Global hopes that democracy could replace dictatorships in Arab Spring nations risk being crushed by repressive regimes, the United States warned Friday in its annual human rights report.
Two years after the first uprisings against iron-fisted rulers in the Middle East and North Africa, the countries that gave rise to the Arab Spring are encountering “harsh realities” and face “immense challenges,” the State Department said in its assessment of the global rights situation in 2012.
“The hope of the early days of the Arab Awakening has run up against the harsh realities of incomplete and contested transitions,” the report said.
And despite some “encouraging democratic breakthroughs,” old divisions held in check for decades are resurfacing and clashing with young people “impatient for reform and results.”
Arab Spring nations in “2012 witnessed a bumpy transition from protest to politics, brutal repression by regimes determined to crush popular will, and the inevitable challenges of turning democratic aspirations into reality.”
While there was praise for countries such as Tunisia and Libya, where the new leaders include long-time human rights advocates, there is growing concern in other states about moves to stifle civil society.
From Syria — where President Bashar al-Assad is fighting to stay in power, to Bahrain standing at a “crossroads”, as well as Yemen and Iraq, there were “inter-communal tensions and political violence.”
There were also “serious hurdles to sustainable democracy in Egypt and Libya” as across the world “demands for democratic change surge against outmoded economic and political structures in many of these countries.”
Despite the free and fair election of President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, security forces failed “to protect Coptic Christians from several incidents of societal violence” and there was “increasing political polarization.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry denounced Assad for “responding to the cries for freedom with murder and mayhem, more bloodshed.”
“The vision of so many who have fought and sacrificed across the region will never be realized if their human rights are denied or ignored,” he told journalists.
“The students in Tahrir Square who brought us the revolution in Egypt weren’t driven by a religion or an ideology. They were driven by their aspirations to be able to have jobs, education, security and a future.”
Iran, where the human rights situation remained “very poor,” was singled out for criticism, both for its continued support of the Assad regime and for “politically motivated violence and repression.”
Russia was also cited for “significant restrictions on civil liberties” as well as “particularly severe human rights abuses in the North Caucasus region.”
“Civil society is the lifeblood of democratic societies,” the report argued, saying that “some governments appear to be learning restrictive tactics from others and in some cases, regional powers are setting a negative but persuasive example for neighboring governments.”
Elections in Ukraine and Belarus were denounced for failing to meet international standards, and nations in Africa such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Nigeria struggled with serious rights abuses.
The report also looked for the first time at the world’s newest country — South Sudan, documenting what it called a “challenging human rights situation” mainly due to abuses related to ongoing conflicts.
In Asia, there was praise for Myanmar, also known as Burma, which “continued to take significant steps in a historic transition toward democracy,” including with the release of political prisoners.
But “Burma’s transition is not yet complete,” the report warned, saying much of the country’s authoritarian structure remains “largely intact.”
“Considerable work is essential to ensuring that the 2015 national elections are free and fair,” it stressed.
Human rights in China also continued to decline amid a crackdown on Tibetans and Uighur ethnic minorities.