Human rights, including religious rights, improved dramatically around the world last year, according to a new State Department report. “The year 1989 may very well go down in the history books as a watershed year regarding the worldwide cause of human rights,” said Richard Schifter, assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs.

The 1,640-page publication, which is mandated by Congress as a tool in determining amounts of U.S. foreign aid, outlines the human-rights situations across the world. The sweeping moves toward democracy in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, democratic elections in Central and South America and Namibia, and the end of the Stroessner dictatorship in Paraguay were all cited as contributing to progress.

However, Schifter added that given the “positive trends,” the setbacks seem “all the more stark.” China, Burma, North Korea, Cuba, and Ethiopia were cited as continuing severe repression. Other areas of concern highlighted were Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, the Israeli-occupied territories, Northern Ireland, Peru, the Philippines, Lebanon, Angola, Mozambique, Cambodia, and Afghanistan.

Religious Liberty

The report included an evaluation of religious liberty in all countries, a significant inclusion, according to John Hanford, a congressional fellow in the area of international religious freedom. Said Hanford, “Our government is officially on record recognizing religious freedom as a basic human right.”

“Severe” persecution of Christians and prohibitions against religious activities and proselytism continued in many countries around the world last year, according to the study. These include North Korea, Albania, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, and China.

The China section of the report also devoted considerable space to China’s “family planning policy,” which mandates the number of children a couple may have. According to the State Department, implementation of the policy “varies widely from place to place,” but the report confirmed the Chinese enforce “disciplinary measures” and put “psychological pressure on those who resist.” In addition, the report said “physical compulsion to submit to abortion or sterilization,” though not authorized, “continues to occur as officials strive to meet population targets.”

By Kim A. Lawton.

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