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US report highlights rights abuses in Iraq, Iran

WASHINGTON, February 25, 2000 (AFP) The US State department on Friday singled out Iraq and Iran as leading human rights violators in the Middle East.

In its annual 1999 report on human rights around the world, it accused Baghdad of conducting "a campaign of murder, summary execution and protracted arbitrary arrest against the religious leaders and adherents of the Shia Muslim population."

"Reports suggest that persons were executed merely because of their association with an opposition group or as part of a continuing effort to reduce prison populations," the department said.

It noted that the Iraqi government continued to be "responsible for disappearances and to kill and torture persons suspected of - or related to persons suspected of - economic crimes, military desertion, and a variety of other activities."

Iraqi security forces routinely used arbitrary arrest and detention, and continue to deny citizens the basic right of due process, the report said, accusing the Baghdad government of using civilians, including small children, as "human shields" against military air raids by US and British forces.

"The government apparently revived its prior use of thallium (a radioactive substance that can be dissolved in drinking water) poisoning as a means of killing political opponents, according to the report.

It noted that human rights abuses in Iraq remained difficult to document because of the government's efforts to conceal the facts, including a ban on the establishment of independent human rights groups, its persistent refusal to grant visits to human rights monitors and continued restrictions on dissent.

Iran also came under criticism for committing "numerous human rights abuses based in part on religion."

"Although efforts within society to make the government accountable for its human rights policies intensified, serious problems remain, "the report said.

It said "systematic abuses include extrajudicial killings and summary executions, disappearances, widespread use of torture, rape, harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrest and detention."

"The government infringes on citizens' privacy rights, and restricts freedom of speech, press, assembly and association," it added, pointing out that several reform-oriented publications were shut down.

The report also cited what it described as discrimination against religious minorities, including Christians, Jews and Bahais. It cited the arrest of 13 Jews arrested in February and March last year on suspicion of spying for Israel, an offense punishable by death, amid charges of anti-Semitism.

Saudi Arabia, a traditional US ally, also came in for criticism, for enforcing adherence to Islamic norms by "intimidating, abusing, and detaining citizens and foreigners."

The Syrian government was accused of abusing its powers to stifle all forms of political dissent.

Turning to Israel, the report said the country's main human rights problems stemmed from its policies and practices in the occupied territories, noting that Israeli security forces "abused Palestinians suspected of security offenses."

However it said "the overall human rights situation continued to improve during the year, in part due to the lack of major terrorist attacks, which reduced the level of tension as well as the number of security-related arrests."

The State Department also focused attention on continuing "discrimination and violence" against religious minorities in Sudan.

"Government-supported forces conducted raids, abducted persons, including women and children - and sold them into slavery," it said. "Many non-Muslims were converted forcibly to Islam."