U.S. cites crackdowns on protestors, gays in global rights report

By Susan Heavey WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday expressed growing concern about government crackdowns on peaceful protest and persecution of gays in a number of countries in its annual review of global human rights. The State Department report highlighted conflicts in Syria, Ukraine, Turkey, Vietnam, Egypt and other countries where military forces have used violence and political repression to target protesters demanding their rights. "The year 2013 may well be known for some of the egregious atrocities in recent memory," U.S. State Department's Acting Assistant Secretary Uzra Zeya told reporters. She referred in particular to a chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed over 1,000 people, and torture and detentions in North Korea. "Around the world, authoritarian governments used security forces to consolidate power and suppress dissent, to the detriment of their country's long-term stability, security, and economic development," the report said. Transitioning democracies also struggled to effectively govern and maintain law and order, it added, expressing concern about what it called abuses in Myanmar, Thailand and other parts of Asia. Rising persecution of gays and lesbians - particularly in Africa - drew intense scrutiny. The report said these groups remain "the target of widespread discrimination and violence." In Russia, the government has used new laws to target "vulnerable groups, such as the LGBT community," it added. It pointed to laws in Nigeria and Uganda targeting same-sex relations and action against these groups in Cameroon, where they were jailed and beaten, and Zambia. The State Department also said religious and ethnic minorities were targeted in many countries, including China, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt and Iraq and that that the rights of women and girls were often abused in Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt and Afghanistan. The report echoed many of the same concerns expressed in the report in earlier years, including what the United States says is a lack of labor rights protections in many countries. The full report is available online at www.state.gov/humanrightsreport. (Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton; editing by Andrew Hay)