"It is the work of human rights activists to make... the link between democracy and prosperity. I am convinced that today there are many more governments that are beginning to see that they cannot neglect people's rights and that these have to be respected because there is a huge demand for it."
--Asma Jahangir, the current UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom and leading human rights activist from Pakistan
Throughout South and Central Asia the United States persisted in urging governments to promote a vibrant civil society as the backbone of democracy. We maintained our robust support of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights defenders through both programs, where possible, and diplomacy.
The goal of our democracy assistance programs in the region was to empower local citizens in their efforts to participate fully, fairly, and peacefully in a democratic society that respects human rights and the will of voters.
In Central Asia, restrictions on civil society and opposition political parties that began after the so-called Color Revolutions remained and in some cases increased. Government restrictions on civil society were often directed at U.S. implementing partners, many of which had to shut down their operations during the last two years. The Government of Uzbekistan sought to control all NGO activity and closed down over 200 civil society organizations; the Government of Kazakhstan restrictively interpreted Article 5 of the constitution to suspend foreign-funded, non-partisan political party training activities; and even in Kyrgyzstan, which enjoys a relatively open civil society and active opposition movement, the government increasingly harassed foreign-funded NGOs.
In the midst of these repressive environments, U.S. programs helped hundreds of NGOs in the region build their capacity to investigate human rights abuses, corruption, and political repression, to advocate more effectively for reforms, to strengthen legal and regulatory frameworks, and to improve their organizational capacity. We provided timely assistance to individual human rights and democracy activists, journalists, and members of NGOs that were victims of government-sponsored persecution as a result of their work. The United States, with other diplomatic missions and multilateral organizations, monitored the cases and trials (when permitted) of members of civil society and human rights defenders and in the cases of physical assault or vandalism, pressed foreign governments to conduct impartial investigations, hold perpetrators accountable, and ensure the safety of NGO leaders.
The Unites States trained activists to better investigate human rights abuses and advocate for improved respect for human rights; offered assistance to victims of abuses; trained government officials—particularly security forces and police—on human rights through education and exchanges; and worked with government and civil society to combat discrimination and violence against women and minorities. In several countries, such as Afghanistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, the United States helped establish or provided technical assistance and diplomatic support to national human rights commissions.
Many governments in South and particularly Central Asia continued to restrict media freedom or harass journalists and media outlets. In Kazakhstan, the government used restrictive libel laws to fine, convict, and suspend media outlets, journalists, and critics. In Turkmenistan, government agents subjected journalists to arrest, harassment, intimidation, and violence. In Pakistan harassment, intimidation, and arrest of journalists also increased during the year, resulting in self-censorship in media outlets for fear of retribution by government agents. However, newspapers were free to criticize the government, and most did.
In the face of such restrictions and harassment of the media, the United States maintained robust support for media freedom urging governments throughout the region to respect media freedom and free speech and speaking out strongly against censorship and harassment of journalists. U.S. assistance programs provided training and support for local and regional media outlets to improve their effectiveness and financial sustainability, journalist training and legal support in Kazakhstan, community radio stations in Afghanistan, the first news syndicate and independent printing press in Central Asia, and the first television program focused on rule of law, human rights, and legal education in Pakistan.
U.S. officials and programs also promoted increased political participation of women, developed the capacity of female political leaders, and provided training and exchanges for female elected officials and party leaders. Other women's programs in the region included assistance to local NGOs to conduct training on women's issues and support to female survivors of abuse in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, funding of legal aid clinics and other legal support for women in India, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan, and public education efforts focused on increasing women's awareness of their rights in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. In December, following approval by the Pakistan National Assembly, Senate, and signature by the President, a new "Women's Protection Bill" became law, marking the first time in three decades that a Pakistan government successfully rolled back laws detrimental to women's rights. In India the United States provided support for the protection of women's legal rights in the areas of domestic violence, dowry, divorce, and inheritance.
The United States encouraged governments and their citizens in South and Central Asia to respect rule of law and promoted judicial reform. U.S. assistance helped modernize the justice sector in several countries, provided training and exchanges for judges, expanded access to justice to the poor, enhanced legal protections for women, supported anticorruption efforts, and strengthened bar associations. The United States worked with other donors to rebuild the justice system in Afghanistan, including infrastructure and the equipping and training of judges, attorneys, and administrators. We provided training for government officials in Sri Lanka to investigate corruption and supported regional corruption awareness workshops in tsunami-affected districts; a series of anticorruption public service announcements on national television; and, with other donors, several International Anti-Corruption Day events.
Free and fair elections and active political parties are a cornerstone of any healthy democracy. In countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Nepal, U.S. assistance helped election officials get better training; increased transparency in elections through financial and technical assistance to local observer organizations, participation in and support for international observation, funding of parallel vote counts, and media support and journalist training on election coverage; increased informed participation through support for voter education and election debates; ensured the integrity of the electoral process with assistance for improving voter lists and registration, transparent ballot boxes, and indelible ink; and furthered electoral reform through new legislation.
The United States urged governments and opposition groups throughout the region to play by democratic rules of the game and exercise their political rights peacefully. In Nepal, the United States played an active role in pressing the king to turn over power to legitimate political parties during the April People's Movement. Following the declaration of a ceasefire between the government and the Maoists, civilian casualties in the conflict dramatically declined, as did human rights abuses such as extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, and torture. In Bangladesh, U.S. officials routinely highlighted the importance of democratic practices and the protection of human rights during senior-level visits and through discussions with Bangladeshi officials, members of civil society, and the press. The United States urged the opposition to peacefully exercise its rights and pressed the government to allow lawful opposition activity.
Women's Legal Advocacy and Resource Centers
In Central Asia, the United States funded a program to promote Women's rights and rule of law in Tajikistan through the American Bar Association/ Central European & Eurasian Law Initiative (ABA/CEELI).
The program, the Women's Legal Advocacy and Rescue Center Project, established support centers in Dushanbe and Khujand staffed by eight attorneys who provided free legal advice and court representation to indigent and vulnerable women and developed curriculum and training programs for the broader legal community. The program also fostered an increased public awareness of women's rights in Tajikistan and worked to increase the number of decisions on legal issues favorable to women's rights.
Throughout the duration of the program, staff at the women's legal support centers provided nearly 1,500 consultations, represented 65 clients in court proceedings, prepared over 500 legal documents, and organized numerous trainings in Dushanbe, Khujand, and outlying regions. Program attorneys empowered women to resolve civil and criminal matters relating to family conflict, housing, labor rights, inheritance disputes, land rights, and pension rights. The attorneys also assisted victims of trafficking and domestic violence to obtain legal redress and successfully advanced prosecution of sexual assault crimes against women.
In one sexual harassment case, the center attorneys reached an out of court settlement with a private company in which the victim was successfully reinstated in her position and received the maternity benefits to which she was entitled. Center attorneys represented seven trafficking victims in a prosecution that led to the conviction, sentencing, and imprisonment of five trafficking perpetrators. A center-supported hearing and prosecution of a domestic violence case resulted in the perpetrator receiving a one-year prison sentence for middle-injury assault—an extremely rare outcome in a case of this nature in Central Asia.
Town-hall discussions were held on legal issues of paramount importance to women, including property, family, housing, and inheritance law. Over 60 judges at the government's Judicial Training Center received training on international and Tajik gender equality standards—the first time gender issues have been addressed in the mandatory training program for judges. ABA/CEELI also led a group of international and local organizations in support of a women's committee and parliamentary initiative to advance implementation of Tajikistan's 2005 gender equality law.
This program ensured that many women were able to obtain financial assistance and secure housing after abandonment by their husbands, to receive compensation following inheritance disputes, to return to employment after being illegally pressured to resign, and to hold trafficking and domestic violence perpetrators accountable for their crimes. The impact of this program is far-reaching and will be felt for years to come, both in the realm of women's rights and in the general development of Tajik civil society.
Afghanistan is an Islamic republic. In October 2004 Hamid Karzai was elected president in the country's first presidential election under its January 2004 constitution. The country's human rights record remained poor due to a deadly insurgency, weak central institutions, and ongoing recovery from three decades of war. Despite these challenges, the country continued to make progress toward reconstruction, stability, and the protection of human rights. However, serious human rights abuses continued, including acts of terrorism by insurgents, as well as situations in which local security forces and police abused their authority, committed extrajudicial killings, used excessive force, and looted private homes and offices while conducting searches. Officials abused and tortured detainees. Efforts to bring to justice serious human rights offenders were often ineffective, and impunity under the law remained a serious concern. Prolonged pretrial detention and poor prison conditions led to deteriorating health conditions and the deaths of some prisoners. The constitution provided for freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and movement; however, serious problems remained. The year witnessed a trend toward increased government control of the media. Violence, including rape and the abduction of women and children, domestic violence, and societal discrimination against minorities, continued. Internationally-recognized workers' rights were ignored, and workers were abused. Child labor was widespread, and there was no evidence that labor laws were enforced. Trafficking in persons remained a problem.
The United States worked with the government to overcome the continuing Taliban insurgency by promoting good governance, respect for rule of law, and the protection of human rights. The United States supported the country's efforts to respect human rights, promote tolerance, and govern democratically, including through the conduct of free and fair elections. The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy assisted the government in building democratic national institutions and infrastructure, including judicial institutions, rule of law, electoral institutions, local governance, and civic participation. While publicly launching the Peace, Reconciliation, and Justice Action Plan, President Karzai declared December 10—International Human Rights Day—a National Day of Remembrance for the victims of past human rights abuses in the country. Throughout the year senior U.S. officials met regularly with President Karzai and others to underscore the U.S. democracy, human rights, and good governance message. President Bush and the First Lady traveled to the country in March and stressed the importance of education and political participation for women and girls. During the year the secretary of state and other senior U.S. officials traveled to the country and delivered the message that the United States remains firmly committed to helping Afghans build a secure, democratic, and prosperous future in which the rights of all citizens are respected.
U.S. Government support for transparent and fair electoral processes during the year included assistance to build the capacity of the Independent Election Commission to carry out future elections that meet international standards with minimal assistance from the international community. The U.S. provided training and assistance in the field of information technology and set up a pilot voter registry project. Technical assistance was also provided to the commission on possible improvements to the draft elections law. The United States continued to support the country's nascent democracy by sending 15 current and future leaders to the United States to attend workshops focusing on state and local government for legislators and administrators, the rule of law, and civic leadership. U.S. assistance to the newly elected National Assembly included an orientation session for the members of the newly elected body and training for six critical committees. All members were trained in computer basics to facilitate their access to a wide information base. The United States also played a key role in strengthening the structures of provincial governments and provided training and mentoring to the newly elected provincial councils in all 34 provinces. In an exchange program, 18 parliamentarians traveled to Washington, DC, and Texas to learn about the U.S. judicial system.
During the year the United States promoted independent press and electronic media by assisting with the completion of independent community-based radio networks and investing in training and business plan development for sustainable independent media organizations. The U.S. Government helped create 32 independent community-based radio stations, nine of which are generating over half of their own revenue due to business management training. U.S. assistance helped renovate and expand domestic radio stations throughout the country, especially in the south, where media freedom was severely restricted. The United States funded three new FM stations in the border region with Pakistan, which is a critical area due to cross-border extremism and insurgency. One U.S.-funded project produced an original radio series in Dari and Pashto in order to address principles of respect, human rights, and democracy as they relate to rights within Islam. It combined drama segments and interviews with religious scholars about human rights within Islam and the role of women in Islam using examples from the Koran. The United States also supported an initiative to unite journalists through a professional association. This was an important step toward ensuring press freedoms and informing the emerging regulatory framework for the media sector. Journalists traveled to the United States for an International Visitor Leadership Program sponsored by the U.S. Government. Workshops during the visit focused on the role of professional print and broadcast media in a democratic society. The United States also aimed to advance freedom of expression through grants supporting programs helping to revive literary and theatrical traditions.
The United States supported domestic civil society and NGOs. Assistance was provided to establish a legal and regulatory framework for NGOs. Help was also provided to the Ministry of Economy to create and maintain a public registry of NGOs, which will help the government ensure accountability of the sector though effective implementation of the NGO law. The United States increased the presence of civil society in the provinces and fostered its development through direct partnership and coaching of domestic organizations. In the last two years, subgrants have been provided to more than 200 domestic NGOs for capacity building, vocational training, community development, and advocacy in the provinces; 57 percent of the grants went to women-led or women-focused domestic NGOs. One U.S.-funded project convened women's and human rights NGOs to develop grassroots leadership training specifically for women from regions severely impacted by human rights abuses.
To strengthen the rule of law, the United States worked with other donors to rebuild the justice system, including building infrastructure and equipping and training judges, attorneys, and administrators. The United States rehabilitated 40 judicial facilities, trained more than 600 judges, supported the Supreme Court in establishing its own judicial education and training committee, and continued training for employees in the legislative drafting unit of the Ministry of Justice. To help disseminate basic information on the country's new laws and constitution, the United States supported development of a ministry website, compiled and disseminated in both digital and print formats the entire corpus of law from 1964 to the present, and printed and distributed a combined total of nearly 17,000 copies of select basic laws and the constitution for distribution to courts, prosecutors' offices, and ministry branch offices throughout the country. The United States also funded English and computer literacy classes for judges, prosecutors, and law faculty from four universities in Kabul and the provinces. A U.S.-funded grant helped a U.S.-based university develop a law degree program specifically designed for citizen legal educators to improve the institutional capacity of this critical sector.
The United States supported the country's efforts to protect human rights through diplomacy and assistance programs. The United States educated the public about the role of the legal system by distributing approximately 72,000 sets of comic books on legal rights. The United States trained police on community-based policing and the protection of human rights, with an emphasis on women's and children's rights. The United States, with other elements of the international community, assisted the Ministry of Interior in developing a transparent selection process for officers in the Afghan National Police, for which candidates for senior appointments were subject to human rights vetting. When 14 police officers were appointed to leadership positions outside of this process, the United States and international partners participated in a probation board to review the cases. Based on the recommendations of the board, 11 of these police officers were removed from office, one was transferred, and one was cleared of allegations. The last was dropped from the process due to illness. A dozen citizens from all walks of life participated in programs targeting human rights, as well as programs examining humanitarian response to crises, community approaches to social issues, and the role of women as leaders in the public and private sectors.
The United States continued to prioritize the protection of the rights of women and support their active participation in government and community activities. U.S.-funded NGOs held workshops and educated women on their legal rights and the justice system, the new constitution, and the National Assembly and Provincial Council Elections. The United States integrated women's issues into virtually all of its programs, aiming to increase women's political participation, education, economic opportunities, and their role in civil society. The United States continued to provide support for capacity building to the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the provincial departments of women's affairs to facilitate the role of the ministry as an effective advocate for women. During the year U.S. assistance ensured the participation of girls in the World Cup Soccer Delegation and arranged for the manager of a successful women's literacy program to address the Global Conference on Literacy in New York. The U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, a public-private partnership established in 2002 by Presidents Bush and Karzai to mobilize private sector resources to empower Afghan women, continued to thrive under the leadership of Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Dobriansky, Afghan Foreign Minister Spanta, and Minister of Women's Affairs Ghanzafar. Private sector individuals' and corporations' sponsorship helped women in four key areas: microfinance and entrepreneurship; education and literacy; legal awareness and political participation; and access to health care.
The United States was the single largest donor to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' repatriation program, which assisted more than 3.6 million refugees to return to the country since March 2002—139,804 of whom returned in 2006. The United States also assisted returnees by providing NGO grants that facilitated the provision of shelter, water and sanitation services, education, health care, and livelihood opportunities.
U.S. support helped the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission build its capacity and monitor and investigate human rights violations. U.S. officials worked with the commission, NGOs, and local officials to identify areas of particular concern and encourage wider reforms within the government. The commission regularly monitored the human rights situation, published findings, and worked closely with the international community to resolve human rights issues, including those in government-run prisons. The commission has 10 offices, and its responsibilities as mandated by the constitution include human rights monitoring, investigation of human rights violations, and development of domestic human rights institutions. The United States continued to fund the building of six commission offices around Kabul and in the provinces of Kandahar, Bamyan, Herat, Kunduz, and Gardez, as well as the salaries of commission staff. The United States sponsored training programs for middle and high school teachers on human rights, including the rights of women and children.
U.S. officials worked with civil society organizations to promote religious tolerance. Several influential clerics and provincial religious scholars participated in an International Visitor Leadership Program examining the role of religious leaders in a democracy, which enabled them to see first-hand the expression of faith in a multi-denominational society, observe the practice of Islam in the United States, and participate in interfaith dialogues to strengthen mutual understanding.
The United States consistently raised human trafficking issues with the government and civil society. In past years the United States developed a national antitrafficking action plan with the government to combat human trafficking in both the short- and long-term. The United States also funded return and reintegration programs, capacity building, campaigns against trafficking in persons, and the training of government officials. The U.S. supported a project focused on preventing and responding to incidences of child trafficking, including a review and extension of the National Plan of Action on Child Trafficking.
Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy governed by a prime minister who has strong executive powers. The president is elected by parliament every five years and holds a ceremonial role as head of state. The country's elections were generally free and fair, but politics were traditionally hostile. Violent protests continued to be a pervasive element in the country's politics during the year. The opposition Awami League-led alliance threatened to boycott the parliamentary elections scheduled for January 2007 unless the Bangladesh Nationalist Party accepted its demands for major changes in the caretaker regime and electoral systems. Weak political and governmental institutions, pervasive corruption, and general government indifference to human rights continued to be problems. Extrajudicial killings, torture, and other widespread abuses by law enforcement personnel, including the police and members of the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion, went largely unpunished, and a culture of impunity remained pervasive in the police force. Trafficking in persons and other abuses against women and children remained serious problems. Criminals and political or religious activists threatened and occasionally attacked journalists. While the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Islam is the official state religion. The government's record of protecting religious minorities was inconsistent, and the police were often ineffective in assisting members of religious minorities who were victims of crime.
U.S. human rights and democracy goals in the country include full participation by political parties in free and fair national elections in 2007 and greater protection of human rights. The United States promoted democracy and human rights by supporting democratic institutions and practices, encouraging transparency and accountability in government actions and policies, endorsing respect for the rule of law, and encouraging the government to hold perpetrators of political and extremist violence accountable for their actions.
U.S. officials routinely highlighted the importance of democratic practices in the country during senior-level visits and through discussions with government officials, members of civil society, and the press. The United States urged opposition parties to exercise, not surrender, their rights and pressed the government to allow lawful opposition activity.
The United States funded numerous projects to promote democracy in the country and to lay the foundation for 2007 elections. A U.S.-sponsored program on professional leadership included 353 midlevel leaders from all major parties, and a similar program focused on youth issues reached 8,000 members of those parties' student wings. A U.S.-funded survey on the integrity of the new voter list became an important part of the public debate on how to correct the list for the 2007 elections. U.S.-sponsored long-term international election observers were deployed late in the year to observe election preparations. The United States also funded selected domestic groups as long-term observers. The United States chaired a local consultative working group of international donors to coordinate programs and initiatives in support of elections.
During the year the U.S.-supported civic education programs in Bangladeshi schools encouraged the active participation of the next generation of citizens in their communities. The United States supported a civic education curriculum in 20 schools in Dhaka and Gazipur and a lecture program on constitutional reform in 41 schools in Khulna and Rajshahi.
The United States promoted media freedom and freedom of speech within the country. U.S. efforts focused attention on the security and freedom of journalists, who continued to face pressure from political activists. The U.S.-sponsored training focused on investigative reporting skills for more than 100 journalists. Specific programs targeted broadcast journalists, early career journalists, and reporters preparing to cover the elections. Training programs were conducted by visiting specialists and by local partner organizations. These organizations began to develop the capacity to conduct such training independently. U.S. officials also closely monitored the sedition trial of a local journalist and met with government officials to discuss his case on numerous occasions.
U.S. diplomacy efforts continued to promote respect for freedom of association and assembly for all participants in the democratic process. The United States promoted the development of stronger local government associations to act as advocates for enhanced local governance. Both the U.S.-supported Bangladesh Union Parishad Forum and the Municipal Association of Bangladesh began to implement strategic plans for short and long-term policy goals. The United States supported the formation of women's caucuses within both organizations to deal more directly with issues of gender representation, reserved seats for women, and the responsibilities of female council members. U.S. programs strengthened the roles of locally elected women by providing leadership skills training to female council members in 65 localities.
During the year the United States remained committed to promoting rule of law in the country. The United States supported the draft national integrity strategy, which served as the basis for donor interaction with the government by setting bilateral agendas to combat corruption. The United States continued to promote anti corruption activities by funding 11 NGOs to produce a "Rights Resource Manual." This research initiative combined the efforts of local partners across different sectors. The pilot project, known as the "Zone of Good Governance," sought to use the rights manual as a way to increase citizens' knowledge of their rights and to inform them of how to channel complaints or grievances within the government system to request resolution. The manual also contained contact information for civil society advocacy and support groups.
The United States continued to support locally elected bodies. In 55 localities, citizens had the opportunity to scrutinize the budgets of local governments, prioritize development projects, and review reports of public expenditures. As a result, local revenue collection increased approximately 10 percent on average compared to previous years.
The U.S. Government supported a coalition of human rights organizations focused on advocacy for the criminalization of domestic violence. This coalition drafted legislation making domestic violence punishable with prison terms, which it planned to present to the next parliament for action. The United States provided funding to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for its activities to assist over 20,000 Burmese Rohingya refugees in the country. The United States actively supported the High Commissioner'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. U.S. officials visited the camps to emphasize U.S. concerns about conditions and met frequently with the government to urge them to improve conditions in the camps. By the end of the year, the relationship between the High Commissioner and the government had markedly improved, and several pilot programs to renovate shelters and other camp facilities had been initiated.
The United States continued to support religious freedom in the country. The International Khatme Nubawat Movement continued its campaign to force the government to declare members of the Ahmadiyya sect as non-Muslims. The government took concerted steps to protect Ahmadiyyas, due in large part to U.S. and other diplomatic pressure. During the year, U.S. officials recognized police efforts to successfully block several attempts by the International Khatme Nubawat Movement to seize Ahmadiyya facilities in Dhaka. Because minorities, especially Hindus, were subjected to intimidation and other forms of pressure during previous election campaigns, the United States increased support for long-term election observers to monitor the rights of minorities leading up to the 2007 elections.
The United States advocated for the adoption of international labor standards in the country's export processing zones. In anticipation of future Worker Association elections, the first to be held under 2004 law, the United States supported training for workers on their legal rights and responsibilities. The United State supported workers who engaged with export processing zone officials and individual factory owners to increase respect for workers' rights. U.S. officials raised allegations of intimidation of trade unionists by security forces with the government.
The United States worked closely with the government to combat trafficking in persons. U.S. officials met monthly with the government to monitor the progress of the antitrafficking police unit and to discuss strategies for improving the government's ability to prosecute human trafficking cases. During the year, the United States conducted the country's first-ever training programs on trafficking investigations for prosecutors and police. An innovative U.S.-funded imam outreach program trained 2,794 imams on the risks, threats, and modalities of trafficking. As a result, these imams delivered specific antitrafficking messages during Friday prayer services, reaching millions of people.
The United States assisted 390 female trafficking survivors during the year. In close coordination and consultation with the government, the United States also provided significant training efforts aimed at police and security personnel. A total of 530 officers-in-charge out of 583 police stations throughout the country were trained on the basics of human trafficking, victim care, and support. The United States provided support to a shelter for child trafficking victims who were repatriated after working as camel jockeys in the Middle East. All but a few of these children have been reunited with their families. The United States supports a comprehensive approach to enhancing victim care services offered by the government and NGOs. These services included primary health care, counseling, safe shelter provisions, and the promotion of alternative livelihood options for trafficking victims.
A U.S.-funded three-year project strengthened local capacities in South Asian countries to address trafficking and violence against women, improve the implementation of legal norms and policies, foster safe migration, and raise the standards of care for survivors of trafficking and violence. U.S. funding provided counseling, information, and support to more than 39,000 people to help ensure safe movement and protection from forced labor and trafficking. Approximately 2,700 trafficking victims were rescued by community vigilance cells working with local police at the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bangladesh border.
India is a stable, multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral parliament. Manmohan Singh became the country's prime minister following the victory of his Congress Party-led coalition in the 2004 general elections. The elections were considered free and fair, despite scattered episodes of violence. The government generally respected the rights of its citizens; however, numerous, serious problems remained. A widespread culture of impunity among police and security forces and pervasive corruption continued to be the principal obstacles to improving human rights. Extrajudicial killings, torture, custodial deaths, arbitrary arrest, disappearances, and other abuses by law enforcement personnel went largely unpunished, especially related to combating insurgencies in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and in the northeast. Although the country has numerous laws protecting human rights, enforcement was lax and convictions were rare, except for a few instances highlighted by the media. While religious tensions persisted, sometimes breaking out into communal violence, the diverse religious backgrounds of the country's leadership reflected the country's religious pluralism. At the national level, there is a Muslim president, Sikh prime minister, and Christian head of the governing parliamentary party. Five of the country's 28 state governments were headed by Christian chief ministers, one by a Sikh, and another by a Muslim. Social acceptance of caste-based discrimination remained a problem and was used by some to excuse human rights violations involving persons belonging to lower castes. Attacks against religious minorities and anticonversion legislation were concerns. Domestic violence and abuses against women, including dowry-related deaths, honor crimes, and female infanticide and feticide (sex selective abortions), remained significant problems. Significant trafficking in persons and the exploitation of indentured, bonded, and child labor continued in spite of repeated media exposure and calls by NGOs for government intervention.
U.S. human rights and democracy initiatives in the country focused on the promotion of good governance and the rights of vulnerable groups, especially those of women and children. U.S. engagement on the full range of these initiatives included diplomatic interaction at the highest levels, information sharing, public diplomacy, and funding of projects to encourage respect for democracy and human rights. U.S. officials met regularly with the National Human Rights Commission and government ministers to discuss human rights. In addition, the United States sponsored numerous conferences, lectures, and seminars on religious and racial tolerance, development of civil society and democracy, good governance, interfaith relations, multiculturalism, and peaceful conflict resolution.
The United States strengthened its bilateral partnership with the country on democracy promotion. During a March visit, President Bush and Prime Minister Singh highlighted efforts to deepen democracy and meet mutual international challenges. This included joint efforts through the UN Democracy Fund and the International Centre for Democratic Transition. The undersecretary of state for political affairs met with government officials throughout the year to discuss the U.S.-India joint partnership, which involved an array of initiatives. As part of the joint partnership, the undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs engaged government officials at the Global Issues Forum on various issues including democracy, combating trafficking in persons, and other areas of cooperation.
The United States continued its active engagement with the country's large, lively, and independent press. In May the United States organized a series of workshops on the ethics of journalism for entry-level and mid-career journalists in Agra and New Delhi. In October the United States conducted programs with a senior producer from a major U.S. network in cities throughout the country focusing on new media technologies and their impact on modern journalism. Other programs and lectures covered topics such as journalistic integrity, objectivity, and the role of investigative journalism in exposing corruption. The United States expanded its Urdu and Hindi editions of SPAN magazine and explored issues such as conflict resolution, academic freedom, and the rights of women and minorities. The United States provided support to 47 Indian officers and soldiers to attend training courses with the U.S. military that included human rights components.
The United States provided assistance to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to support refugee protection and assistance in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The United Stated also supported the Tibet Fund in order to provide reception, health, and education services to Tibetans in India and Nepal. The United States funded assistance to 145 Tibetan torture victims residing in the country, including medical care and rehabilitative services, including social support and resettlement allowances. In addition, the United States provided 240 Tibetan community leaders with information on how to identify traumatized refugees and create awareness among the general public about torture and its consequences.
The United States funded programs promoting the rights of women, including the establishment 38 legal aid and counseling centers in Rajasthan and Karnataka. The program established lawyer, paralegal, and community support networks in both states to expand outreach to women and provided approximately 40,000 women with information, advice, referrals or legal support. Dalit and Muslim women also benefited from this support. In addition, a network of approximately 500 community-based groups monitored violence against women at the community level while a partner NGO provided counseling, mediation, and legal support to women. U.S. funding helped replicate a program in Rajasthan to develop modules to train prosecutors on the roles women can play as witnesses.
U.S. assistance to NGOs and research institutions helped these groups conduct assessments on the prevalence of dowry deaths and female feticide. U.S. efforts supported research, advocacy, and outreach initiatives in the state of Rajasthan against female feticide. In Karnataka, U.S. funding supported youth forums where young boys and men collaborated with women's self-help groups working to combat violence against women. In addition, U.S. funding continued to help concerned NGOs with the organization known as Women Power Connect. During the year the organization continued to actively represent the interests of women to politicians, parliamentarians, journalists, and civil servants. It assisted in advancing the stalled domestic violence bill and began focusing on its effective implementation. Women Power Connect continued to organize state chapters and lobby on issues of quotas for women in parliament, gender budgeting, sexual harassment, and feticide.
The United States supported NGO efforts to increase Muslim women's awareness of their rights under the Koran and the constitution. The program organized a series of interactions at different levels that promoted dialogue between religious leaders, members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, women's rights activists, academics, and NGO representatives. The program led to the formation of women's self-help groups and also promoted information about women's rights to young adults through madrassas. In addition, U.S.-funded education programs and the madrassa education program provided services to children from vulnerable communities, including Dalits and Muslims. Services included programs to prepare out-of-school children for entry into formal education, building the capacity of inexperienced local organizations to develop effective strategies for enrolling and keeping vulnerable children in school, and improving teacher skills.
A U.S.-funded project worked with employers, trade unions, and the government to create awareness and encourage companies to adopt workplace policies to end discrimination against workers suffering from HIV/AIDS. Through the project nearly 300,000 workers in 60 companies spread over four states were trained on issues relating to HIV/AIDS in the workplace. The project helped more than 20 large companies develop workplace policies. In addition, the United States addressed issues of stigma and discrimination in training programs supported through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
The United States supported a wide range of initiatives to encourage religious and communal tolerance and freedom. During Ramadan, U.S. officials hosted several Iftar dinners to reach out to the Muslim community and continued to meet with religious leaders of the Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and Buddhist communities. In April the U.S. hosted a conference for 75 Muslim educators from all over the country who had participated in public diplomacy visitor exchange programs in the United States. The theme of the conference was perspectives on Islamic education in the 21st century. U.S. officials raised concern about anticonversion legislation with high ranking officials of the central and state government, as well as with the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Minorities.
The United States continued to support a joint U.S.-India child labor project to bring children out of the workplace and into school. The project has removed more than 80,000 children from hazardous work situations over the past four years.
The United States raised trafficking issues on numerous occasions with senior government officials and collaborated with state and municipal officials, international organizations, and NGOs. The United States emphasized the importance of national efforts to rid the country of human trafficking, including problems such as bonded labor and forced labor. The government cooperated with a U.S.-funded partner to present 20 country-wide workshops on trafficking prevention. The United States supported a total of 24 antitrafficking initiatives including projects to prevent trafficking in persons, establish shelters, and set up female protection programs to help reintegrate victims into the local economy.
During the year the United States, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and the government continued to train and sensitize law enforcement officials and prosecutors throughout the country about victims of forced labor and human trafficking and bringing abusers to justice. Training material developed through the project was used to conduct courses for law enforcement officials in target states. The first three Anti-Human Trafficking Units were launched in Andhra Pradesh, where they will serve as focal points for law enforcement coordination with other governmental departments and civil society and for intelligence gathering. Each unit has an NGO assigned to it, which will provide support to the unit's operations, especially as they pertain to care and support of trafficking victims. Police trained in this project conducted 43 operations in which 275 victims were rescued and a total of 256 traffickers were arrested in a period of a few short months
A U.S.-funded three-year project strengthened local capacities in South Asian countries to address trafficking and violence against women, improve the implementation of legal norms and policies, foster safe migration, and raise the standards of care for survivors of trafficking and violence. U.S. funding provided counseling, information, and support to more than 39,000 people to help ensure safe movement and protection from forced labor and trafficking. Approximately 2,700 trafficking victims were rescued by community vigilance cells working with local police at the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bangladesh border. U.S. funding, through these projects, provided interventions for victim witness protection in Mumbai and for combating sex tourism in Goa. At the national level, the National Law Commission of India accepted the Regional Victim-Witness Protection Protocol that was developed with U.S. funding. This protocol, along with the protocol on minimum standards, served as monitoring tools for many of the state- and NGO-run shelter homes.
Kazakhstan has a multiparty parliamentary system dominated by President Nursultan Nazarbayev's Otan Party. Nazarbayev was re-elected to another seven-year term in December 2005 in elections that fell short of international standards. The government's human rights record remained poor despite some modest improvements. Democratic institutions remained weak. Since its independence from the Soviet Union, the country has not held an election that met international standards. The constitution concentrates power in the presidency, permitting the president to control regional and local governments and to exercise significant influence over the legislature and judiciary. The media climate remained hostile for independent and opposition press, which were subjected to restrictive criminal and civil libel penalties for criticizing the president and other government officials. Legislation enacted during the year tightened government control over the media and the government continued to restrict freedom of assembly, association, and the activities of NGOs. The government also restricted and interfered with activities of opposition leaders and parties and suspended non partisan political party building activities conducted by foreign NGOs. Military hazing, detainee and prisoner abuse, unhealthy prison conditions, and arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of government opponents, continued to be problems. The judiciary was not independent, and there was pervasive corruption. The society is ethnically diverse with a high degree of interethnic tolerance. Despite a somewhat less favorable legal environment for religious freedom and some interference from local authorities, religious communities continued to report general government support for the rights of religious communities, including minority religious groups. Trafficking in persons remained a problem, although the government enacted a comprehensive set of legislative amendments to strengthen its ability to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, and to increase the amount of resources devoted to victim protection and prevention. There were reports of societal discrimination and violence against women.
The United States vigorously advocated progress on human rights and democracy as an integral component of bilateral engagement and an essential complement to economic and security cooperation. In keeping with this integrated approach, numerous U.S. assistance and training programs in the country had a human rights component, including programs involving the military, law enforcement, and other government agencies. Support for the rule of law, civil society, and independent media remained priorities. The United States continued to encourage the government to live up to its human dimension commitments as a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
During the year, officials traveled to the country to raise democracy and human rights concerns at the highest levels. President George Bush met with President Nazarbayev on September 29 and pressed for progress on democracy and human rights. On the same day, a joint U.S.-Kazakhstani statement was issued in which the country pledged democratic reforms and human rights progress. The ambassador conducted press conferences and media interviews throughout the year, during which he reiterated the U.S. policy of promoting democratic reform and supporting human rights and civil society.
The December 2005 presidential election failed to meet international standards. President Bush sent a letter to President Nazarbayev who subsequently promised President Bush that he would ensure the thorough investigation of and redress for electoral violations. The government conducted an investigation and acknowledged some violations. Overall, however, the government refuted many alleged electoral violations and failed to investigate them fully. At numerous bilateral and multilateral meetings, high-level U.S. officials encouraged the government to bring electoral laws and practices in line with international standards and to hold direct elections for local leaders.
The United States remained committed to and engaged the government at every level on the non partisan promotion of political pluralism and governance that reflected the political will of citizens. U.S. officials urged the government to rescind restrictive political party registration requirements; to register opposition parties; and to cease harassment of opposition parties and their leaders, including ending arrest, detention, and travel restrictions.
U.S.-funded projects provided non partisan, capacity-building support to improve political party, civil society, and independent media participation in the electoral process. U.S. partners trained 42 political party members in organizational techniques. However, the government suspended the program during the year due to legal objections, and intense U.S. engagement to resolve the issue was unsuccessful. The United States designed an exchange program for a leading television station to observe and videotape the U.S. midterm election campaign, which was later aired as a documentary in the country.
Other U.S. programs promoted good governance, citizen participation in the decision-making process, and civic education. The United States issued several small grants to independent, grassroots NGOs for projects encouraging local self-governance, including a grant to teach elderly citizens to assert their property and consumer rights. During the year, the U.S. Government completed a six-year program focused on secondary school civic education, which reached more than 44,000 students in 670 schools. In addition to supporting the development of a civics textbook, the program introduced interactive learning methodology and complementary extracurricular activities such as local government days, student action committees, and summer camps.
To promote media freedom, U.S. officials pressed the government on media freedom, urging it to bring its media laws in line with the standards of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In June the ambassador met with high-level government officials to express U.S. concerns over proposed restrictive media amendments and criticized the amendments during a press conference following their adoption. U.S. officials continued to urge the government to rescind media restrictions. U.S.-funded media programs provided professional, legal, and technical support for media outlets and media-related organizations on a variety of issues, including libel, advertisement, language requirements, labor legislation, election law, licensing, and intellectual property. An ongoing U.S.-funded program provided a legal support network for journalists. Through U.S. programs, seven private media outlets received production grants, 130 media professionals were trained via seminars and workshops, and nine broadcast media and two print media outlets benefited from onsite training. Over 20 current and 100 future judges received training on the rights of journalists and the media under domestic law and international norms.
The United States continued its support for an Internet-based "news factory" that enabled journalists and media outlets to learn how to use software that enabled them to share and publicize news reports and data. U.S. funds launched the first independent Central Asian news syndicate providing objective news on a wide range of topics. A U.S. grant helped support a popular and well respected independent news website. The United States also maintained its support for a domestic media advocacy NGO engaged in monitoring and publicizing abuses of journalistic rights and freedom of speech. A U.S. partner continued to produce the biweekly TV program Aina ("Mirror") with the help of a network of regional TV journalists who contributed reports. During the year, the journalists produced stories on students in Pavlodar facing solitary confinement as punishment for drug use, brutal beating of inmates by Pavlodar prison officials, labor migration and local attitudes towards migrants, and a high school course on the dangers of terrorism.
The United States continued to support civil society development and civic activism, funding 79 training events for 209 NGOs during the year. U.S.-supported NGOs initiated 25 new advocacy campaigns during the year. The United States funded a series of democracy information centers in the country, providing human rights and democracy information and training, offering Internet access, and hosting discussion clubs. The U.S. Government supported a multilateral NGO initiative to promote greater local government transparency through the Open Budget Initiative. The program promoted civic engagement in the development of local government budgets to promote those that were effective and responsive to citizens' needs.
A U.S.-supported civil society association continued its active role in policy dialogue, advocacy, and representation of broad NGO interests. The United States also continued its support for a well-known civil society discussion forum in Almaty, and in May the forum opened an affiliate association in Astana. The forum's activities included programming on freedom and security of the Internet, social democracy in modern Kazakhstan, modernization of the country's political system, and effective political activities for political parties.
Through the U.S.-funded Community Connections Program, ten youth NGO leaders from four regions of the country traveled to the United States in April to engage with their U.S. counterparts and learn best practices. The exchange program focused on developing NGO capacity to support youth activities and development. Upon their return to the country, the participants conducted presentations to introduce their partners to advocacy techniques, public political issues, and volunteerism.
To promote freedom of assembly, U.S. officials urged the government to rescind the ban on public rallies between the end of voting and the announcement of the official election results. In December the ban was removed.
Support for the rule of law, including an independent judiciary, remained a fundamental goal of U.S.-funded programs. To support judicial transparency and accountability, the United States cooperated with the government on a successful program that utilized a video and audio recording system for court proceedings. The system gained significant support from all users, including judges and citizens, and surveys revealed increased confidence in judicial outcomes among judges and defendants. In addition, U.S. partners trained judges on crafting well reasoned and written judicial decisions, worked with the judiciary to prepare a revised code of judicial ethics based on international norms, and provided training and technical assistance for improving the capacity of the national judges association to lobby for judicial independence and the rights of judges.
To assist the judiciary in preparing for the introduction of jury trials in January 2007, the United States partnered with the country's Supreme Court to support a study tour in Moscow for 18 judges to watch jury trials, meet with jury trial judges, and receive training at Russia's premier judicial training centers. With U.S. support, a mock jury trial was recorded for broadcast on national television to educate citizens, the judiciary, and lawyers about the new jury system. Advocacy by a U.S.-funded NGO resulted in the reinstitution of legal ethics as part of the mandatory curriculum for law students, and a U.S. partner developed a legal reasoning and writing curriculum that was taught in a top law school. A U.S. partner NGO produced a highly rated nationally televised forum on the problem of corruption in higher education, specifically focusing on the issue in law schools and its effect on the legal profession. The U.S. also supported a training program for judges, journalists, and court press secretaries designed to increase the transparency of courts. During the year, the U.S. sponsored the translation of a book on endemic corruption in the former Soviet Union, followed by author-led panel discussions in Astana and Almaty. The ambassador and several renowned scholars and human rights activists participated in the discussions, and the events received significant media coverage. In November U.S. officials publicly criticized the demolition of several Hare Krishna homes near Almaty, and the ambassador met with government officials to express concern over the treatment of the Hare Krishnas in their long-running property dispute with local government officials.
The U.S. included mandatory human rights components in all bilateral military training. With U.S. technical assistance, the country continued to reduce incidents of military conscript hazing and abuse through ongoing reforms to its non commissioned officer system.
The United States raised concerns about the government's treatment of refugees in a March 1 statement to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Permanent Council. During the year U.S. officials encouraged the government to uphold its international anti torture and refugee commitments.
The United States funded a project that increased women's participation in policymaking and promoted government accountability at local levels through the creation of unprecedented public advisory councils that worked with six local governments.
Throughout the year, the United States brought specific concerns regarding religious communities to the attention of the government; limits on the practice of religion were usually corrected by government officials. On September 11, the United States hosted a well-publicized interfaith appeal for tolerance and observance for victims of terrorism with leaders from a variety of religious faiths.
The United States supported its bilateral cooperation with the government on combating human trafficking with a broad civil society assistance strategy. Ongoing U.S. assistance programs focused on continued support and capacity building of crisis centers, hot lines, and shelters, including preventative and rehabilitative vocational training for vulnerable groups. The programs supported nine countertrafficking hot lines, a network of antitrafficking NGOs, consultation centers for labor migrants, dissemination of information among risk groups in vulnerable populations, education of teachers, shelters for victims of trafficking, and repatriation of victims of trafficking. Approximately 6,500 people made calls to antitrafficking hot lines during the year. The U.S. Government, through a local partner, also supported a number of antitrafficking training programs for law enforcement officers and judges in several regions. The United States also worked to launch a broad outreach program to raise law enforcement officials' awareness and knowledge of trafficking crimes and how to collaborate with NGOs to combat trafficking. Finally, the U.S. Government sponsored a liaison program between law enforcement and migration officials of transit and destination countries to encourage efficient and effective international cooperation in detecting, investigating, and prosecuting human trafficking cases.
Kyrgyzstan has a multiparty parliamentary system led by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, whose July 2005 election marked tangible progress towards meeting international standards. On November 9, following a week-long opposition-led street protest, the country adopted a new constitution which held out the possibility of greater checks and balances between the branches of government. On December 30, the parliament adopted a revised version of the constitution that restored many powers to the president. The new constitution envisages a greater role for political parties, with half the seats in the next parliament to be elected by party lists. The government's respect for democracy and human rights improved in several areas, including freedom of assembly, fewer incidents of military hazing, improved prison conditions, some accountability for abuses by law enforcement officials, and modest anticorruption efforts. Despite these improvements, serious problems remained. Members of the security forces at times tortured or abused persons, often with impunity. Arbitrary or unlawful killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, and the disappearance of and failure to protect refugee and asylum seekers were problems. Prison conditions remained very poor, contributing to prison riots and attempted suicides. Restrictions on citizens' rights to change their government persisted, but were less severe than in previous years. There was an increase in government harassment of the opposition and independent media. Physical attacks on opposition leaders and vandalism of media outlets by unknown assailants also occurred. The lack of judicial independence amid pervasive corruption continued to be a serious problem, limiting citizens' rights to due process. Trafficking in persons, violence against women and children, child labor, and discrimination against ethnic minorities were also problems.
The U.S. strategy to promote democracy and human rights focused on strengthening democratic institutions, including constitutional reform, increasing observance of human rights, combating corruption, supporting civil society, and promoting independent media. The United States maintained close contact with independent journalists, human rights activists, and politicians from across the political spectrum while encouraging dialogue between the government and civil society. The ambassador and visiting senior U.S. officials met frequently with members of the government, civil society, and human rights groups to encourage reform. During April and August visits to Bishkek, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs met with parliamentarians, religious clerics, government officials, and civil society activists to discuss democratic and constitutional reform. Another senior official followed up with similar meetings during an October visit. The ambassador also held a series of roundtables with journalists, students, and civil society activists in several regions of the country to discuss the need for further reform. In addition, she implemented an active public diplomacy program to help build support for reform. In June the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe led a roundtable discussion with civic society leaders on constitutional reform.
The United States continued its support for training poll workers on the use of indelible ink as an effective antifraud tool for parliamentary by-elections. As with the 2005 presidential and parliamentary elections, the ink proved to be an effective measure in combating multiple voting, which had been a serious problem in previous elections. The United States provided financial and logistical support for monitors of the parliamentary by-elections and financed parallel vote tabulation. The U.S.-funded studies to improve electoral processes included accurate voter lists.
In preparation for the proposed referendum on a new constitution, three U.S.-supported NGOs carried out public education campaigns during the year. The three NGOs provided much-needed information and analysis on the draft constitutions under consideration, which were disseminated widely throughout the country. When the proposed referendum on constitutional drafts was not held, the public education campaigns were revised to focus on providing information and analysis of the December 30 constitution that was adopted by the parliament and approved by the president.
The United States continued its support for political party development through projects implemented by civil society organizations at the national and regional levels. These projects provided training and consultation to political parties on party platform development, constituent service provision, legislative advocacy, and communication skills.
The United States continued its support of civic education programs, supplying a total of 160,634 civic education textbooks to students around the country. Over 260,000 students in all 2,061 schools in the country benefited from U.S.-sponsored civic education program that promoted greater understanding of civic responsibility, women in political life, and international human rights.
Promoting media freedom and freedom of speech remained a U.S. priority. In bilateral and multilateral meetings, U.S. officials encouraged the government to bring its media laws in line with international standards, in particular by rescinding criminal penalties for libel and transforming state-owned television into an independent entity. During the year the United States continued to provide training to journalists from electronic and print outlets in an effort to improve professional standards and clarify the legal framework for media operation. The U.S. Government funded a group of media professionals to travel to the United States to learn about the role of the media in a democratic society. The United States continued its support for a local NGO that provides alternative dispute settlement for journalists. Throughout the year, the United States continued its support of the Media Support Center, which is the only independent printing press in the country and Central Asia. The first independent Central Asian news syndicate was launched with U.S. funds. The United States also supported media resource centers in the Ferghana Valley and over 20 information centers throughout the country with libraries and diverse media publications. U.S.-funded projects increased the professionalism of women journalists and coverage of women's issues and human rights. The United States also provided small grants to support independent media, Internet and information centers.
U.S. officials persistently encouraged the government to curb and publicly denounce NGO harassment. When an NGO leader was assaulted by unknown assailants and sustained a serious head injury, the ambassador visited him in the hospital and pressed the government to conduct an independent investigation, hold the perpetrators accountable, and ensure the leader's safety. The United States continued its strong support for a wide variety of programs designed to strengthen civil society and advocacy through a network of nine support centers that provide training, grants, legal assistance, and other services to NGOs all over the country. These centers are joined into the countrywide Association of Civil Society Support Centers that advocates at the national level on civil society issues. During the year 97 organizations participated in a total of 31 advocacy campaigns, including four at the national level. The association implemented a successful national-level advocacy campaign to oppose the Ministry of Justice's initiative to investigate local NGOs funded by international organizations.
The Coalition of Communication Operators, with U.S. support, successfully advocated fair tariffs in the communications market by convincing the government to adopt a law and documents for calculation of tariffs for all communication operators. This new law provides equal conditions for independent and government-funded media outlets and thereby helped level the media playing field.
The United States and the European Union jointly and successfully pressed the government to exercise restraint and respect freedom of assembly during the numerous rallies and protests throughout the year which, by and large, took place peacefully. A U.S. grant enabled a local foundation to monitor respect for freedom of assembly with the goal of supporting citizen activism and increasing awareness of democracy and human rights.
The United States continued programs to promote judicial reform and transparency and provided strong diplomatic support to anticorruption efforts. High-level U.S. officials visited and stressed to the president and prime minister the need to make anticorruption initiatives the centerpiece of their reform programs. The government continued implementation of a U.S.-sponsored pilot project to improve the effectiveness of the Bishkek traffic police and root out corruption within its ranks. The United States sponsored judicial training for commercial, criminal, and non-commercial civil judges, while a U.S.-funded local watchdog group continued monitoring courtrooms. The United States also continued programs promoting greater local government transparency. Several representatives from the Ministry of Justice visited the United States through the International Visitors Leadership Program to study the U.S. judicial and legal systems. The United States also provided grants to student groups at 12 universities and four teacher groups to combat corruption within the educational system. One of these grantees, a civil youth movement, increased students' awareness of their legal rights, improved the quality of university services, and promoted budget transparency and self-governing student bodies in two of the country's largest universities.
The United States supported a project to promote legal reform. A legal education clinic received a grant to assess legal clinics, recommend improvements, conduct seminars for legal clinic staff throughout the country, and provide the clinics with the latest materials on methodology, international standards, and teaching approaches.
Throughout the year, a U.S.-supported human rights defenders' network monitored prisons and pretrial detention facilities in an effort to prevent detainee abuse. The network also reported on human rights abuses around the country and worked with authorities at the local and national levels to prevent further abuses. The United States provided a series of 28 small grants to local NGOs to protect human rights, provide civic education, foster the rule of law, and promote the use of conflict prevention and resolution techniques.
During the year the United States continued to urge the government to turn over to UNHCR for third-country resettlement the four Uzbek refugees and one Uzbek asylum seeker who remained in detention after having fled the 2005 violence in Andijon. Following continuous advocacy efforts by U.S. authorities in both Bishkek and Washington, the secretary of state sent a letter to President Bakiyev in January reiterating the U.S. position. On August 9, against U.S. recommendations, the government forcibly returned these individuals to Uzbekistan. The United States publicly denounced this in Bishkek, Washington, and at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. U.S. officials also called on the government to conduct an impartial investigation into the disappearance of other Uzbek asylum and refugee seekers.
To promote religious freedom, the United States maintained regular contacts with representatives of various religious communities and funded several Muslim religious leaders to visit the United States through IVLP. The ambassador hosted Iftar dinners for Muslim leaders in Bishkek and Osh, sponsored a roundtable on religious freedom, and visited the Islamic University and regional mosques. A U.S. official addressed a crowd of over 50,000 worshipers in Bishkek's main square on the Feast of Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan.
The United States continued to play a leading role in combating human trafficking. On numerous occasions U.S. officials lobbied the government to employ more effective means to combat trafficking. The U.S. Government supported a three-year project to combat trafficking in the country, with a particular focus on labor trafficking. The United States also sponsored antitrafficking information campaigns as well as seminars and training sessions aimed at law enforcement officials involved in antitrafficking efforts. The United States also continued to support the Sezim shelter for trafficking victims.
The Republic of Maldives has a parliamentary style of government with a strong executive branch, headed by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. President Gayoom announced a process to strengthen democracy and introduce political reforms in 2004, and the government's human rights record has improved slightly since that time. In 2005 the parliament unanimously agreed to recognize political parties. Freedoms of expression and assembly expanded, and prison conditions improved. In March the government published a "Roadmap for the Reform Agenda" and introduced several bills in parliament to address significant structural difficulties; however, none of the bills had passed at year's end. Serious human rights problems remained. The president's power to appoint members of parliament constrained citizens' ability to change their government. Freedom of the press, religion, and expression continued to be limited.
U.S. human rights and democracy goals in the country included encouraging the continuation of the reform agenda to improve awareness of and respect for human rights and democratic institutions, such as political party development, voter education, an independent media and judiciary, and respect for the rule of law. The United States worked to promote human rights and democracy through bilateral discussions, public statements, and training security forces.
In July the United States sponsored a Fulbright specialist who developed a journalism curriculum for the country's first university. The government committed to sending two individuals to the United States to obtain master's degrees in journalism and return to teach the curriculum as prepared.
The United States promoted a robust civil society and called for respect for freedom of assembly. Prior to a planned November 10 opposition demonstration, the ambassador commented at a press conference in Mal� that freedom of assembly should be permitted within the bounds of the constitution. However, when the government made a series of preemptive arrests and took other actions to limit the demonstration, the opposition canceled it.
U.S. diplomats engaged in discussions with officials to encourage the fair treatment of detainees, advocated for increased freedom of the press, and urged expanded rights of expression and assembly. High-ranking U.S. officials, including the secretary of state, sent letters to President Gayoom encouraging him to continue the reform process. During multiple visits to the country, U.S. officials raised human rights as a key area of concern. U.S. officials visited opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed when he was under house arrest.
Human rights training was a key component of all military-to-military programs. With U.S. funding, military officers participated in training programs, professional military education courses, and senior service schools, where they received training on respect for human rights. The U.S. military also conducted joint exercises with local armed forces and promoted further professionalism and human rights awareness.
U.S. officials advocated for labor legislation reforms, offering to fund training on implementing labor laws. Government officials drafted improved labor bills, but parliament did not enact them by year's end.
Nepal's democracy took a large stride forward after the People's Movement in April, which led to the king's reinstatement of parliament. After the People's Movement, the country's poor human rights record improved. In November the governing alliance of seven political parties signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the Maoists, setting the stage for the Maoists to enter into an interim parliament. Members of the security forces and the Maoist insurgents committed numerous grave human rights abuses throughout the year. Before the transition of power in April, security forces engaged in serious human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrest, torture, disappearance, and arbitrary and unwarranted lethal force; Maoists systematically employed violence and committed serious human rights abuses, including torture, extrajudicial killings, bombings, and extortion. After the cease-fire declaration, government abuses decreased substantially, although there were still some reports of arbitrary detentions or torture by security forces. Maoist abuses such as abduction, extortion, violence, and conscription of child soldiers continued relatively unabated. The government attempted to address some human rights violations after the People's Movement but did not respond appropriately and effectively to human rights violations, partly due to institutional weaknesses and a lack of political will. Trafficking in persons and the rights of women, children, and refugees remained serious human rights problems.
The United States pursued two main goals in the country: preventing a violent Maoist takeover and promoting responsible multiparty democracy. Specifically, the United States supported the establishment of a government with representation from the country's legitimate, peaceful political parties based on reinstatement of the parliament elected in 1999. The United States urged the king and his government to turn over power to the legitimate political parties. The U.S. worked with the government, the international community, the media, and civil society to facilitate a common vision for a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic country, and encouraged all actors in the country to put principles of democracy and human rights into practice. Areas of engagement included electoral and political reform, good governance, security sector reform, and rule of law. The United States also supported efforts to promote conflict management and mitigation, international humanitarian law, anticorruption, rehabilitation of torture victims, women's political participation, support for refugee communities, civil-military relations, and efforts to combat child labor and trafficking in persons.
Senior U.S. officials urged the government to restore rule of law and security in the country and to accept responsibility for past and present human rights abuses. The U.S. Government repeatedly emphasized the importance of protecting human rights, promoting true multiparty democracy, encouraging Maoist to abandon violence and extortion, and promoting a sustainable peace process. U.S. officials, in public and private settings, urged political parties to act as responsible partners in the peace process and to ensure accountability for human rights abuses—both by the government and the Maoists. The United States also publicly encouraged the Maoists to renounce violence and intimidation. The U.S. reported on Maoist abuses and encouraged domestic and international organizations to ensure that Maoist violence and other abuses were publicly noted.
The United States provided assistance for democratic electoral processes such as political party development and electoral reform. The United States urged the king to incorporate the political parties into the election processes more fully. U.S. officials criticized the municipal elections after they were held without the participation of the political parties as they did not meet international standards. The United States assisted the country's major political parties to develop healthy and transparent internal processes, represent their constituencies effectively, and expand internal opportunities for women, youth, and disenfranchised groups. The United States also supported the formation of a women's caucus at the national level, which advocated for increased women's participation in politics, government, and business sectors. The United States supported formation of a civil society alliance for political reform, incorporating five national civil society organizations, which continued to advocate for and report on political reforms. The United States supported natural resource management groups in the country to promote good governance and encourage democratic practices at the local level. These groups also sought to increase local political participation by women and minority groups.
In support for media freedom and freedom of speech, the United States spoke out strongly against the government's censorship of the press and arbitrary arrests of journalists before the cease-fire. The United States encouraged the media to report openly during the April People's Movement and provided information to both domestic and international media to ensure that U.S. views were reported in an accurate and timely fashion. In November and December the United States hosted seminars highlighting the lack of investigative journalism in the country and the challenges that many journalists confronted throughout the year. The United States sponsored international exchanges for five journalists during the year.
The United States promoted respect for freedom of assembly and association. U.S. officials condemned the king's banning of demonstrations and preemptive arrests of political party leaders before the People's Movement. U.S. officials publicly attempted to meet with arrested political leaders on a weekly basis, putting pressure on the government for their release. U.S. officials also met regularly with NGOs and members of civil society to provide public support for their activities and urged the royal government to release members of civil society held for peacefully protesting. During the People's Movement, the United States pressed the royal government to release thousands of arrested political leaders and civil society members.
The United States worked with the judiciary, the Supreme Court, appellate and district courts, and civil society to modernize the justice sector, expand access to justice for the poor, strengthen capacity to combat corruption, and enhance legal protections for women and the disenfranchised. U.S. assistance efforts helped the courts to promptly schedule habeas corpus petitions filed on behalf of disappeared persons. The United States sponsored training abroad programs for members of the judicial community, including district and Supreme Court judges, and members of the bar association. Programs involved judicial training, long-term technical assistance, and small grant disbursements to NGOs working on judicial sector reform. During the year the United States sponsored government officials and media personnel to participate in rule of law programs in the United States.
U.S. assistance to the country's principal anticorruption body, the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, helped to increase its investigative and prosecutorial capacity. U.S. assistance to media and civil society groups helped increase coalitions and networks for anticorruption awareness across the country, which resulted in formation of regional anticorruption forums among public-private-civil society partners.
U.S. officials worked closely with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kathmandu and provided funding to the office to monitor and improve the human rights situation in the country. The United States also provided funding to the National Human Rights Commission to strengthen its capacity to investigate alleged human rights abuses across the country and to provide key services to victims of the conflict. The United States encouraged government efforts to provide better government services. The U.S. Government supported programs that provided basic health care, income generation opportunities, job training, and psychological and legal counseling for victims of conflict. The United States also provided support to build the capacity of the government's Peace Secretariat to manage the peace process. With U.S. assistance, the Peace Secretariat took on a key role in the peace process, and after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed, the Peace Secretariat focused its efforts on supporting national reconciliation efforts.
U.S. officials publicly pressed the royal government and the Royal Nepalese Army to respect and protect human rights and to avoid a breakdown of law and order. After the cease-fire declaration, the United States hosted a civil-military expert-exchange program on military legal reform that included a section on human rights and the rule of law. Representatives from the Ministry of Defense, the Army's Judge Advocate General, Military Police, and Military Command attended the event. The United States funded seminars focused on operational law for armed conflicts and investigative human rights reporting and sponsored 33 soldiers to attend military education and training programs, all of which included instruction on respect for human rights. The United States also sponsored a civil-military relations program, which brought together, for the first time, members of political parties, civil society, human rights NGOs, and the military to discuss the future of the Nepal Army and the importance of civilian control of the military. The United States also arranged a seminar on democratic civil-military relations for civilian instructors at the Nepal Military Academy and sponsored five citizens, including two army officers, to participate in a two-week civil-military program in the United States.
The United States worked with the government, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Tibet Fund, and the Tibetan community to support Tibetan refugees transiting to India through Nepal. The United States also urged the government to allow a group of nearly 200 Tibetans with U.S. immigration benefits to exit the country. In addition, the United States made significant contributions to efforts by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and World Food Program to assist nearly 100,000 Bhutanese refugees. U.S. officials encouraged the government and other interested parties to promote a durable solution for the country's Bhutanese refugee population.
The United States promoted religious freedom through diplomacy and exchanges and supported participation by the country in the International Visitors Program on "Religious Diversity in the US." U.S. officials met regularly with religious leaders to demonstrate public support for their activities.
The United States supported a four-year program to combat trafficking in persons. The program included conducting awareness activities, strengthening networks and advocacy, providing economic alternatives for vulnerable groups, education programs, and rights-based training for the government's antitrafficking task force members. The awareness and advocacy program reached over 300,000 beneficiaries. As an economic strategy to prevent trafficking, U.S. assistance provided informal educational and vocational training to 717 at-risk girls and trafficking survivors, 60 percent of whom subsequently found gainful employment. During the year there was an increase in the number of convictions of traffickers and victim rescues at the community level. The United States continued to sponsor participants to attend conferences on human trafficking. The United States also worked on a multi year project to combat exploitive child labor through education.
Pakistan is a federal republic. President Pervez Musharraf, who is the head of state and the chief of army staff, assumed power after overthrowing the civilian government in 1999. He was elected president in a controversial referendum in 2002, in which he secured a five-year tenure that ends in 2007. The international community judged the October 2002 general elections for the National and Provincial Assemblies and the Senate to be seriously flawed. The next round of national and provincial elections is expected in the fall of 2007 or early 2008. The elected head of government is the civilian Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz; however, all opposition parties boycotted the 2004 vote because opposition candidates were not allowed to appear at the assembly after having been convicted of sedition. Opposition parties criticized Aziz's election and claimed his two elections to the assembly were fraudulent. Domestic and international observers found irregularities but concluded the elections were generally free, fair, and credible.
Prime Minister Aziz generally focused on technical and economic matters, whereas President Musharraf wielded considerably more power and influence. Legislatures at all levels debated freely and took action on a wide range of issues, often in opposition to the stated policies of the executive. The judiciary was subject to political influence and corruption, and it lacked public confidence. The High Court was respected and generally acted independently. The government's human rights record remained poor with serious concerns, including abuses by security forces such as extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape. There were instances when local police acted independently of government authority. The country witnessed an increase in disappearances of provincial activists and political opponents, especially in provinces experiencing internal turmoil and insurgencies. While harassment, intimidation, and arrests of journalists increased during the year, newspapers were free to criticize the government, and most did. Condemnation of government policies and harsh criticism of political leaders and military operations were common. However, media outlets practiced self-censorship for fear that government agents would engage in retribution against papers and journalists critical of certain governmental policies. Corruption was widespread in the government and police forces, and the government did little to combat the problem. Domestic violence and abuse against women, such as honor crimes, and discriminatory legislation that affected women and religious minorities remained serious problems. Widespread trafficking in persons and exploitation of indentured, bonded, child labor, and worker rights were ongoing problems.
The country's transition to a full and functional democracy is critical to the strength of our long-term relationship. The United States seeks to help build a more participatory, representative, and accountable democracy in the country. During the year the United States pushed for democratic and transparent elections in late 2007 or early 2008 general elections. The U.S. also pressed for stronger national and provincial legislatures, increased democratization and institutional strengthening of political parties, and accountability in local governments. The United States also supported respect for the rule of law by building the capacity of a more professional law enforcement cadre and promoting an appropriate role for the military. The United States continued to work with the government, civil society institutions, and international organizations to strengthen the media and combat violence and discrimination against women and religious minorities, trafficking in persons, and child labor. The secretary of state and other high-level U.S. officials repeatedly raised the importance of democracy. They stressed the importance of holding free, fair, and credible elections; allowing political parties to operate; and ensuring no government interference in the process.
In August the United States affirmed its commitment to a multi-year strategy to help support democratic institutions in the country by signing a bilateral agreement with the government to strengthen national and provincial parliamentary institutions; build responsive, accountable local governments; and improve electoral processes within the country. The funds were used for building a research library in parliament; providing training for legislators; developing a functional committee system in the parliament; and improving the performance, development planning, and service delivery capacities of six local government districts in the country.
Through the political party strengthening program, the United States worked with the leadership of all major parties to train future political leaders in issue-based campaigning, grass-roots party development, and internally democratic mechanisms for platform development and candidate selection. A separate program focused on emerging female party leaders provided training and assistance to improve their capacity to campaign for elected office and serve the public as elected officials. The program developed the local capacity of female political leaders to train other female members and elected officials. Through the program, 1,100 women from five political parties received training on public speaking, lobbying, networking, advocacy, and fundraising and were motivated to seek out positions on their parties' executive committees. Other programs worked on building the skills of newly elected mayors (with a focus on female mayors and young first-time mayors) and developing the capacity of young political party leaders within party youth wings to play a more significant role in their parties. U.S. funding helped facilitate orientation trainings for newly elected union councilors on the roles and responsibilities of their office and helped them develop mechanisms to facilitate citizens' involvement in local government.
A wide range of senior U.S. officials engaged their counterparts during the year to encourage the government to ensure free, fair, and credible elections. The United States funded the computerization of the country's voter rolls, provided transparent ballot boxes, facilitated a dialogue between the Election Commission and political parties to address concerns during the election process, and trained polling officials. The United States also directly urged the election commissioner to address specific concerns about the election process.
The United States promoted media freedom and regarded strengthening the media as critical to the long-term development of democracy in the country. The United States expressed concern regarding specific disappearance cases and attacks against journalists. In meetings with the government, senior U.S. officials routinely raised the need to respect press freedom and pressed for redress in specific high-profile violations of press freedom. The United States funded training for radio and print journalists and supported community radio stations in key areas such as the rural North West Frontier Province and the adjoining Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The project helped create the country's first television program focused on rule of law, human rights, and legal education. It also trained journalists in legal and political reporting to improve journalistic coverage and public knowledge of political and legal issues, with a focus on coverage of elections, courts, human rights, and rule of law issues. The program helped create a resource center that served as a monitor and source of expertise on media rights and media development. Another program the United States funded aimed to strengthen the role of the independent media by providing journalists training on investigative journalism and developing documentaries on human rights and the rule of law in collaboration with an independent television station. The United States maintained an active dialogue with journalists and advocated for improvements in journalism standards. Moreover, the United States supported the participation of 13 journalists in International Visitors Leadership Programs.
The United States promoted respect for rule of law in the country. Through engagement with senior government leaders, the United States pressed for broader judicial reform, encouraging the government to augment judicial independence.
During the year the United States continued efforts to develop competent, professional security forces in the country to help end human rights violations by these organizations and contribute to greater respect for rule of law in the country. The United States worked with the National Police Academy and all five provincial police colleges to develop and implement new training curricula for law enforcement personnel. The curricula focused on criminal investigation techniques, strategic planning, and law enforcement management and included courses in developing professional standards and appropriate use of force. Courses stressed the rule of law, respect for human rights, and how to handle gender crimes. The U.S. Government also regularly sent law enforcement executives to a 10-week- university-level program in the United States to develop their investigative and management skills and educate them on ethics and civil rights.
As an ongoing part of its democracy and human rights strategy in the country, the United States advocated for the elimination of discrimination against women. U.S. officials met with local women's rights NGOs and supported their advocacy efforts to strengthen penalties for domestic violence and honor killings and to reform discriminatory provisions of the nation's legal system. As part of a U.S.- sponsored media project, women developed a radio program called "Meri Awaz Suno" (Hear My Voice), focused on groundbreaking topics affecting women such as health and education, HIV/AIDS awareness, women's political participation, and violence against women, including honor killings. Senior U.S. officials repeatedly raised the need to do more to end violence against women and to protect victims of such violence. U.S. officials continued to encourage the country's politicians to expand legal protections on an array of women's rights and rule of law issues.
The United States supported programs to uphold the human rights of millions of Afghan refugees in the country and built capacity within local organizations and the government to assist refugees. The United States was the largest contributor to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' assisted repatriation program, through which approximately 2.9 million Afghan refugees have left the country since 2002. The United States also supported programs to alleviate gender-based violence and provide education, health, water, and sanitation services in refugee and host communities.
The United States worked to combat religious discrimination and victimization of religious minorities. As part of its advocacy, the United States pressed the government to reform discriminatory legislation such as the anti-Ahmadi laws and encouraged efforts to prevent misuse of blasphemy laws. U.S. officials spoke out against sectarian violence in the country's majority Muslim community and urged the government to continue its efforts to dismantle organizations responsible for such violence. The United States maintained close ties with all religious communities and raised cases of discrimination and violence against minority religious groups with the government. The United States actively engaged with the country's religious leadership to advocate tolerance. As part of its education program the United States provided funding to the government to improve the quality and availability of public education as a viable alternative to religious schools.
During the year the United States supported several programs aimed at the elimination of child labor. One program placed former child laborers in informal education centers to learn basic literacy and math skills, with the goal of mainstreaming them into government schools. Another U.S.-funded program was initiated after the country ratified the International Labor Organization's Convention 182, which aims to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. During the year U.S. officials pressed for the revision of labor legislation to ensure that it complied with international standards. The United States funded work with local labor unions to strengthen their ability to advocate effectively for increased labor rights, to protect workers' interests and rights through workplace policy changes, and to improve women's rights in the workplace. U.S. officials also continued to urge the government to allow workers in the Karachi export processing zone and other such zones the right to organize and bargain collectively. The United States also urged the government to address the issue of the broad application of restrictions on unionization in certain sectors under the provisions of the Essential Services Maintenance Act.
The United States continued to assist the government in combating trafficking in persons, emphasizing prevention, prosecution, and protection of victims. The United States provided training to the antitrafficking unit within the federal law enforcement agency, which reportedly resulted in increased arrests and prosecutions of human traffickers. U.S. funding also assisted the operation of a shelter for trafficking victims. Other projects improved the capacity of the antitrafficking unit by providing technical assistance and building awareness in vulnerable communities through community-oriented activities, use of radio and cassette media, and interactive theater performances.
Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multiparty republic that continues to be fractured by the ethnic conflict between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an organization advocating a separate ethnic Tamil state. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, elected in November 2005, and the parliament share constitutional power. The election was generally considered technically sound; however, in both government and LTTE-controlled predominantly Tamil areas, the LTTE enforced an electoral boycott. During the year violations of the cease-fire accord, signed by both the government and the LTTE in 2002, increased in frequency and seriousness. This led to a de facto breakdown of the agreement.
As a result of the escalating hostilities between the government and LTTE and numerous violations of the cease-fire agreement by both sides, overall respect for human rights declined in the affected areas. There were numerous, credible reports that armed paramilitary groups, suspected of being linked to the government and security forces, participated in armed attacks during the year. Human rights monitors also reported arbitrary arrests and detention by security forces, poor prison conditions, denial of fair and public trials, corruption and lack of transparency, infringement of religious freedom and freedom of movement, and discrimination against minorities. Trafficking in persons also remained a serious issue affecting women, children and men for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. The LTTE engaged in politically motivated killings, suicide attacks, disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, interference with privacy, denial of freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association, and recruitment of child soldiers. Since the August 2005 killing of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, the government has regularly renewed emergency regulations that permitted arrests without warrants and unaccountable detentions. In December parliament toughened these regulations to give security forces even broader arrest and detention powers. These regulations restrict the media's ability to report on the conflict. The new rule also establishes an appeals process for detainees, but gives civil servants, rather than judges, the right to adjudicate the cases.
U.S. efforts to promote human rights and democracy focused on working with allies to broker a lasting peace agreement between the government and the LTTE, urging both sides to uphold the cease-fire; pressing the government to curb and render justice for human rights abuses, and promoting freedoms of the press and religion, fair labor practices, and the rights of women and children.
The United States promoted a democratic political process and good governance. A U.S.-funded transparent and accountable local governance project aimed to strengthen local government's management capacity, service delivery, and increase citizen participation in decision making. During the year the program supported 35 local government partners in six provinces. Following local government elections during the year, the project supported a national conference on local government and the training of newly-elected mayors and local officials. The United States continued to engage participants in the youth parliament project through a series of regional discussions and skill development programs, which helped the students to develop and implement action plans addressing community needs. One major democracy initiative during the year included technical assistance and material support provided to the Elections Commission to computerize the National Voter Registry.
U.S. efforts to promote freedom of speech and the media included diplomacy and technical assistance programs. Given the country's highly-centralized media environment, the United States initiated a regional media program that gave citizens and local government authorities a voice on local issues of national concern, including internal displacement, devolution of power, and human rights. Media houses in both the south and east provided training and production support to district-based journalists and staff of community-based organizations. Real Voices Radio current affairs programs in both vernacular languages were broadcast weekly on three regional radio stations in the south, east, and central hill country.
The United States supported rule of law, judicial reform, and anticorruption efforts. A U.S.-funded anticorruption program continued to provide training and technical assistance to staff from the commission to investigate allegations of bribery or corruption in the auditor general's department. Training programs targeted mid-level managers from the auditor general's department. The program supported a series of regional workshops for civil society organizations to raise awareness about corruption in tsunami-affected districts; a series of public service announcements on national television on corruption; and, in collaboration with other donors, several awareness-raising events on International Anticorruption Day. Another U.S.-supported project continued to train mediators from the Ministry of Justice's Community Mediation Board's Program and support NGOs working with marginalized communities to train informal paralegals to represent the interests of their communities.
The United States continued to press the government and LTTE to resume negotiations, uphold the cease-fire and find a political solution to the conflict. U.S. officials consistently urged the government to halt all human rights abuses and hold perpetrators accountable; the United States hosted a meeting of the co-chairs of the Tokyo Donors Conference late in the year to that end. The United States also provided technical assistance and training to the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process on conflict resolution and analysis. The United States funded meetings, workshops and publications that discussed human rights and peaceful coexistence. In the conflict- and tsunami-affected east, for example, community leaders from local government and civil society underwent training in nonviolent communication skills. The United States hosted a series of debates through the traditional form of sung limericks, which offered a viable means to address sensitive issues such as interethnic relations and the cost of war.
The United States assisted in retraining the police to focus on community-oriented policing. U.S. law enforcement professionals led courses on basic investigation and interrogation techniques aimed at reducing the use of torture. U.S. officers led a course entitled "Human Dignity and Ethics" and worked with their domestic counterparts to integrate these skills and techniques into the local law enforcement curriculum. A U.S. grant supported the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission's efforts to process more than 16,000 complaints of disappearances and to establish a national database on disappearance cases. Human rights training was a key component of all joint military programs.
In the eastern province, incidents of violence and general strikes were common, and there was mutual suspicion between communities. In speeches, media roundtables, and opinion pieces, the ambassador, the under secretary of state for political affairs, the assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, and other senior officials condemned human rights abuses committed by the LTTE and pressed the government to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by authorities. To address a core issue of the conflict, the United States supported local efforts to promote language rights and pluralism through implementation of the 1987 Official Language Policy. Based on an audit of local practices, the United States supported advocacy and awareness through a concerned citizens group comprised of 18 eminent personalities, provided trilingual notice boards and documents for seven government institutions, and commissioned a study to identify more effective ways to implement the language policy.
The country is predominantly Buddhist but also has sizeable Christian, Hindu, and Muslim populations. U.S. officials regularly met with representatives of all religious groups to review a wide range of human rights, ethnic, and religious freedom issues. The United States discussed religious freedom issues with the government in the context of its overall dialogue and policy of promoting human rights. During the year the ambassador held high-level meetings with the current and former presidents of the country to express concern about the negative impact that anticonversion laws could have on religious freedom. The assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs and the ambassador discussed the anticonversion issue with Sri Lanka's ambassador to the United States. The United States continued to encourage government and religious leaders to find nonlegislative means to address religious issues.
The United States provided assistance to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to support refugee protection and assistance in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka and support to the Tibet Fund to provide reception, health, and education services to Tibetans in India and Nepal.
The United States has funded a four-year program in the country to help create a National Plan of Action for Decent Work designed to promote good governance of labor standards and protection of labor. The United States also funded the Factory Improvement Program, a multi-supplier training program to develop local factories' capacity to improve industrial relations; health, safety, and working conditions; and productivity and quality, which ended during the year. The United States began a program to promote the rights of the country's workers in the Persian Gulf and a program to enforce codes of conduct and promote workers rights in the country as well.
Tajikistan is an authoritarian state; President Emomali Rahmonov and an inner circle of loyal supporters dominated political life. The country has a constitution and a functioning multiparty political system, but, in practice, democratic progress was slow and political pluralism limited. The November presidential election lacked genuine competition and did not fully test democratic practices. The election was flawed and did not meet international standards, although there were some improvements on voting procedures. The executive branch continued to exert pressure over the judicial system and dominated the legislative branch. The government's human rights record remained poor. Corruption hampered democratic and social reform. The government restricted civil society and denied visas and registration to some international and local democracy and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The government refused to register, harassed, and censored independent media outlets. There were reports of torture, abuse, and extortion by security forces that acted with impunity; harsh prison conditions; restrictions on religious freedom; violence and discrimination against women; and child and forced labor. Trafficking in persons remained a problem, but the government made some improvements in this area.
The U.S. democracy and human rights strategy aimed to promote a strong and transparent democracy with independent and effective legislative and judicial branches and an accountable executive branch, which respect the rule of law. The strategy focused on advancing an active and free media, civil society, and the human rights of all citizens by reinforcing positive developments and engaging the government, the international community, and the public, despite the very controlled post-Soviet atmosphere.
The United States regularly advocated for democracy and the guarantee of human rights in public and private meetings. The United States took every opportunity to speak to students, journalists, and local officials about the importance of strengthening democracy and upholding universally recognized freedoms. The United States operated three American Corners, which served as resource centers for literature on democracy and human rights. The United States also funded the publication of over 50 analytical articles and a book about America and democracy. U.S.-organized student and leadership exchanges exposed citizens to democratic values, inspiring and providing resources to participants to adopt democratic ideas in their own communities. In the past year, parliamentarians and military and law enforcement officials were among the many that traveled to Western Europe and the United States to learn about a myriad of subjects, from the history of democracy to how to manage armed forces in a modern democracy.
U.S. democracy promotion efforts largely focused on encouraging a free and fair presidential election in November. U.S. officials met regularly with election officials, as well as with other diplomatic and international missions, to emphasize the need for transparent elections, build election-monitoring capacity, and coordinate activities. U.S. advocacy resulted in an amendment of the election code to improve the playing field for all political parties. U.S.-funded NGOs published an election manual and conducted procedural and ethical training for members of the district and precinct electoral commissions, and provided voter education to the general public. The United States supported the development of civic and election textbooks for NGO resource centers and school curricula. Senior-level officials, including the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, met with political party leaders and encouraged them to pursue democratic reforms and voice their opinions. Through local NGO partners, the United States fostered dialogue among citizens and local politicians and mobilized young adults, women, and the general public to participate in the presidential election. U.S.-supported training and seminars targeted journalists, women, and local officials on proper voting procedures, and trained thousands of people on correct voting methods, leading to fewer incidents of voter impropriety. The United States observed the November presidential election in cities and villages throughout the country as part of the observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Officers reported improvements over the previous election in voting/tabulating procedures at polling stations and district election commissions, but also noted incidents of fraud and rules' violations. These findings contributed to the Organization's final assessment was that the government did not adequately implement improvements in the legislative and administrative framework.
The United States focused on improving media freedom and access to information, despite government resistance. The government refused to register several independent media organizations and broadcast stations, and journalists critical of the government faced harassment and legal charges. U.S. officials publicly and privately pressed for greater freedom of the press, improved access to independent media, and freedom of speech. The United States directly supported partner NGOs and radio and television stations to develop the capacity of independent media and enhance local media's ability to provide accurate and responsible journalism. The United States trained journalists in management, investigative journalism, and technical aspects of media. The United States also trained military officials on the importance of engaging a free media. U.S. programs facilitated greater access to information by establishing a country-wide network for the exchange of news among independent TV stations.
The United States continued to support the establishment of a community radio program to equip and train remote communities to launch their own radio stations. The radio stations aimed to distribute news freely to independent and state media for broadcast; however, the government refused to register and license all radio stations for operation. The United States monitored violations of freedom of speech and also supported NGOs that monitor and raise awareness about freedom of speech issues.
With the government continuing to hinder international NGOs and their local partners, U.S. officials regularly met with representatives of these organizations and urged the government to treat them fairly. U.S. officials encouraged all implementing partners and grantees to remain transparent. The United States advocated for organizations' rights and assisted NGOs with growing problems and pressure from the government. The United States also provided assistance to develop a comprehensive legal and fiscal framework that will support and strengthen the NGO sector.
To promote a strong civil society, the United States funded civil society support centers that provided training seminars, technical support, information resources, and professional services to NGOs and public associations. Local governance programs have provided technical assistance to 11 small towns and regional centers to improve municipal services, budget planning, and transparency, among other activities crucial to building civil society. The United States monitored and reported on issues of freedom of assembly and association.
To support adherence to the rule of law, the United States worked with partner NGOs to train lawyers in human rights law, as well as to develop their trial advocacy skills and establish legal-information centers throughout the country. A U.S.-funded NGO continued operating the Citizen's Rights Advocacy Network in the Ferghana Valley. The network trained advocates and lawyers and developed advocacy campaigns on citizens' rights, including human rights. The network also promoted the rule of law and educated the public on their legal rights. The United States worked with the government to reform the criminal code and the criminal procedure code.
U.S. training programs for military officials included courses discussing the importance of the rule of law. The programs aimed to impart the significance of the rules governing military-civilian interaction and civilian authority over the military. The United States monitored allegations of human rights abuses and raised concerns about the abuses and lack of due process with authorities and international organizations. The United States collaborated closely with law enforcement and security ministries to train law enforcement and military officers in human rights regulations. As a result of U.S. and other international efforts, the government institutionalized a mandatory two-day human rights course for all law enforcement recruits. The United States sponsored local and federal government employee training in the country and abroad to instill good governance practices.
The United States routinely participated in Human Rights Thematic Group meetings, Penitentiary Reform Working Group meetings, and other human rights-focused forums with the UN Tajikistan Office of Peacekeeping.
Although the law affords women the same rights as men, many women did not know about their rights and faced abuse and harassment. Through local partners, the United States sponsored programs to educate and support women in both urban and rural areas and helped raise their status through education about microfinance opportunities, the market economy, and legal rights. The United States raised awareness of domestic and spousal abuse through its NGO partners. U.S.-funded NGOs advocated for the rights of vulnerable populations including women, children, and minorities. U.S.-funded Women's Legal Advocacy Centers in Dushanbe and Khujand identified and trained lawyers and law students to empower women to defend their legal rights and provided legal services. The centers also served as repositories for legal material on women's rights for research and dissemination purposes and conducted monthly training programs for the public. The United States also worked to draft legislation to improve women's rights. U.S.-funded NGOs, in collaboration with UN agencies and local partners, took steps to encourage implementation of the country's 2005 Gender Equality Law and provided training to judges on international and national gender equality standards. The United States funded several programs to ensure that people with disabilities had an equal opportunity to vote in the presidential election.
Nine Tajik leaders working in the area of religious freedom went to the United States on a U.S.-funded program entitled "Religion in a Secular Society," designed for participants to gain an understanding of religious and cultural diversity in the United States and the role of NGOs, special interest groups, and religious institutions in promoting ethnic and religious tolerance. Participants returned with a greater enthusiasm to advance religious tolerance and freedom of religion in a secular society. The United States organized the first regional conference for religious leaders since the breakup of the former Soviet Union, which outlined a blueprint for future cooperation among Islamic leaders in the region to find solutions for contemporary problems faced by Muslim communities. Political party leaders and government officials also participated in the discussion on "The Role of Religion in Promoting Peace and Social Partnerships." When the government introduced a new draft law on religion that would restrict religious practices, particularly in Islam, the United States promoted religious tolerance and plurality in meetings with religious leaders and government officials from the State Committee on Religious Affairs and urged lawmakers to consider rewriting the draft legislation, which has not yet been formally proposed to parliament. The United States also assisted religious organizations on a case-by-case basis and continued to monitor and report on religious rights violations throughout the country.
A U.S. grant helped a local NGO educate labor migrants about their rights and responsibilities in order to protect themselves while working abroad. Up to one million Tajiks are migrant laborers and often faced hardship abroad, particularly in Russia. The country is one of the major source countries of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation for Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, the United Arab Emirates, and other countries. The United States and the government worked closely to implement strategies to combat human trafficking. U.S.-funded NGOs trained lawyers and judges to increase trafficking prosecutions. The United States assisted in developing a National Strategy Against Trafficking in Persons to promote greater coordination among government bodies and antitrafficking efforts. The United States supported the Special Division for Combating Trafficking in Persons and Racketeering responsible for investigating and arresting trafficking perpetrators. The United States also worked closely with international and local partners to operate a border checkpoint to interdict trafficking operations. The United States funded and established two operational shelters for trafficking victims that provided security, health care, psychological counseling, and reintegration assistance. U.S. partner organizations raised public awareness, trained law enforcement authorities, and provided social and legal support for victims.
Turkmenistan is an authoritarian state that was dominated by president-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov until his December 21 death. Niyazov became president after Turkmenistan gained independence in 1991 and consolidated his monopoly on political and economic power, controlling the parliament, judicial system, and the Democratic Party, which remained the sole legally recognized political party. The Halk Maslahaty (people's council) decided on December 26 to select Niyazov's successor through public elections on February 11, 2007. Under the constitution, Parliament Chairman Ovezgeldy Atayev should have become the interim president, but Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov, the deputy prime minister, was named instead, allegedly because of an ongoing criminal investigation against Atayev. On December 26, the Halk Maslahaty selected six presidential candidates and changed the constitution to allow the candidacy of Interim President Berdimuhammedov. The government continued to commit serious abuses, and its human rights record remained extremely poor. Authorities severely restricted political and civil liberties. Niyazov stifled political dissent and freedom of the press and eroded the educational system. In July and December elections for members of people's councils at the village, city, and district level took place; contrary to previous elections, independent candidates could run for office with community support. During the 2004 parliamentary elections, only members of the Democratic Party could run. Torture and mistreatment of detainees; incommunicado and prolonged detention; arbitrary arrest and detention, including family members of accused criminals; and denial of due process and a fair trial continued. The government continued to restrict freedoms of speech, press, assembly, travel, and association. While serious violations of religious freedom continued, the government has noticeably reduced harassment of registered minority religious groups since 2004. The government continued to restrict registration of civil society groups, and harassment of NGOs and community activists who were in contact with foreign embassies became more noticeable later in the year.
The United States maintained a multi-pronged strategy to support the development of democracy and human rights in the country. Throughout the year senior U.S. officials urged the government to promote democratic reform at every opportunity in bilateral meetings with President Niyazov and other senior officials, as well as through multilateral institutions and public statements. Senior officials regularly reiterated the message that respect for human rights is the highest priority of the U.S. Government. The United States regularly advocated on behalf of individual cases of abuse and coordinated closely with other diplomatic missions and international organizations. The United States funded a wide range of programs designed to strengthen civil society and respect for human rights.
During the year the United States used public statements and a range of speaker and exchange programs to convey the importance of freedoms of information, media, and speech. The United States funded seven speakers, including an expert on Islam in America; the author Paul Theroux, who spoke about the importance of self-expression; and a criminal justice and law expert. The United States brought two local journalists to the United States on the Edward Murrow Journalism program and supported programs by U.S. Government exchange program alumni and civic groups that highlighted the importance of media freedom and freedom of speech. In addition to regularly scheduled speakers, a U.S. official addressed 40 state library professionals and administrators on the need to provide public access to government information. The U.S. Government again supported a Model United Nations conference in Ashgabat for more than 100 youth from each of the country's five provinces, as well as one national and multiple regional debate tournaments.
During the year American Corners collectively attracted more than 48,500 visitors. However, in the spring outreach was hampered when the government closed the American Corner in Turkmenbashy and three Internet Access Training Program sites in Dashoguz, Balkanabat, and Ashgabat's National Library. U.S. efforts to reopen all sites continued throughout the year. Despite these pressures, programming in the remaining four American Corners, the American Center in Ashgabat, two Internet Access Training Program sites, and the Alumni Resource Center in Ashgabat continued to expand, which provided citizens a critical link to the outside world by offering access to independent sources of information. Outreach in Turkmenbashy continued in a local polyclinic's classroom, with the help of alumni of U.S. Government exchange programs. The remaining Internet Access Training Program centers supported the Global Connections and Exchange Program, an information technology training program for teachers and students, after the host government rejected efforts to implement the program in state schools. The program trained approximately 81 teachers and 300 students during the year.
The United States opened an enlarged Information Resources Center with high-speed Internet, which had registered more than 1,400 users by the end of the year. The center used its conference space to accommodate partner organizations' and individual programs, including efforts by state teachers to provide Internet and computer training to their students.
U.S. English-language programming and outreach expanded significantly during the year, providing essential support to democracy programming by providing local audiences access to print and electronic materials in English. Moreover, the U.S. Government's first resident English Language Fellow, based at the state-run Azadi World Languages Institute, was able to reach audiences usually barred from interaction with U.S. officials—teachers and current students.
Although the United States continued to urge government officials to register NGOs throughout the year, the Ministry of Justice registered no new NGOs. U.S.-funded civil society development programs supported a network of four Civil Society Support Centers that provided training seminars, technical support, information resources, networking opportunities, and professional services to NGOs and grassroots activists to build their capacity in the civic sector. The United States also provided direct legal support and services for NGOs through the network. U.S.-funded civil society development programs focused on grassroots community development and advocacy. During the year these programs implemented 133 community projects with funding from the U.S. Government.
To promote the rule of law, a U.S.-funded program supported the Legal Resource Center at Turkmen State University. Since January 2004, the center has organized training programs on the country's labor legislation, the development of its criminal legislation, legal guarantees of women's rights, and the development of civil legislation. More than 1,500 students participated in extracurricular activities during the year, and more than 3,700 visited the center's facilities and benefited from access to legal information via the Internet. The civil law clinic operating at the university, which was one of the first clinics in the country, provided individual consultation on both civic and criminal legal issues and promoted legal, professional, and ethical standards through seminars and workshops for law faculty and students. Program staff provided ongoing training to clinic staff attorneys on managing a student-run clinical program and addressing practical and pedagogical issues surrounding clinical legal education.
U.S.-funded programs continued to sponsor student participation in national moot court competitions. A program developed in cooperation with Turkmen State University offered young people the opportunity to learn about the law and basic principles of human rights and democracy. Law students involved in the program learned techniques for teaching primary and secondary school students about their rights and responsibilities under the law. The program's objective was to sensitize students at a young age to the ways in which the law can help solve critical family, social, and political issues. The program effectively promoted practical skills and enhanced the legal knowledge of law student participants and provided legal information to members of the general public. In addition, a Fulbright conference drew more than 110 citizens and highlighted rule of law and criminal justice, international relations, and education.
The United States promoted respect for human rights through diplomacy and programs. The United States actively supported efforts to gain access to all prisoners, including those detained following the armed attack on President Niyazov's motorcade in 2002. The United States also advocated for improved treatment of relatives of those implicated in the 2002 attack, and urged the government to cease systematically harassing them. The United States continued to promote the rights of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities through programs. The U.S. Government funded a ground-breaking program that offered training to communities, NGOs, and activists for dealing with family abuse. A U.S. program funded training for youth and the disabled on their rights under international and domestic law.
The United States continued to monitor the government's compliance with its international obligations on freedom of movement. The government formally lifted its exit visa regime in 2004 to avoid Jackson-Vanik sanctions; however, it continued to maintain a "black list" of individuals barred from international travel. During the year the United States raised individual freedom of movement cases with the government, advocated on behalf of relatives of prisoners, and strongly urged the government to allow a noted author to travel to the United States to receive an award.
The United States continued to urge the host government to respect religious freedom. As a result of U.S. efforts, the government further reduced harassment of minority religious groups. In addition, scholars from the United States conducted two outreach meetings on the topic of "Islam in America." The meetings attracted representatives from the Council of Religious Affairs and individual Imams from all five provinces.
U.S. funding to combat trafficking in persons supported the International Organization for Migration's work with the State Border Service on a Ministry of Justice-approved program that worked to ascertain the extent and patterns of human trafficking in the country. The U.S. also supported an antitrafficking public education campaign and provided training to help the Border Service to better combat human trafficking. In addition, the U.S. funded a "Rule of Law" study tour to the United States for ten officials, during which participants met with their counterpart U.S. officials from five law enforcement agencies.
The directly elected president, Islam Karimov, has led the government since 1990. His current term in office expires in 2007. Past elections were neither free nor fair. The president dominates the government, and the bicameral parliament has no independent authority. The government of Uzbekistan's human rights record remained extremely poor. There were no independent political parties, and the few opposition groups faced official harassment. The judiciary was under government control, and trial verdicts were usually predetermined. In 2003 the UN's special rapporteur on torture concluded that torture was systematic in prisons and other places of detention. The government has taken few steps to address the rapporteur's concerns, and prison conditions continued to be harsh. With the exception of one visit by European Union officials, the government did not admit independent observers to monitor prisons. It was impossible to estimate the number of political prisoners, but as of 2004 there were an estimated 5,000 to 5,500 such prisoners in the country. Other than a few often-blocked Internet news sites, there were no independent media, and self-censorship was widely practiced.
The government continued to resist international calls for an impartial investigation into the violence that took place in Andijon in May 2005. However, officials discussed their investigation of the Andijon events in meetings with European Union representatives in December, and they indicated willingness to resume dialogue on human rights issues. The government continued to convict and imprison individuals for alleged involvement in the Andijon tragedy. The government pressured other countries to return refugees who had fled the country and jailed several who were returned. All Andijon-related trials during the year were closed and failed to meet international standards. The government exerted relentless pressure on local and international NGOs, ordering many to close voluntarily. Unregistered religious activity was outlawed, and legal religious activity was tightly controlled. Trafficking in persons to other countries for labor and sexual exploitation was an ongoing problem. The government conducted an array of prevention programs to raise awareness of trafficking in persons. However, due to weak legislation, few traffickers were jailed, and most of those convicted were later amnestied.
U.S. democracy and human rights goals are to promote a strong civil society sector and encourage political pluralism, legal reform, and accountability. During the year the United States, in cooperation with other diplomatic missions, international organizations, and human rights groups, encouraged transparency in human rights practices and urged the government to allow an international investigation of the 2005 Andijon violence. The United States pressed the government to end harassment of U.S. implementing partners and local NGOs and to eliminate restrictions on U.S. grants to local NGOs. The United States also supported democracy and human rights through diplomacy and programmatic support to activists and disseminated democracy and human rights materials to the media, civil society, and government.
U.S. democracy and human rights efforts suffered serious setbacks as opportunities for U.S.-sponsored organizations and local partners significantly decreased. The government reacted to U.S. criticism of its human rights record by severely restricting contact with U.S. officials. The government also closed down six out of 12 U.S.-supported democracy promotion programs. Those programs that were not shut down experienced varying degrees of government interference and pressure. The government prohibited some organizations from operating in certain regions and refused others registration. Some expatriate staff were denied entry visas, and officials threatened or otherwise pressured local staff members of some organizations. Local experts estimated that government pressure forced between two-thirds and three-fourths of local NGOs to cease operation. With some exceptions, U.S. funding to local NGOs remained paralyzed, subject to approval or denial by a government-appointed banking commission. The government hampered the operation of U.S.-funded student educational and other exchange programs, although most exchange programs continued. The United States continued to withhold funding to programs involving the government because the secretary of state could not certify that the country had made progress on commitments it made to the United States in 2002, including on human rights. Exceptions were made for government participation in U.S.-supported programs to promote democracy and human rights and to prevent trafficking in persons. The United States invited military officials to take part in training programs at the George C. Marshall Center in Germany that were focused on human rights and rule of law issues, but the government refused to participate.
Despite these obstacles, the United States continued to engage with the government where possible and to support human rights and democracy programs. At meetings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), U.S. officials decried human rights abuses and called on the government to cease them and to hold perpetrators accountable. In statements to the OSCE's Permanent Council on November 9 and December 14, the United States criticized government restrictions on human rights and civil society programming by international organizations, including the OSCE and U.S.-supported NGOs. The Ambassador and officials in Washington consistently delivered the message that respect for human rights is a crucial element of the bilateral relationship. In August the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs met with President Karimov and emphasized that the bilateral relationship must include a dialogue on democracy and human rights. U.S. officials in Tashkent frequently attended trials of human rights and religious figures that were open to observers. The United States monitored human rights abuses, maintained contact with human rights organizations, and supported those organizations with small grants.
During the year opportunities for political party development were significantly reduced. While the law prohibited registered parties from participating in foreign-sponsored training programs, a U.S.-sponsored program maintained contact with independent political parties and provided them with informal advice. The U.S.-sponsored organization cooperated with the country's Regional Policy Fund to organize a forum on issues relating to a draft law on political parties. When the government prosecuted opposition party members, U.S. officials coordinated with other diplomatic missions and human rights groups to monitor their cases and to press the government to hold trials meeting international standards.
The United States supported freedom of the press through a variety of programs and activities. However, the government forced the U.S.-supported primary implementer of independent media development programs to close in 2005, thus severely complicating further programming during the year. Despite government pressure, the United States supported the production of informational programs on events in the country as well as a report on the situation of its print media. Journalists continued to participate in U.S.-sponsored training sessions and exchange programs focused on media freedom. The United States also supported Internet access and training programs in several cities.
In the face of relentless government pressure, the United States continued to support the development of civil society in the country. During the year, four out of seven U.S.-supported resource centers that had closed in 2005 resumed limited activities after being registered as commercial entities. Before the U.S.-sponsored civil society support program was closed down in the middle of the year, it provided institutional and advocacy grants to 18 civil society organizations, and trained 16 civil society groups. The United States also rendered legal assistance to NGOs and civil society groups through a cadre of professional nonprofit lawyers. During the year, the United States awarded small grants to 33 NGOs for projects designed to develop civil society institutions and mass media. These grants supported reporting and advocacy work in the regions. The United States also supported programs in rural communities that enabled citizens to take collective responsibility for management of resources at the local level, sowing the seeds of civic responsibility and accountability. By the end of the year, however, the government closed two of three U.S. programs providing support to rural communities.
U.S. programs to promote the rule of law significantly decreased, and activities were severely limited due to the government crackdown on NGOs. The government denied accreditation to the Embassy's resident legal adviser, forcing him to leave the country. The American Bar Association's Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative supported legal resource centers in the Ferghana Valley and Samarkand that conducted education and training programs for young lawyers; however, the government forced the organization to close during the year. The United States sponsored a delegation of legal specialists to a regional legal conference at the Central European and Eurasian Law Institute in Prague to promote awareness of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and support the incorporation of its standards into national legislation.
Combating torture, which continued to be frequently alleged in pretrial investigation, remained at the top of the U.S. human rights agenda. The United States continued to support a project to foster dialogue between civil society actors and law enforcement agencies responsible for many human rights abuses. The program maintained working relations with law enforcement agencies, despite government harassment and hostility toward international organizations and civil society. The program trained and supported human rights activists, lawyers, doctors, educators, and others attempting to engage the government in a dialogue on human rights issues. In Bukhara and the Ferghana Valley, with U.S. assistance, local groups monitored the human rights situation and collaboratively resolved some human rights issues with local authorities.
To promote the rights of the disabled, a U.S.-funded program sponsored local participation in two study tours to Turkey focused on advocacy for the rights of the disabled. U.S. small grants supported local and national NGOs dedicated to promoting the rights of the disabled.
The United States actively engaged in highlighting respect for religious tolerance and pluralism through exchanges, contact with religious leaders and institutions, and distribution of informational materials. These efforts were hampered by the government's closure of NGOs, as well as its denial of accreditation and visas to Embassy employees responsible for monitoring and promoting religious freedom and tolerance. Despite these difficulties, the United States continued to advocate for religious freedom by maintaining contact with imams, priests, educators, journalists, and independent religious leaders and actively monitoring the state of religious freedom. U.S. officials raised issues of religious freedom with their local counterparts, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Muslim Board, and the Committee on Religious Affairs. U.S. officials consistently emphasized that religious tolerance and political security should be complementary goals. On November 13, the secretary of state designated the country one of particular concern for religious freedom violations; following the designation, the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom renewed discussions with senior officials to seek greater religious freedom.
U.S.-funded exchange and educational programs promoted religious tolerance and religious freedom. A three-year University Partnership Program, which organized exchanges of experts and professors from local Uzbek universities and institutes, culminated in a September conference that summarized the work done under the partnership. The project developed school curricula to promote religious tolerance through instruction in comparative religious studies. The United States sponsored training in three cities for defense advocates and human rights activists on international religious freedom standards, as well as a follow-up roundtable. A religious leader participated in a regional conference in Tajikistan; the conference focused on the role of religion in promoting peace and social partnerships. The United States also sponsored locals' participation in the "Law, Religion and Social Change" conference at the National University in Canberra, Australia.
The United States continued to support programs to prevent trafficking in persons and provide shelter for trafficking victims. The United States, in cooperation with the government and local and international NGOs, supported several public awareness campaigns on trafficking. With U.S. funding, a nationwide NGO network provided counseling and information on human trafficking through 10 public hotlines, which received more than 16,000 calls, as well as through seminars and discussions in schools, religious communities, and neighborhood committees. Official television regularly aired documentaries aimed at raising public awareness; antitrafficking messages and public service announcements appeared frequently in newspapers and on radio and television broadcasts. During the year U.S.-supported NGOs provided repatriation assistance to 368 trafficking victims. A second U.S.-funded shelter was opened to provide medical, psychological, legal, and educational assistance to repatriated human trafficking victims. The United States assisted in establishing a network of 10 NGOs which provide shelter, counseling, and other services to trafficking victims. The United States also supported the establishment of a Central Asian regional NGO network to facilitate cooperation and information exchange on cross-border trafficking issues. U.S.-supported programs provided training in trafficking issues to more than 30,000 participants, including religious leaders. The United States sponsored a visit by local officials and NGO activists to the United Arab Emirates, a major destination country for Uzbek victims of trafficking. The visit resulted in the identification of 206 trafficking victims. U.S.-sponsored partners worked to persuade government officials to classify labor exploitation, including the procurement of labor through force, fraud, or coercion, as human trafficking.