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US fears promise of Arab Spring may be lost

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Global hopes that democracy could replace dictatorships in Arab Spring nations risk being crushed by repressive regimes, the United States warned Friday in its annual human rights report.

"The hope of the early days of the Arab Awakening has run up against the harsh realities of incomplete and contested transitions," the State Department said in its assessment of the global situation of human rights in 2012.

Two years after the first uprisings against iron-fisted rulers in the Middle East and North Africa, the countries that gave rise to the Arab Spring are now encountering "harsh realities" and face "immense challenges."

Despite some "encouraging democratic breakthroughs," old debates and divisions held in check for decades are resurfacing and clashing with young people "impatient for reform and results," the report said.

Arab Spring nations in "2012 witnessed a bumpy transition from protest to politics, brutal repression by regimes determined to crush popular will, and the inevitable challenges of turning democratic aspirations into reality."

While there was praise for some countries such as Tunisia and Libya, where the new leaders include long-time human rights advocates, there was growing concern in other countries about moves to stifle civil society.

The report cited "sexual violence against women, violence against and increased marginalization of members of religious minorities, and escalating human rights violations, especially in Syria."

And despite the election of President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, security forces failed "to protect Coptic Christians from several incidents of societal violence" and there was "increasing political polarization."

"Each of the nations of the region will follow its own path, but those governments that do not respond to the aspirations of their own people will have difficulty maintaining the status quo," it warned.

Just days after the Boston marathon bombings, Secretary of State John Kerry warned: "Our world is complex and increasingly influenced by non-state actors -- brave civil society activists and advocates, but also violent extremists, transnational criminals, and other malevolent actors."

In places "where human rights and fundamental freedoms are denied, it is far easier for these negative destabilizing influences to take hold," he added in his preface to the report.

Iran, where the human rights situation remained "very poor," was singled out for criticism, both for its continued support of the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and for "politically motivated violence and repression."

Russia was also cited for "significant restrictions on civil liberties" as well as "particularly severe human rights abuses in the North Caucasus region."

"Civil society is the lifeblood of democratic societies," the report argued, saying that "some governments appear to be learning restrictive tactics from others and in some cases, regional powers are setting a negative but persuasive example for neighboring governments."

Elections in Ukraine and Belarus were denounced for failing to meet international standards, and nations in Africa such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Nigeria struggled with serious rights abuses.

In Asia, there was praise for Myanmar, also known as Burma, which "continued to take significant steps in a historic transition toward democracy," including with the release of political prisoners.

But "Burma's transition is not yet complete," the report warned, saying much of the country's authoritarian structure -- repressive laws, pervasive security apparatus, corrupt judiciary, restrictions on freedom of religion, and dominance of the military -- remain largely intact."

"Considerable work is essential to ensuring that the 2015 national elections are free and fair," it stressed.

Human rights in China also continued to decline amid a crackdown on Tibetans and Uighur ethnic minorities.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130419/us-fears-promise-arab-spring-may-be-lost