Washington, DC — State Department's Dobriansky briefs on release of 2004 human rights reports
Promoting human rights is "the bedrock" of U.S. foreign policy, and the State Department's 2004 human rights reports represent President Bush's commitment to "stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who live in tyranny and hopelessness and struggle for a better life," according to Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky.
"Promoting human rights is not just an element of our foreign policy, it is the bedrock of our policy and our foremost concern," said Dobriansky at a February 28 briefing announcing the release of the 2004 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
In a message to oppressed people throughout the world, she said, "You are not ignored and you are not forgotten â-oe [and] we will not excuse those who are responsible for your oppression."
The annual reports, which chronicle the status of human rights in 196 countries in 2004, are mandated by a 1976 amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act. That law requires the secretary of state to transmit to Congress by February each year "a full and complete report regarding the status of internationally recognized human rights" in countries receiving U.S. security assistance. The first human rights reports, released in 1977, covered the human rights conditions in 82 countries.
Dobriansky said the reports put dictators and corrupt officials on notice that they are being watched and that there are consequences for their actions. She cited Cuba, China, North Korea and Burma for human rights abuses in her remarks, but said the reports detail circumstances in many other countries throughout the world.
The under secretary said the U.S. approach on human rights was clarified by President Bush in his January 20 inaugural address, when he stated: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world."
Dobriansky added that Bush elaborated on this statement in his February 2 State of the Union address, by stating: "Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations with governments that answer to their citizens and reflect their own cultures. And because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom will lead to peace."
Noting the "rose revolution" in Georgia, the "orange revolution" in Ukraine, the January 30 "purple revolution" in Iraq, and growing momentum for a "cedar revolution" -- a "true democracy and freedom from foreign influence," - in Lebanon, Dobriansky said: "[W]e find ourselves in an era of monumental advancement for human rights and democracy."
"Hopeful signs span the globe, and that there should be no doubt that the years ahead will be great ones for the cause of freedom," she said, adding, "The United States will work globally to promote democracy, as democracy is the best guarantor of human rights. â-oe [W]e look forward to the day when all nations are part of the growing community of democracies, and tyranny and slavery exist only as a sad chapter in human history."
In much of the broader Middle East people are increasingly conscious of the "freedom deficit" in their region, she said, asking, "If freedom and democracy work in Muslim nations like Indonesia, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq, why should they not be the norm in Iran, Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia?"
The under secretary said the United States is engaged in intensive efforts to support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture.
"In this journey, our principles, our commitment to the freedom and the rights of individuals are our compass. These reports are our map," she said.
The 2004 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices are available at: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2004/index.htm
Following is the State Department transcript of the briefing:
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
February 28, 2005
Under Secretary for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky and Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy Human Rights and Labor Michael Kozak
On the Release of the 2004 Annual Report on Human Rights
February 28, 2005
(9:00 a.m. EST)
UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Good morning. I'm Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs. And on behalf of Secretary Rice, who could not be here today, it is my pleasure to present the State Department's Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. These reports are a key part of this Administration's activities to promote human rights and democracy around the world, part of President Bush's forward strategy of freedom.
I would like to thank Ambassador Mike Kozak, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, his staff and other colleagues in the State Department who played a role in the compilation of these important reports.
Our approach on human rights is set clearly and unambiguously by President Bush. In his Inaugural Address, he stated, "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world." In his State of the Union Address, he elaborated that, "Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations with governments that answer to their citizens and reflect their own cultures, and because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom will lead to peace."
In other words, the United States will work globally to promote democracy, as democracy is the best guarantor of human rights. Promoting human rights is not just an element of our foreign policy; it is the bedrock of our policy and our foremost concern. These reports put dictators and corrupt officials on notice that they are being watched by the civilized world and that there are consequences for their actions. With these in hand, we look forward to the day when all nations are part of the growing community of democracies, and tyranny and slavery exist only as a sad chapter in human history.
We find ourselves in an era of monumental advancement for human rights and democracy. As the President noted in Bratislava just last week, there was a Rose Revolution in Georgia, an Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and most recently a Purple Revolution in Iraq. In Lebanon, we see growing momentum for a Cedar Revolution that is unifying the citizens of that nation to the cause of true democracy and freedom from foreign influence. Hopeful signs span the globe and that there should be no doubt that the years ahead will be great ones for the cause of freedom.
As these reports show, though, there is still much to do. Freedom and the ability to choose one's government still elude many people and many portions of the globe. In much of the broader Middle East people are increasingly conscious of the freedom deficit in the region and eager to taste the freedom and liberties that are being enjoyed elsewhere. If freedom and democracy work in Muslim nations like Indonesia, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq, why should they not be the norm in Iran, Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia? Cuba's government remains a blight on the stunning advancement of freedom worldwide. China's human rights conduct remains one of the top concerns of the U.S. Government. Throughout China, and notably in Tibet, affronts to the dignity of human life abound. In North Korea and Burma, citizens languish under repressive regimes, which do not govern for their people but rather against them.
We are concerned with circumstances in many other parts of the globe, and we detail them concisely in these reports. But our message today is one of hope and promise. This report is the embodiment of President Bush's commitment that the United States will stand shoulder to shoulder with those who live in tyranny and hopelessness and struggle for a better life. Our message to these true patriots of their nations is that you are not ignored and you are not forgotten; furthermore, we will not excuse those who are responsible for your oppression.
The months ahead will see intensive efforts by this Administration to advance the President's bold agenda to support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture. In this journey, our principles, our commitment to the freedom and the rights of individuals, are our compass. These reports are our map.
At this point I'd like to turn the briefing over to Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Mike Kozak, who led the effort resulting in the production of this very fine tool, our report. Thank you so much.
Assistant Secretary Kozak.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Well, good morning. I thought I might just add to what Under Secretary Dobriansky said a little bit about the mechanics of the report -- the why is it done, how is it done, and what are some of the elements of it this year in terms of process -- and then go to your questions.
The why is that the President is required by law to provide these reports to Congress each year and it was a requirement that started back in the mid-70s, I think with a view on the part of Congress that when they were looking at making judgments about foreign assistance, trade agreements and so on, that they wanted to have a full picture of what the human rights situation was in the countries that they were dealing with.
So it became a requirement, but I would emphasize it's -- the reason we have the report is so that there will be a tool that policymakers in the U.S. can use. It's not an effort to pass judgment on other countries but rather to give our own policymakers the information that they want and need in order to make decent judgment. Obviously, it gets used in the Executive Branch as well. I know former Secretary Powell said that when he would be meeting with a foreign minister or somebody coming in, he would punch up the Human Rights Report on the website, take a look at it and see what the highlights were just so he would have that in mind as he did his job.
On the how the report is done, emphasizing -- and the same questions are asked of every country. We don't have different standards for different countries. There's a series of stock questions. They get refined over the years, but the effort is to try to get things you can answer yes or no to: Were there credible reports of arbitrary killings in this country or not? Were there abuses of force or not? And the embassy then is supposed to report on this. The first cut at the report is done at post by the -- usually by the Human Rights Officer in the Political Section and then up and approved by the Ambassador, and then it comes in to our Office of Country Reports and Asylum.
And I should stop here to thank both the Human Rights Officers in the field who did the work of pulling together this massive information and trying to get it organized, and then Nadia Tongour and Roy Potts, who was the head and deputy head of our Office of Country Reports and Asylum respectively, and they and their team just spend months literally going back and forth with the post trying to be sure that we've gotten the information that we need to get and that it's organized in a usable manner. So they go through several iterations going back and forth with post until we end up with a final draft of the report.
Just highlights in terms of mechanics this year, we've been on an effort over the past several years to try to reduce the size of this thing. It tends to grow largely because you have information from past years and the tendency is just to add on, and of course if you keep doing that over a 30-year period it becomes awfully long. So we're trying to -- if there are old cases with no new development, we try to get rid of them after three years or so. There's no point in continuing to report on something that's that far back.
We've been taking chunks of countries each year and saying let's start the report over again, let's rewrite it from scratch. And we've done -- I think last year it was about 50, this year 70-some countries where we did that. But the idea is that no country should go for more than five years without having the report start from scratch and focus on things that are currently relevant.
We've also -- we'll, we've reduced, and I think this year the overall size of the report has dropped by 5 percent. I think this is the third successive year in which we've shrunk the number of words and pages in streamlining the report.
We've also added content. This year you'll see there was more coverage given to anti-Semitism, to corruption and to issues of discrimination against persons with disabilities. So those are some new elements this year, and even though we have more on those topics the overall size has gone down a bit.
So that's the process of the report. We -- this, by the way, is the report on the human rights situation in a country, what was going on as factually as we can relate it in each country that's a member of the United Nations, save on the United States. And the reason we don't do a report on ourselves is the same reason you wouldn't write investigative reports about your own finances or something; it wouldn't have any credibility. Someone else needs to do that. It's not that we're against being scrutinized, and indeed we are scrutinized by many other organizations -- Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International. The Chinese do a report on us each year, have told us that one is in the mail. But it's not -- it wouldn't make sense for us to do this.
But we also have a statutory requirement that now for the last three years that we provide to Congress each year a report on what we're doing about these problems, at least in the 100 or so countries that have the most serious human rights problems. What's the U.S. strategy? What programs, policies are we following to try and improve the human rights situations in those countries? And that report, called Supporting Human Rights and Democracy, will be coming out in a month. The due date for the two are a month apart. So I commend it to you.
Last, just on a technical note, apparently some of the CDs that we've handed out this morning, those little diskettes, some of them, some files won't open for reasons that the technicians are still working on. Some work and some don't. But if you have a problem with that, it's already up on the website and you can go to the State Department website and the full report's there and I'm told that there's no technical problems on that version of it. By this afternoon we should have replacements for the broken diskettes.
And with that, I will open it up to questions.
QUESTION: The Under Secretary didn't stay and answer questions. I don't know if it's fair to ask you that. But the report is traditional in that it is a statement, it's empirical, it doesn't take any credit for the United States. She just claimed a lot of credit in a political sense for the Bush Administration for places where there are improvements. So I don't know if it's fair to ask you, but do you think that a case can be made that in a 196 countries, or a large percentage thereof, how they treat their people is largely influenced by the United States; or is there some universal spirit for democracy, some universal standards that cannot be suppressed, as we found out in the Soviet Union, as we find out everyday all over the world? Why is Bush -- why should we credit Bush for what's going on in this world -- I mean, (inaudible) getting better? What's getting worse, of course, we never mention. It's not fair to ask you, probably.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: No, it's fair enough to ask me and I don't think that's what the Under Secretary said. What I think you heard her say, what the President said, is that we want to get on -- stand with the people who are supporting democracy in their own countries, and that's all you can do. You can't make democracy happen from the outside. You have to give -- lend your support to people on the inside who are trying to make it happen, and I would subscribe to the thesis that it's a universal value that people everywhere want. If you ask somebody, "Would you rather have no control over your life and be subject to arbitrary oppression by your government or would you like to have a say in your own governance," not too many people are going to answer yes to the first part of that question, no matter what kind of culture they come from.
But in terms of this report, I think what the point that Under Secretary Dobriansky was making was that the fact that we do report on the situation in other countries -- and this isn't credit to this Administration or another administration, it's a credit to the United States -- it's showing people in those countries that are struggling for their rights and democracy that somebody knows what's going on, somebody cares about it, somebody is advertising that to the world. So in that sense the report is a manifestation of standing by people who are struggling for democracy, but it's the United States standing by them and I don't think there's any doubt about that.
QUESTION: A quick one? One quick spot question.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Very quick.
QUESTION: Mubarak's move. What's your hunch? Is this helpful? Because you find Ukraine and Afghanistan with their elections, things get better almost instantly.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Well, this is obviously something we have been pushing for and would very much like to see in Egypt is an open contest, a democratic process, free and fair elections for president. Now, we'll wait and see the details of what President Mubarak has in mind before saying whether this is that breakthrough, but just the very fact that it's even being discussed is a positive sign.
QUESTION: Yeah, I just wondered -- you mentioned that there is increased attention paid to anti-Semitism around the world in this year's report. Is this something that former Secretary Powell or Deputy Secretary Armitage requested that this report have or is it something you requested? Can you just give us some background on why that?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah. Well, I think it's a function that there's actually been an alarming increase in anti-Semitic incidents over the last few years and so there's been focus on that from the former Secretary, from the current Secretary, from Members of Congress as well. And I think many of you were here when we rolled out a few months ago -- we did a one-time special report on anti-Semitism to focus attention on that. But we've gone back, as we've done this report then, and said okay, we're also going to up the coverage of this issue a little bit in the report because it's a timely and topical issue. So not any one source. It's because the issue drives the reporting.
QUESTION: Sir, you must mentioned why the U.S. -- why the report doesn't mention the U.S. for the credibility problem. But don't you believe the existence of Guantanamo, allegations of torture in other U.S.-run prisons probably affect the credibility of the report?
But also about -- I wanted to have your take about the stories about the renditions, you know, people who went -- who were sent to Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and other countries to be tortured. Were their cases mentioned in the report or when countries raise the flag of anti-terrorism or fighting terrorism they get excluded?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: No. Let's see, two parts of your question. On the issue of treatment of detainees at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and so on, the events at Abu Ghraib were a stain on the honor of the U.S. There's no two ways about it. But as we say to people, no country has a perfect human rights record, and certainly not the United States. We have problems too, not just in overseas but policemen here abuse prisoners. It happens. We've seen some great cases of this over the past few years.
The issue, though, is not whether you have human rights abuses; it's what you do about them when they occur. Do you take steps to bring to account the people who are responsible? Do you take steps to alter the system, to try to reduce the chances of them happening in the future? And on that front, I think you've seen the U.S. being very active. People who were abusing people at Abu Ghraib have been court-martialed and are being court-martialed for their trouble. There have been all kinds of investigations by Congress and by other bodies of that.
In Guantanamo, some of the issues that were being raised a year or two ago about process for people there have now been challenged in our courts, and successfully challenged in our courts. So this is something you'll see in these reports too -- is when we look at a country we say, "Does it have an independent judicial system? Does it have a free press that can challenge? Does it have an independent legislature so that there's a self-correcting aspect to it?"
So, basically, what we're saying is, yeah, we have problems too in the human rights area, what we'd like to see other countries do is what we hope we're doing all the time, which is take steps against them.
Now, on renditions, I can't comment on particular cases because most of them are in litigation in the United States, but let me say more generally the President has been very clear on the issue of torture, which is we are against it -- and torture by anyone's common-sense definition of it, not some fancy definition. It's been very, very clear, the statement that he gave on Torture Victims Day.
When we're sending people -- this actually is one of the issues in Guantanamo. When people are -- when you say let's get this person out of Guantanamo, I mean, many of them will say, "Don't send me back to my home country. I might be tortured there." And we have to look. We have our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. We have to look at each one of those cases and say: Can we safely send this person back or is there a likelihood that he would be tortured if he went back? And it becomes a very individualized thing. In some cases you'll say there's no way we can do it; in other cases you can say even though the country has a record of torture that we can get assurances that we can believe will be reliable in this case that this person won't be. But I don't think you'll find cases of -- anyway, that's the process we go through.
QUESTION: What is the most important message of this report for the Iranian Government and the Iranian nation?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: That they're out of phase with what's going on in the rest of the world. I mean, when you look at what's happening in Iraq where you've just had elections there, when you look at the Palestinian territories where you've just had free elections there, where you have President Mubarak at least talking about having free elections, and what's gone on in Iran is very much the opposite, where the space for people that didn't agree with the ruling clique has been reduced, and I think that's covered in the report that people weren't able to run for election and so on.
So Iran's got a real problem if it wants to become a respected member of the family of nations. It's not been doing the things that get you there.
QUESTION: Sir, in your vast recollection, how do you assess the Human Rights Report in Greece you just released? The Human Rights Reports in Greece?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Oh, in Greece. I'm sorry.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: To tell you the truth, that's one that I have not studied in detail. What I would say is read the report. If we've done our job right, the facts should speak for themselves on these countries. If you go through the report and see what the Government of Greece is doing or not doing, it tells you --
QUESTION: Well, which it does, because the report's in my hands. But in your vast recollection, whatever you have, how do you assess for 2004?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: In Greece? Let me see if I have my little cheat here. So I will --
We used this -- it makes the same conclusory sentences we did last year, which is the government generally respected human rights of its citizens, problems in some areas, so it didn't change from last year in that respect. And that's true of many countries. It's hard to find a country that has no problem in any area.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. A couple of months ago, President Fox in Mexico announced a national program on human rights. I would like to know what is the U.S. take on that program and also if you can give us a big of scenery of what is the situation across Latin America.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Well, I think with Latin America, the positive side is, especially for old-timers like me -- when I joined the State Department, and I started working on Latin American affairs in my early work, you could literally count on the fingers of one hand the number of elected governments in Latin America in those days, and that was 30 years ago. And now, you can count with maybe a couple of exceptions, Cuba being a prime one, but every other country has elected governments. Cuba and Haiti do not, but Haiti is on its way to having elections.
So on the political freedom front, there has been a huge change over that period of time, but you continue to have really serious problems in many areas. Mexico, as you mentioned, there are certain states, Chiapas and Oaxaca and others, that have real problems with abuse by the security forces of people. I think President Fox has tried to get a program through to provide accountability to go back and look at some of the abuses of the past, and we obviously are very strongly in support of those efforts.
But as you look around the hemisphere, I think what you find is very uneven, that you've had these advances in political freedom in the sense of having regular periodic elections and so on, but you still find in many countries that huge portions of the population are effectively not participants in that process. You know, look at Bolivia or Peru, where even though people have the opportunity as citizens to vote and so on, they don't really -- they aren't engaged in the political process, and for a whole variety of reasons.
When we come back next month and talk about what we're trying to do about these things and tell you some of the efforts that we're making, you've got problems as the ones I just mentioned with respect to Mexico in a lot of the countries in the region of serious abuse by security personnel. It may not be government policy, but you still don't have security forces that are professional and minimizing that kind of activity.
And then you've still got problems like you have in Colombia, where you've got armed, illegal terrorist groups of both the right and the left challenging the government for authority in parts of the country, you know, large numbers of civilian deaths. And so it's a mixed bag.
QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit more about the broader Middle East? I mean, you sound very optimistic today talking about Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, but what about Saudi Arabia, which didn't allow women even in these local elections?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Exactly.
QUESTION: And the Ayman Nour case in Egypt. Can you just talk a little bit more about the trends that you saw last year?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Well, I think the -- with Saudi Arabia, you know, it was -- again, is the glass half full, half empty? It was good that they had municipal elections. It's not good that women were excluded. It's not good that even though parts of the municipal councils were elected, other parts are appointed still. So it's -- that's maybe a partial step forward but you can see just even built into it all the things that are holding back.
Saudi Arabia this year was cited as a Country of Particular Concern because of its lack of religious freedom, where everybody who isn't tied to the particular sect of Islam that is dominant in the country is persecuted for their religious beliefs. So Saudi Arabia has a poor record and we say so in here, and is also by the way looking at some form of sanction due to their religious repressions.
Egypt, I think you've heard from this podium, from Richard and Adam and others, what we think about the Nour case. This is why I'm saying that the jury is still out on what steps President Mubarak is going to take towards a free and fair election. Letting opponents participate and not putting them in jail would be a good first step.
But the point I was trying to get across, though, is that there have been some positive steps in the Middle East in terms of having elections in Iraq and in the Palestinian territories and you're starting to see some more popular ferment from other countries wanting to have these same benefits. We've seen, as Under Secretary Dobriansky mentioned, people demonstrating in Beirut now, not wanting to be dominated by Syria anymore in their government.
So there are signs, but it's -- the Middle East up until a couple of years ago, it was kind of the one area that was -- people didn't think was ready for democracy. It was all the old excuses. And the speech that the President made over at the National Endowment for Democracy said it's no longer off limits. And I think you're starting to see that. So lots of work to be done. It doesn't mean the problem got solved, but it means the problems been acknowledged, diagnosed. And we're, as we mentioned earlier, trying to get on the right side of people in those countries that are trying to push for their own freedom and democracy.
QUESTION: As the U.S. presses the finding in this report, how much of it is undercut by other foreign policy concerns? Let's say China, for example, it was mentioned Dobriansky at the top, yet you're trying to curry favor with China for North Korea. I mean, how much of this is undercut by that process?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Well, it's -- this has always been a long debate about, you know, is human rights something that's off, separated from other aspects of your relationship, or is it something that should be mainstreamed, integrated into it. And I guess I'm of the latter view. There were a lot of people, for example, who thought that when we made allies in Central Asia that that would be the end of any criticism of those countries for their human rights records, that it would be the end of the efforts. In fact, it's had just the opposite effect, that we've paid more attention to human rights situation in places like Uzbekistan, for example, and been much more active in trying to, again, side with people who are pushing for change there.
China, you know we have, obviously, extensive commercial and other relationships with China. The hindrance on it is their human rights record and they know that. We've been very clear in saying, "Look, you have overall what's developing to be a pretty good relationship, but the break, the drag on the whole thing, is human rights." We're constantly working with the Chinese to try to get them to where human rights can become a positive rather than a negative element in the relationship.
What we're looking for in any of these countries, and this is where I would caution against trying to make comparisons of one country to another -- as we said earlier, every country's got human rights problems -- but it's: Are you making progress? Are you making steady, serious progress in trying to improve it? So you're measuring a country really against itself. And China has got huge number of areas where it has opportunities to improve, if we want to put it nicely.
So it's not an either/or deal. You can be engaged with them. You can be engaged with them on North Korea and at the same time be engaged with them in saying you guys have to change your ways on this. We directly support people who are moving for reform inside China through a variety of programs that we have. My Bureau, for example, has -- I think it's about $10 million that we administer for China for human rights and democracy fund.
So it's -- you can't have -- if you start to say you can only have one dimension in a relationship, economic or military or human rights, you're inevitably going to give short shrift to something. You have to face up to the fact that they're all part of your relationship and try to balance them appropriately.
QUESTION: What is the situation in Brazil compared to the previous report?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: We'll see. These are done by regions so it takes me a minute. But again, I would give the same question that -- look at the facts in the report. They should, if we've done our jobs right, speak for themselves.
And Brazil is the same as it was last year. And particularly -- well, the government, the federal government in Brazil, to sum it up, generally respected human rights but that you have problems with poverty, with poor people and particularly with state governments mistreating people. So it's, again, a little bit like Mexico in that respect where you've got an impulse from the central government that's a positive way but they haven't been able to get everybody following the marching orders yet.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) or the situation's the same?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: The overall assessment of the situation is the same. The report, obviously, will be different because it has --
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: -- the incidents that have occurred in the past year.
QUESTION: I realize Congress wants this report from the State Department and the Administration, but we have subsets of our own government, such as the U.S. Holocaust Museum, the U.S. Institute for Peace and various NGOs and think tanks that each have put out reports and had forum discussions. Today you have a headline in today's paper; for instance, Russians Rebuff U.S. on Iran. Now, when something such as that happens it's as if in a headliner what actually happened, for instance, through discussions between President Bush and Vladimir Putin, that the U.S. is wimping out. But when you have a situation such as this -- it could be Iran, it could be sections of Africa -- that there is dissent, obviously the dissent could be, as you say and discussed earlier in Egypt, that the dissent where it could meet -- end up in the press, it's a mixed bag.
Now, Congress, with the various subcommittees, think that something is lagging in a particular report and they are ahead of the cycle here. How do you deal with that and what do you tell, for instance, the NGOs that criticize, for instance, the State Department and the Administration?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Okay. Well, on the NGOs, in fact, we do spend a good deal of time looking at NGO reports, both NGOs in the countries concerned and also then the international ones and American-based ones that you mentioned, not as a primary source for information but rather as a cross check on our information. In other words, if we get a report in from our Embassy in Country X and it says here's what's going on, Nadia's staff is going to be looking at what has Amnesty International said about that, what has Human Rights Watch said, what has the Holocaust Museum said. And if they're reporting some incident that our guys didn't report on, we'll go back to them and say, well, what about this? And it may turn out that there was a good answer, that they say, well, we checked into it and that was just wrong information, it wasn't true, in which case we will usually say, while there were reports of this, we weren't able to substantiate them or something.
So we use them in that sense as a cross check but again we're trying to report facts here, not to necessarily satisfy somebody's desire for a conclusion. Russia is a good example. I think by anybody's account, the situation in Russia has moved backwards in the last year. And those concerns have been expressed by the President, they've been expressed by this Secretary and by the former Secretary, Members of Congress. Now, some people, you know, can say, well, tactically, I would've used this word rather than that word to describe it, but the fact is there's not much dissent on that.
On the general process though of, you know, what if somebody is going to be offended by the report -- other people -- what I've found is that there's not much argument about that. Within the Executive Branch, people pretty much understand what the report is, why we need to be as objective as we can be in reporting the information. What you do about the information, that's where you have the debates.
But usually there's not much dispute about the information. Sometimes you'll get, you know, a dispute over the characterization of information, whether you say the situation is bad or really bad or something like that, where you're arguing over an adjective or an adverb or something. But it's not -- you don't find cases, in my experience, where somebody says, well, let's just not mention that these guys tortured a bunch of people, that no one -- everyone knows you just can't do that. So that kind of debate might have occurred 20 or 30 years ago, but it doesn't exist anymore.
QUESTION: Yes sir. The Under Secretary had just mentioned that democracy is the best guarantor of freedom and human rights. Many people around the world, including the European allies, are having big problems with the self-proclaimed democracy of Israel, with the violations that are taking place against the Syrian people on the Golan Heights, where Israel is trying to impose identity cards on the Syrians, try to convert them into Israeli citizens. That's against the Geneva Conventions. Israel is annexing new lands and having -- is building a wall separating Palestinian families and lands.
I wonder how did -- what was your approach in the report toward these kind of actions that are being committed by self-proclaimed, the only democracy, what is called, in the Middle East?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: With respect to Israel, there is a report on Israel itself and its treatment of its own citizens within its essentially pre-'67 borders which finds that they generally respected their peoples' rights with some discrimination towards the Arab Israeli citizens. So that's the picture inside Israel on treatment of its own citizens.
But then there's an annex, which is actually quite a bit longer than the report on Israel itself, or somewhat longer, that deals with the occupied territories where Israel does have obligations as an occupying power to treat people in a certain way. The security barrier is covered in the report. Incidents of security forces and so on are covered. That report also, though -- it focuses not so much on Golan as on West Bank and Gaza because it's also covering the actions of the Palestinian Authority in those areas. It's a funny combination where you have a government, elected government of the Palestinians, and then you also have superimposed on that the occupying authority of Israel.
So we've tried to lay out, again, as factually and fairly as we can, these incidents. As you can imagine, there's -- some of them are very clear, where either Palestinian terrorists go and try to blow up civilians and it's clear they had the intent to do that; they say so flat out. You also have cases where, for example, Israeli settlers have killed people in the territories where they clearly had that intent. You have cases where security forces have done the same, Israeli security forces, and in some cases they've been tried for it. But you have an awful lot of cases -- I mean, there were over 800 Palestinians that were killed in the year. And, you know, when you look at those cases, how many of them were fighters, how many of them were civilians that were in an area where the fighters were and they got hit by mistake, and how many of them might have been deliberate? It's very hard to sort those all out. So what we've tried to do is just try to report the incidents as factually as possible and then the reader can draw his own conclusion.
QUESTION: Please, if I could ask you, you said that you did not mention the Golan Heights people, even though they are in thousands and thousands, and they do have rights, human rights.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: No, you're right.
QUESTION: How is it overlooked over and over? And, I mean, that it is not given what it deserves since we in the United States believe, you know, that we -- the United States is the human rights defender in the world. But these are innocent people. They are not terrorist. They have never bombed Israelis or done --
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: I think it's mentioned. It's just not -- it's not as much as depth as with the Palestinians. But you're right. I mean, the obligations as an occupying power relate equally to people on the Golan as they do to people in other occupied territories.
Yes ma'am, back in the corner, and then the gentleman in the white coat.
QUESTION: Over the past year there have been a number of reports about a practice called extraordinary rendition where the United States has either assisted or, in fact, transferred suspects, al-Qaida suspects, to third countries, notably the Arar case in Syria. You have cases in Egypt. And also Uzbekistan -- the British Ambassador has talked about U.S. intelligence cooperating with Uzbekistan intelligence in order to get information on the war on terror and in those interrogations, torture is allegedly used, according to this British Ambassador.
So I'm asking, number one, if extraordinary renditions was looked at at all by your team. And number two, if the United States Government is sending two messages to these countries, which commit these acts?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Well, rendition is a law enforcement term. I mean, whether it's extraordinary or ordinary, it happens all the time. Again, I'm not going to go into specific cases that are under litigation, but for years, when a country has somebody who's wanted in another country, their duty is to turn them over. Those people have rights, too. They have rights not to be turned over without, you know, having some serious amount of evidence against them. It has to meet a certain standard. It doesn't mean they're guilty; it just means there's enough to warrant their detention and trial.
There's also our obligations under the Convention Against Torture, which is, I think the basic obligation there is you can't turn someone over, even if he's a terrorist, even if he's a murderer, even if he's done every kind of bad thing in the world, if the likelihood, if it's more probable than not that he will be tortured, then you can't turn him over. I think that's the exact legal standard. And we take that seriously. Again, I can't go into the particular cases because many of them are under litigation. I do know at least one case that you mentioned where I wouldn't give much credence to the source but --
MR. CASEY: Mike, I think we're going to have to make this one the last one.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Okay. Well, I'd say I actually told this gentleman next and then I was going to --
QUESTION: It's a quickie.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Well, exactly.
QUESTION: Yes. Some people have identified the problem with the justice system in Latin America as the single most important human rights issue because it ensures impunity. And I wonder you could -- you will agree with that.
And also I wonder if you could comment quickly on Cuba and Venezuela, two countries that the United States often criticizes.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Well, you're right. The justice systems are weak throughout Latin America. I mean, again, it varies from country to country but that is one of the serious problems. If you have weak or corrupt -- this is one reason we focus so much on corruption. You don't think of corruption as a human rights issue per se, but it has its effect on human rights. If judges can be bribed, if prosecutors can be bribed not to prosecute somebody, then you lose the whole deterrent effect of the justice system. So yeah, it's a problem. It's something we've been working on with the elected governments in Latin America, but a lot more needs to be done.
Cuba. I wish I could say something has changed there. It's really bad and stayed bad. I was head of our mission in Havana in the mid-'90s, or the mid-to-late-'90s, and have been dealing with Cuba for a good deal of my career. And, you know, it's one of these things where you -- it's not just that the problems are the same, the individuals are the same. I mean, we've had people in the same positions for 45years, and when you have a system that's that stultified you keep making the same mistakes over and over again and making them worse. With a democratic system, at least you have the chance every so often to rectify your errors and commit new ones, but you don't keep making the same mistake over and over. But Cuba is a special case in that regard.
Venezuela. You know, we saw some, unfortunately, some real backsliding there this year. We were supportive of monitoring of the referendum and so on that was done and respected the results of that. But when we then see media law being passed to intimidate and constrain journalists in the country, when you see efforts to pack the supreme court and so on, those are not positive developments.
That was it. Okay, thank you all very much. I hope you enjoy the report and come back for the next one in a month hence and we'll talk about what we're doing about some of these problems. Thank you.