US: NKorea rights deplorable; problems in Myanmar

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States on Thursday condemned "deplorable" conditions in North Korea and said serious abuses against stateless Rohingya Muslims threaten Myanmar's progress on human rights.

The State Department made its assessments in an annual global report on human rights.

The report also criticized a flawed election that disenfranchised Cambodian voters and said there was a climate of fear and self-censorship in Sri Lanka, where the government has made insufficient progress in accounting for alleged war crimes.

But it noted some progress in Asia, including political prisoner releases in Myanmar as it shifts from authoritarian rule, and China's announcing a change in its one-child policy.

The report, however, was mostly strongly critical of China, where it said authorities continued to tighten restrictions on basic freedoms.

It noted a continuing crackdown on rights activists and freedom of expression, and increased repression against ethnic Tibetans and Uighur Muslims in the country's far west.

At the launch of report, that assesses conditions in almost 200 countries and territories during 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry offered a stinging rebuke of North Korea.

He cited a U.N. commission of inquiry that found "clear and compelling evidence of wholesale torture and crimes against humanity." He voiced disgust over summary executions reported by the commission in which victims were fired at by artillery and anti-aircraft weapons "that literally obliterate human beings."

Kerry did not comment, however, on the commission's recommendation that North Korea be referred to the International Criminal Court, set to be considered by the U.N. Human Rights Council in March.

North Korea has rejected the U.N. report, claiming it is a U.S.-orchestrated effort to bring down its socialist system.

The U.S. report found that in Myanmar, where the Washington has eased sanctions to reward the government's shift from five decades of army rule, significant human rights problems persist throughout the country.

Military and security forces continued to act with impunity, and the government did little during the year to address the root causes of the violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine State, and fulfill its 2012 pledge to take steps to provide a path for citizenship for the Rohingya, the report said.

At the end of 2013, some 140,000 people remained internally displaced, the U.S. said, citing reports that state government and security officials, acting in conjunction with Rakhine and Rohingya criminal elements, have smuggled and trafficked thousands of Rohingya out of the country, often for profit.

While noting the continuing human rights problems, Kerry held up Myanmar as an example of positive change as it moves "slowly moving away not just from dictatorship but toward a more effective partnering with the United States and the international community."

In Vietnam, another Southeast Asian country that the U.S. has striven to deepen ties, the report said the human rights situation remained poor. Authorities restricted internet and press freedoms and persecuted unregistered religious groups.

The U.S. voiced concern about political violence and "tightening of political space" in Bangladesh, where the opposition boycotted elections last month.

The deaths of 1,100 Bangladeshis in the garment industry's worst disaster resulted in some progress on worker safety in the South Asian nation, but poor working conditions and labor rights remained serious human rights concerns, the report said.