The ongoing genocide in Sudan's Darfur region was the world's worst human rights abuse last year, the United States said Tuesday in a report concluding that freedoms have eroded elsewhere, including fledgling U.S.-backed democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Too often in the past year we received painful reminders that human rights, though self-evident, are not self-enforcing," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in presenting the State Department's annual survey of human rights practices.
"We are recommitting ourselves to call every government to account that still treats the basic rights of its citizens as options," Rice said, adding that the United States does not hold itself out as perfect in that regard.
The report cited progress in some countries but stressed a series of "sobering realities" reflecting a significant deterioration in conditions in some of the world's most populous states like China and Russia. The United States has joined both of those countries in diplomatic efforts to resolve nuclear confrontations with Iran and North Korea.
"Genocide was the most sobering reality of all," it said in the 2006 "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices," noting that mass killings continued to "ravage" Darfur nearly 60 years after the world vowed "Never again!" following the Holocaust.
Just days before senior U.S. diplomats expect to meet Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum, the State Department blamed the Sudanese military and proxy militia for the genocide in Darfur. More that 200,000 have died and an estimated 2.5 million have been displaced in the western Sudan region during four years of war and upheaval.
"The Sudanese government and government-backed janjaweed militia bear responsibility for the genocide in Darfur," the report said. The report said atrocities continue, including some committed by indigenous rebels.
"All parties to the conflagration committed serious abuses, including widespread killing of civilians, rape as a tool of war, systematic torture, robbery and recruitment of child soldiers," the report said.
Washington first declared the situation in Darfur a "genocide" in 2004 when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell used the word in congressional testimony. But other countries and the United Nations have refrained from using the word, and some U.S. officials have recently toned down such language.
Tuesday's blunt criticism, particularly of Khartoum, comes two days before U.S. special envoy for Sudan Andrew Natsios is to see al-Bashir and a week before Assistant Secretary of State Barry Lowenkron plans to meet the Sudanese president.
Ahead of those talks, expected to focus in part on the deployment of a hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force to Darfur, the State Department also noted that Sudan has continued to give mixed signals about its acceptance of the mission.
In addition to the crisis in Darfur, Tuesday's report said human rights conditions worsened in Afghanistan and Iraq, despite U.S.-led military and civilian efforts to combat extremists in both countries.
In Iraq, where deadly attacks have surged despite the formation of a democratically elected government following the ouster of Saddam Hussein, "both deepening sectarian violence and acts of terrorism seriously undercut human rights and democratic progress in 2006," it said.
The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "was unable to diminish these violent attacks," despite enhanced security steps taken after the Feb. 22, 2006, bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra that provoked a major rise in Sunni-Shiite attacks.
The report said the Iraqi defense and interior ministries were also responsible for "serious" human rights violations, including severe beatings, electrocutions and sexual assaults of detainees.
The Afghan government has made "important" progress on the human rights front, but its performance "remained poor" last year, the report said, attributing lapses to a weak central administration, abuses by authorities, and Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents.
It said there were persistent reports of "politically motivated or extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents" in addition to atrocities carried out by insurgents who killed more than 1,400 civilians in suicide attacks, roadside bombings and assassinations.
Also cited for democratic backsliding were U.S. allies Pakistan and Egypt, along with Belarus, China, Eritrea, Iran, Lebanon, Russia, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, where governments cracked down on the rights of citizens or failed to protect them from abuses.
Russia was criticized for its poor rights record in Chechnya as well as less than thorough probes of suspected contract killings of government foes, including reform minded officials and journalists.
The report noted failures in Fiji and Thailand, where coups brought down democratically elected governments in 2006, and lambasted U.S. foes Cuba, Myanmar and North Korea for systematic violations of basic human rights.