The State Department released its annual report on human rights practices for 2013. Unveiling the report Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters it was particularly timely: "It comes on the heels of one of the most momentous years in the struggle for greater rights and freedom in modern history."
Below are some highlights from key countries featured in the report.
- Laws passed by President Vladimir Putin that criminalize public assembly and expression in support of LGBT equality; police forces throughout Russia failed to protect LGBT activists from attacks during rallies they held throughout the year.
- There was only one "protest zone" allowed anywhere near the Sochi Olympics, and that it was 9.5 miles away from Olympic venues and the media center.
- Russia Today (RT), the successor to the state-run news agency RIA Novosti, is biased.
- There are (only) 23 women's shelters throughout the country.
- Child abuse, especially in orphanages, remains a big problem.
- The most egregious human rights problem in the country is "the government's severe limitations on citizens' right to peacefully change their government through free and fair elections."
- The Guardian Council, an official board of influential theologians and jurists, approved only eight candidates out of 686 individuals for the 2013 presidential election. Among those barred was former two-term president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, on the ground that he was too old. (He's 79.)
- Anti-Semitism persists in conservative media outlets.
- Security forces "reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In many instances few or no details were available." In cases where police were found to have killed people, there would often be an announcement of an investigation, but it would never result in any findings or punishment.
- Academic freedom and censorship continue to be major problems - the report said "judicial independence" is a concept barred from university curricula.
- Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo remains imprisoned.
- Authorities monitor everything: telephone conversations, faxes, email, text messages, internet communications - and they open and censor domestic and international mail.
- Websites for Bloomberg and the New York Times were blocked after they reported on the family wealth of Xi Jinping and Wen Jiabao.
- Local governments use "physical coercion" to get women to have abortions to meet family-planning targets.
- A study in September found that only 12 percent of women between ages 20 and 35 had a proper understanding of contraception methods.
- Continuing violence perpetrated by the Assad regime is strongly condemned, as is the Aug. 21 chemical attack on Damascus.
- The loosely-affiliated Syrian opposition also violated human rights, killing civilians, including in an attack on Alawite villages in August that killed 190 civilians, including 57 women and 18 children.
- Both government and opposition forces impede the flow of humanitarian access.
- Among the most egregious violations of human rights was "the removal of an elected civilian government," i.e., the ousting of then-President Mohamed Morsi.
- Egypt has arbitrarily detained, since July 3, 80 journalists. As of Dec. 1, five remained in custody, two of whom are affiliated with al-Jazeera. On Dec. 28, authorities arrested four other al-Jazeera journalists on charges of broadcasting without permission. (On Thursday, journalists around the world held a global day of action calling for Egypt to release the journalists - many by using the Twitter hashtag #FreeAJStaff.)
- "Parliamentary elections in October 2012 did not meet international standards for fairness or transparency." (The most violent protests erupted in 2014, outside the purview of the report.)
- "Corruption remained pervasive at all levels in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government and in society." (Think: all the lavish mansions of former Ukrainian officials we've seen photos of the past week.)
- The country has laws criminalizing consensual same-sex, providing a penalty up to life imprisonment. The most recent anti-LGBT laws, passed this week, were outside the purview of the report.
- Several LGBT persons were charged with engaging in "acts against the order of nature" and indecency. Their cases were still pending at year's end.