"[These] reports show that too many governments continue to tighten their grasp on free expression, association, and assembly, using increasingly repressive laws, politically motivated prosecutions and even new technologies to deny citizens their universal human rights, in the public square, and in virtual space," Secretary of State John Kerry said in the preface of the latest report released Thursday.
The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices draw attention to the "growing challenges facing individuals and organizations as governments around the world fall short of their obligation to uphold universal human rights," the secretary said.
During the past 12 months, the report said, human rights restrictions were noted in five areas:
-- A continued crackdown by governments on civil society and the freedoms of association and assembly.
-- Growing restrictions on free expression and press freedom.
-- Accountability deficits for security force abuses.
-- Lack of effective labor rights protections.
-- Marginalization of vulnerable groups, in particular, religious and ethnic minorities; women and children; LGBT persons and communities; and persons with disabilities
"Governments that commit human rights abuses and fail to hold perpetrators accountable are not only acting against their best interest, but against our own," Kerry said in the preface. "In countries where human rights are denied, violent extremism and transnational crime take root, contributing to instability, insecurity and economic deprivation."
Congress mandates the State Department report on human rights conditions in nearly 200 countries and territories, based on factual reporting from U.S. embassies and posts abroad.
The report, released during this year's 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, provided evidence of rights violations worldwide, including Syria, where the nearly 3-year-old civil war has claimed more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions of people.
In countries such as China, a lack of judicial independence fueled a state-directed crackdown on activists and a suppression of political dissent, the report said, while in the Ukraine, the recently ousted government had increased pressure on civil society and journalists. The annual review also discussed setbacks to freedom of assembly around the world, "where governments used excessive force to quell peaceful protests and dissent."
"And yet, as demonstrated this past year, the courageous pursuit of human dignity remains enduring and undeterred," the report said.
Kerry said in the preface the State Department would keep pressuring government to uphold fundamental freedoms and remained "committed to advocating on behalf of civil society and speaking out for the protection of human rights for all individuals."