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The United States has said that Burma had far more to do to improve human rights after freeing Aung San Suu Kyi, in a report that also aired concern over Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines.
In an annual survey on human rights, the State Department pointed to “severe” abuses in Burma including frequent killings, rapes and forced labour of ethnic minorities at the hands of the country’s powerful army.
Burma freed pro-democracy icon Suu Kyi in November. The military leaders have officially ceded to civilians as part of a political transition, although outside observers consider the step cosmetic.
“We continue to be very concerned about the situation in Burma, especially, I would say, the continued detention of more than 2,000 political prisoners,” US official Michael Posner said as he presented an annual human rights report.
“We continue to call for their release, but also [to end] the very harsh and unreasonable restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi and her party. So we have a long way to go,” said Posner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour.
President Barack Obama’s administration is expected shortly to name a special coordinator on Burma policy, an appointment which Posner said would help the United States engage on issues including human rights.
The report also pointed to human rights concerns elsewhere in Southeast Asia — particularly Vietnam, where it said that at least 25 political activists were arrested.
“The government increased its suppression of dissent,” the report said. “Police commonly mistreated suspects during arrest or detention.”
The report said that historic discrimination persisted against ethnic minorities, although it also pointed to efforts by Vietnam to address grievances in the Central Highlands by improving education and infrastructure.
Human Rights Watch, a private US watchdog, in a recent report said Vietnam was stepping up repression of the Montagnard people, forcing hundreds to renounce their religion.
The State Department report also raised concerns about Cambodia, saying that security forces “committed arbitrary killings and acted with impunity,” often abusing detainees to extract confessions.
The survey said that Cambodia restricted freedom of speech and press and pointed to efforts seen as weakening non-governmental organizations, which have been active in the country since its recovery from war.
Posner said the push against NGOs was part of a worldwide trend by governments to make life difficult for critics.
“The law makes it very hard for NGOs to register, especially small ones, and I think it does not do a service to the Government of Cambodia to keep pursuing this law,” Posner told reporters.
In the Philippines, the State Department report said that extrajudicial killings were “serious problems” and also pointed to harassment of leftist and human rights activists and arbitrary arrests.
“Members of the security services physically and psychologically abused suspects and detainees, and there were instances of torture,” it said. On Laos, the State Department said that the one-party state restricted freedom of speech and at times freedom