By Leigh Hartman

When governments flout democracy and the rule of law, human rights are in danger.

Nowhere is that clearer than in the Russian government’s war against Ukraine, where the troops of President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime have committed widespread atrocities, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said April 12, when announcing the release of the U.S. State Department’s 2021 Country Report on Human Rights Practices.

“For many years running, we have seen an alarming recession of democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights in many parts of the world,” Blinken said.

“In few places have the human consequences of this decline been as stark as they are in the Russian government’s brutal war on Ukraine,” he said.

Blinken added that through his unjust war, Putin has inadvertently fostered global outcry for human dignity. “The Kremlin has reinvigorated a belief in people worldwide that there are human rights that everyone everywhere should enjoy,” Blinken said.

Police officers beat a protester March 6, 2021, outside Rangoon, Burma. The Burmese military regime has killed or detained thousands of protesters since a February 2021 military coup. (© AP Images)

Police officers beat a protester March 6, 2021, outside Rangoon, Burma. The Burmese military regime has killed or detained thousands of protesters since a February 2021 military coup. (© AP Images)

The State Department’s Human Rights Report, issued every year since 1977, serves as a record of human rights practices around the world. It supports U.S. and international efforts to combat violations and abuses.

The 2021 report documents human rights protections, violations and abuses in 198 countries and territories around the world. U.S. Embassy officials compile country reports in consultation with human rights defenders, nongovernmental organizations, lawmakers, scholars, judges and governments.

The report shows authoritarian regimes becoming more brazen in reaching across borders to attack critics, Blinken said. In the past year:

  • Iran’s regime plotted to kidnap an Iranian American journalist in the United States.
  • Bashar al-Assad’s regime threatened Syrians cooperating with German courts.
  • The Lukashenka regime in Belarus forcibly diverted an international flight to arrest a journalist.

Authoritarian regimes in 65 countries have locked up more than 1 million political prisoners, Blinken said, including more than 600 peaceful protesters in Cuba and numerous anti-corruption fighters, human rights defenders and opposition leaders in Russia.

The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) government continues “to commit genocide and crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, among other minority groups. It also continues to erode fundamental freedoms and autonomy in Hong Kong and to carry out systematic repression in Tibet, Blinken said.

The United States works with international partners to deter abuses and promote accountability. The U.S. and other nations have imposed sanctions against government officials and others responsible for Russia’s war against Ukraine and the PRC’s atrocities and human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The United States has determined that the Burmese military’s repeated attacks on Rohingya amount to genocide and crimes against humanity.

In December, President Biden convened government officials and private sector and civil society leaders for a Summit for Democracy to bolster democracy, counter authoritarianism, fight corruption and defend human rights worldwide.

The summit focused on “encouraging countries to make concrete commitments to advance human rights and democracy,” Blinken said. “And we’re holding one another to our pledges.”

Banner image: Ukrainian emergency employees and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman from a maternity hospital damaged by shelling March 9 in Mariupol, Ukraine. (© Evgeniy Maloletka/AP Images)