interest in this area to participate in a Multiregional International Visitor Leadership Program entitled Combating Trafficking in Persons. This exchange program provided an opportunity for the participant to make contact with trafficking in persons activists and learn about tangible ways to prevent trafficking and forced labor, protect its victims, and prosecute its perpetrators. The United States closely monitored the trafficking in persons situation in the country, cooperating and sharing information with international organizations that worked in the field.
Tunisia is a constitutionally-based republic with a population of approximately 10 million, dominated by a single political party, the Democratic Constitutional Rally. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has been the president since 1987. During the year the government continued to commit serious abuses. An authoritarian system of government exercised significant control over political participation and freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and the press. The government remained intolerant of public criticism and used a number of coercive methods to discourage that criticism, including harassment of journalists and widely condemned legal actions against outspoken dissidents and human rights and opposition activists. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals and tortured prisoners and detainees. The government continued to invoke a variety of laws and regulations to obstruct implementation of reform projects and initiatives, including those promoting media freedom. While some activities were successfully completed, restrictions imposed by the government delayed or led to the cancellation of others.
The U.S. democracy and human rights strategy in Tunisia recognized the country's achievements on social and economic issues, particularly its advancement of equal rights and opportunities for women, and called for similarly bold steps on political process reforms and respect for human rights. The United States pushed the government and civil society to increase the pace and substance of critical political, economic, and human rights reforms. High-level U.S. officials raised human rights, democracy, and good governance issues with the government throughout the year. U.S. officials placed opinion pieces in the local press, raised inquiries regarding specific cases, and worked to strengthen civil society organizations supporting economic, media, and political reform through small grants. U.S. officials monitored political trials and urged the government to respect freedoms of assembly and association after observing first-hand incidents where the government prevented human rights organizations from conducting meetings.
The United States released several statements throughout the year on human rights issues, including a statement supporting citizens' rights to express dissident views peacefully and organize legally. The United States distributed Arabic- and English-language resource materials, including U.S. reports on human rights, religious freedom, and trafficking in persons; independent NGO reports on regional human rights issues; and electronic journals and articles on rule of law and transparency in government. The U.S. Embassy distributed a targeted packet of outreach materials directly linked to the celebration of Human Rights Day.
The United States made full use of exchange, cultural, and professional programs to promote democratic values. In fields of government, human rights, judicial reform, education, and the media, 24 individuals participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program to meet international counterparts and gain exposure to the United States. Four Tunisian faculty members studied in the subject areas of U.S. Political Economy, American Civilization, and American Studies for Foreign Secondary Educators at U.S. Summer Institutes. Two mid-career professionals participated in exchange programs, one focused on human rights and democracy and the other on management in the public and private sectors. The United States brought high profile speakers to the country to discuss human rights and democracy issues with think tanks, government officials, journalists, and university classes. In September the Embassy began hosting a monthly roundtable series on topics related to human rights and democracy. Six Tunisians were among the 42 Arab student leaders who participated in Student Leaders Institutes in the United States and a subsequent Alumni Conference in Abu Dhabi. During these programs students learned about democratic principles and institutions, interacted with American and other Arab students, and developed a civic engagement project using skills they learned in the program.
The United States promoted media independence and professionalism through programs for journalists and regular interaction with media professionals. The ambassador and other officials consistently highlighted the U.S. commitment to human rights, transparency, and freedom of expression in speeches, media interviews, and publications. One U.S. official worked full-time on press and media outreach, increasing direct journalist access to International Information Program material and other open and diverse sources of information. The United States actively supported a program between a U.S. university and the Institut de Presse et des Sciences de l'Information Universite de la Manouba, the only Tunisian journalism institute for enhanced professional journalism. The program allowed Tunisian and American students to learn from each other and share experiences about publishing campus newspapers. Another U.S. small grant allowed the institute to start a student newspaper. Three journalists participated in U.S. exchange programs and returned with greater insight into American culture and renewed appreciation of the value of a free press and freedom of expression. The U.S. Embassy hosted a press roundtable with 11 journalists for an American Fulbright professor who spoke of the role that press should play in a democratic society.
The United States worked to strengthen civil society and its ability to influence and communicate with the government and urged the government to remove onerous NGO registration and funding restrictions. Three individuals active in human rights and democracy promotion participated in a program in which they received training and conducted internships in the U.S. on civil society activism. Support for freedom of assembly and association was a key aspect of both private dialogue with the government and public statements throughout the year. U.S. officials met regularly with NGOs that suffered from government harassment and restrictions and attended events hosted by these NGOs.
To promote greater awareness of the importance of the rule of law and human rights protections, the United States supported a program that identified and sponsored guest American professors for a law school in the country. A U.S.-funded Commercial Law Development Program continued to promote judicial competency, transparency, and independence, as did other regional technical assistance programs that emphasized rule of law. During the year 80 Tunisian military personnel took part in U.S. training that included components on respect for human rights and rule of law.
U.S. projects focused on increasing opportunities for women, including a business and entrepreneurship training program held in the United States in which five Tunisian women participated. The United States worked to ensure the active participation of Tunisian women in all assistance programs, including the "Women and the Law" regional network. One project worked to increase effective participation of women in local government through the creation of an independent regional network of women's activists and organizations.
U.S. officials maintained close contact with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities and promoted visitor exchanges on American traditions of religious tolerance and pluralism. The United States funded a program that included a "Project Citizen" component, which taught secondary students how to identify civic issues, express their opinions, and influence decision makers.
The country is a transit country for North and sub-Saharan African men and women migrating to Europe, some of whom may be trafficked for the purposes of involuntary servitude or sexual exploitation. The United States maintained links with and provided training and equipment to border security forces to increase their ability to detect trafficking in persons and immigration flows and protect the country's borders. U.S. officials worked to raise awareness of human trafficking patterns and concerns with the government and local NGOs in coordination with international organizations.
West Bank and Gaza
The Palestinian Authority has a democratically elected president and legislative council, which select and endorse a prime minister and cabinet. In January 2005 Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Mahmud Abbas won approximately 62 percent of the popular vote in a presidential election regarded as generally free and fair. Palestinian Legislative Council elections were held on January 25, bringing the current Hamas-led government to power; international observers concluded the elections generally met democratic standards, despite some irregularities. Israel exercised occupation authority through the Ministry of Defense's Office of Coordination and Liaison. Despite a democratically elected legislature and presidency, the Palestinian Authority's overall human rights record remained poor. This was due in part to the government's failure to fully establish control of public security, including insufficient measures to prevent attacks on targets within the Occupied Territories and in Israel by Palestinian terrorist groups, which operated with impunity. There was also widespread public perception of corruption, notably within the security forces. The Government of Israel's overall human rights record in the occupied territories remained poor during the year, due in part to actions by Israeli soldiers and settlers that resulted in death and injury to hundreds of Palestinian civilians.
The goal of the United States is to support reform of political, economic, and security institutions in accordance with the Quartet Roadmap and President Bush's vision for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The January legislative elections led to the formation of a new Palestinian government that did not meet the requirements set out by the Middle East Quartet: to commit to the principle of nonviolence, recognize Israel, and accept previous agreements and obligations, including the roadmap. In light of Quartet decisions, the U.S. Government conducted an extensive review of assistance programs to the West Bank and Gaza, and as a result re-focused assistance on basic human needs (health care, education, food security). The United States continued to work with Palestinian President Abbas, who supported the Quartet requirements. The United States also worked with NGOs to support democratization and respect for human rights. U.S. efforts highlighted support for the rule of law, strengthening civil society and fostering a responsible and independent media. The United States worked through diplomatic initiatives, public outreach, and assistance programs to advance democracy and human rights.
The United States provided critical support for democratic elections with technical and in-kind assistance to the Central Election Commission. The United States supported the deployment of international observers for the January parliamentary elections, focusing public and international attention on the conduct of those elections and enhancing the credibility of their results. U.S. technical assistance facilitated campaign polling and surveying, supported voter education and information campaigns, and assisted democratic political parties in building management skills.
The United States also supported the promotion of democratic principles and development through public outreach programs designed to encourage political activism and respect for democratic ideals. The Consulate General hosted a student debate on American-style democracy, as well as a video conference for students and teachers on political activism. The United States hosted speakers and video conferences for women and youth on democracy. This included a conference on women's political participation and a series of lectures and workshops with a variety of female audiences in the West Bank and Gaza by an American expert on women's empowerment. The United States also sponsored the completion of a training and mentoring program for women NGO leaders and supported the launch of the Palestinian Business Women's Forum, organized by a group of exchange program alumni.
Palestinians residing in the West Bank and Gaza regularly participated in exchange programs that focused on democracy and human rights, including press freedoms. In one International Visitor Leadership Program, the Consulate General sent seven key political figures and electoral campaign activists to the United States to observe U.S. campaign techniques in action. In a joint program with the United States, six Palestinian mayors and six Israeli mayors traveled to the United States together for an exchange program which allowed them to meet some of their American peers and engage with each other. Other exchange programs sponsored by the United States focused on human rights advocacy and awareness; accountability in government; promoting rule of law, NGOs, and civic activism; U.S. foreign policy and human rights; and youth leadership and its effects on social, political, and economic change.
In support of freedom of the press and media responsibilities in a democratic society, the United States facilitated discussions between American expert speakers and Palestinian journalists, including programs on the role of election observers and on U.S. foreign policy. U.S. officials also held regular press seminars for local and international correspondents based in the Palestinian Territories to encourage accurate and responsible reporting on issues of concern to both Palestinians and Americans. The United States launched a new independent media program in October to improve the performance, professionalism, and economic viability of private broadcast media outlets in the West Bank and Gaza by providing training and small grants to local media professionals.
The United States has provided strong support to civil society. Over the past six years, the United States has provided grants to over 100 civil society organizations. During the year the program established student parliaments in all 15 UN Relief and Works Agency schools in the West Bank and Gaza; supported the development of a legislative performance index to improve oversight of the parliament; provided after-school programs to 800 youth in Gaza living in impoverished neighborhoods; and supported a campaign fighting violence against women in Gaza.
The United States continues to support rule of law reform through targeted assistance to five law faculties and the Palestinian Bar Association. The rule of law program completed the training of 26 law school professors on interactive teaching methods; advanced a continued legal education program that seeks to enhance the skills of legal professionals; supported in cooperation with the Palestinian Bar Association the first bar examination ever held in the West Bank and Gaza; and trained nearly 1,000 Gaza youths in respect for the rule of law. The United States is also supporting efforts to increase legislative accountability and transparency through targeted support to Palestinian civil society organizations and the Institute of Law at Birzeit University.
U.S. support for religious, ethnic, and social tolerance continued with video conferences and speaker programs, which facilitated dialogue among Palestinians about religious tolerance and linked Muslim religious leaders with their Israeli Jewish and American Muslim counterparts. One local speaker, after returning from a U.S.-sponsored exchange program, lead a discussion on "Accepting Others and Coexistence between the West and East" with a group of 30 female high school students and teachers in a small village near Bethlehem.
Yemen is a republic governed by a powerful executive branch headed by President Ali Abdullah Saleh. On September 20, President Saleh was re-elected to a seven-year term. Despite reported instances of irregularities, the election was judged by international observers to have been open and competitive. The constitution calls for power to be shared between the president and the 301-seat House of Representatives and appointed 111-member Shura council. In practice, however, power rests squarely with the president and the ruling party, the General People's Congress. Significant human rights problems continued to exist in some areas throughout the year, although the government improved its human rights record by taking several steps to reduce corruption, including removing and investigating several judges accused of malfeasance, passing a financial disclosure law for government officials, and establishing an independent anticorruption authority with civil society representatives. However, weak governmental institutions and pervasive corruption continued to undermine civil liberties. In addition, security forces continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals, and in many cases the government failed to hold members of the security forces accountable for abuses. Members of the Political Security Office and Ministry of Interior police forces continued to torture and abuse persons in detention. Despite constitutional prohibitions against such practices, security officers routinely monitored citizens' activities, searched their homes, detained them for questioning, and mistreated detainees. Prolonged pretrial detention, judicial corruption, and executive interference also continued to undermine due process. Discrimination against women, child labor, and trafficking in persons remained problems.
During the year the United States consistently focused on supporting the government's efforts to strengthen its human rights record and pushing for democratic and judicial reforms. The United States maintained an open dialogue with opposition parties to further promote democratization efforts. Anticorruption activities and programs, for example, were supported through projects with government, opposition, and civil society groups. U.S. programs focused on bolstering civil society and giving women a greater voice in the government. The United States advocated democratic reform and human rights by continuing and commencing several long-term projects during the year, while playing a key role in uniting the international donor community to press the government on implementation of delayed reform commitments.
Opposition parties, although quite active, had difficulty matching the electoral successes of the General People's Congress, partly because the General People's Congress could and did draw upon state resources to mobilize its campaigns. During the year the United States was steadfast in its support to strengthen and democratize political parties, improve election administration, foster fair elections, and support anticorruption initiatives. Throughout the year, U.S. efforts had a dramatic impact in the country, resulting in advances in fighting corruption, increasing women's representation in government, and ensuring independence of the judiciary. The United States marshaled a multilateral initiative to pressure the government directly on these goals. The president named new cabinet ministers and adopted a national reform strategy to fight corruption, improve judicial effectiveness and independence, and expand media freedoms. The United States provided a range of technical and policy assistance in each of these reform areas. Major programs included a parliament program that worked to strengthen core skills of parliamentarians and develop the professional capabilities of parliamentary committees as well as Yemen Parliamentarians Against Corruption, the country's chapter of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption. U.S. efforts to support women's political participation resulted in the creation of a network comprised of representatives from the five major political parties who worked together to strengthen women's roles within their parties.
During the year U.S. advocacy helped ensure the country's first truly competitive presidential election in which the opposition mounted an aggressive campaign against President Saleh. U.S. officials met with government and opposition political party members to press for critical electoral reforms, working in close cooperation with an international donor working group. The United States helped expand the capacity of the Supreme Commission for Electoral Reform to regulate the September presidential and local council elections. In the lead up to the elections, U.S. support enabled opposition parties to come to an agreement with the ruling party on contentious issues including voter registration and access to broadcast media. The United States supported local and international NGOs to monitor for fairness and transparency of the election process, which resulted in a historic step towards democracy for the country.
During the year U.S. officials routinely spoke out against violations of press freedom and met with individual victims of harassment, resulting in a sharp decline in attacks against journalists critical of the government compared to 2005. The United States strongly pressed government, media, and civil society leaders on the need to support a free and professional press and provided training to journalists and lawyers on legal defense strategies. Cooperation with the government led to the suspension of a proposed press law that was uniformly opposed by journalists and civil society.
During the year U.S. officials met frequently with members of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate as well as individual victims of harassment. Through innovative programs, the United States worked closely with local NGOs and the press to create thematic projects aimed at consciousness-raising and increasing technical capacity, supporting freedom of information, and fostering a better and safer environment for freedom of speech. Programs included training for high-level government officials, NGOs, and projects such as the production of the first film in the country to discuss HIV/AIDS openly with youth, which was aired on Yemen TV on the commemoration of International Human Rights Day.
Throughout the year the United States engaged NGOs on the issues of rule of law, human rights, and political freedom by encouraging them to take a lead in pressing for needed reforms. The United States supported dozens of domestic NGOs during the year, specifically focusing on capacity-building, organizing, and advocacy. U.S. programs focused on strengthening civil society networks and improving their capabilities to become more active in political processes. One such project funded a local NGO to work with welfare organizations to transform them into effective advocates for human rights and democracy through training and education. U.S. officials successfully pressed the government to respect laws guaranteeing freedom of assembly, resulting in largely unhindered nationwide election rallies staged by the opposition and ruling parties.
The judicial system has long coexisted with more traditional means of dispute resolution, such as tribal mediation. There were numerous problems within the court system, including tampering by the executive branch, corruption, inefficient court administration, and the failure by authorities to enforce rulings. Throughout the year the United States supported programs with tribal leaders, assisted in their efforts to resolve long-standing conflicts, and promoted development in their governorates in an attempt to ameliorate and better integrate the traditional judicial ways with more contemporary forms. The leaders from these programs united and formed an independent organization to coordinate tribal negotiations and engage with local and national government institutions.
At the urging of the United States and other donors, President Saleh signed a law in May that removed the Supreme Judicial Council from the office of the president. To support this opening in the system, U.S. programs focused on assisting the Supreme Judicial Council in establishing its independence from the executive branch as well as working with reform-minded parliamentarians to tackle the issues of corruption and public finance.
During the year the United States consistently promoted women's rights through support for greater female political participation and education. A long-term initiative on women's illiteracy continued throughout the year, with cooperation from an international NGO, to establish women's literacy associations in the country. The United States supported a local NGO in its efforts to implement Women Democracy Watch, a project aimed at effectively involving women in the broader Middle East region and strengthening their role in current political dialogue. To further support women's empowerment, the Women in Technology program trained women in basic and advanced computer skills to increase women's participation in the economy.
More than 90,000 Somali and Ethiopian refugees resided in the country, many of whom live in a government-run camp. The United States provided funding to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for its activities to assist these refugees. The United States supported the UN High Commissioner for Refugee's efforts to encourage the government to permit improvements to living conditions in the camps and to seek progress on other concerns facing the refugees, such as access to education and permission to work.
During the year the United States, with international labor organizations, provided technical assistance and capacity-building training to labor unions in order to strengthen their abilities to be stronger advocates of labor rights in society. The United States continued to work closely with the government and NGOs to fight human trafficking, particularly of children. The United States continued funding NGOs in providing educational outreach and job opportunities for low-income areas with known incidences of child trafficking to Saudi Arabia. With this approach, the United States aimed to stem the problem before it begins and attack the root causes of trafficking in the country.