Clinton Spotlights Murder of Bhatti, Christian Minorities in New Report

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday denounced the murder of Pakistan’s Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Christian minorities in Iraq, Egypt, and Nigeria during her presentation of the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report.

Clinton denounced Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which she stressed is enforced against Muslims as well as non-Muslims, and noted that earlier this year two government officials who tried to reform the law were killed as a result.

“In the first two months of 2011, two government officials in Pakistan who sought to reform the law, [Punjab] Governor [Salman] Taseer and [Minorities] Minister [Shahbaz] Bhatti, were targeted by a Fatwa and assassinated,” said Clinton while summarizing the findings of the human rights report.

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Bhatti, the only Christian to ever be a member of Pakistan’s Cabinet, and Taseer, a Western-educated moderate Muslim, fought against the country’s blasphemy law while defending a poor Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was the first woman to be sentenced to death under the blasphemy law.

Taseer was assassinated by his bodyguard on Jan. 4, while Bhatti was killed by Taliban militants in front of his mother’s home on March 2.

During her 11-minute talk, Clinton also drew attention to Iraq, Egypt, and Nigeria where “violent attacks by extremists have killed dozens of people who have been peacefully practicing their religions, Christians and Muslims alike.”

The State Department report examines the human rights conditions in over 190 countries for 2010. In the report’s introduction, the State Department acknowledged that sweeping changes across the Middle East over the past three months have influenced its perspective.

“At this moment we cannot predict the outcome of these changes, and we will not know the lasting impacts for years to come,” the report’s introduction states. “The internal dynamics in each of these countries are different, so sweeping analysis of the entire region is not appropriate.”

But the State Department said in the report that if citizens in the Middle East succeed to build sustainable democracies with their governments that respect the human rights of its people, then “the Middle East region, and with it the whole world, will be improved.”

“In recent months, we have been particularly inspired by the courage and determination of the activists in the Middle East and North Africa and in other repressive societies who have demanded peaceful democratic change and respect for their universal human rights,” said Clinton.

“The United States will stand with those who seek to advance the causes of democracy and human rights wherever they may live. And we will stand with those who exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly in a peaceful way, whether in person, in print or in pixels on the internet."

Clinton spent most of her time describing three growing trends in 2010 that have “disturbed” the State Department: widespread crackdown on civil society activists, restriction of internet freedom, and repression of vulnerable minorities.

On crackdown of civil society activists, Clinton named Venezuela, Russia, and China as culprits of this particular human rights violation. And regarding restriction on internet freedom, she pointed a critical finger at Burma and Cuba. In total, the State Department found that 40 governments restrict internet use through various means.

Regarding the problem of repressing vulnerable minorities, the diplomat highlighted discrimination and harassment of racial, ethnic, religious and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people.

The Secretary of State said she and the U.S. government believe that gay rights is a human right and she is very concerned about state-sanctioned homophobia. In particular, she pointed to Uganda where homosexuality remains illegal and gay people are harassed and intimidated.

“We hope that this report will give comfort to the activists, will shine a spotlight on the abuses, and convince those in governments that there are other and better ways,” Clinton concluded.

This is the U.S. State Department’s 35th annual report on human rights in the world.

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