The State Department released its yearly publication, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2011, on May 24, 2012.
The introduction states:
"In the turmoil of 2011, thousands of citizens were killed across Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria. Many others were abused by security forces that used excessive force. But the images of demonstrators who had seemingly lost all fear, risking their lives to oppose governments they deemed illegitimate, inspired people around the world. Even in the most isolated places, the desire for greater freedom and political and economic opportunity began to flicker.
The year 2011 brought remarkable changes in Burma, long isolated because of the government's poor treatment of its own people. In dramatic fashion, the Burmese government took a number of bold steps to begin the long and difficult process of political reform and reconciliation with those who have struggled peacefully for freedom for decades. In last year's report, we wrote about the dire situation of hundreds of political prisoners who remained in jail in Burma, some of whom had been imprisoned for decades for taking part in protests or simply for reading "subversive" poetry. In October 2011, the government released more than 200 of these prisoners. As next year's country report will cover, in January 2012 the Burmese government released 300 more, including some who had been detained for many years, and allowed the National League for Democracy to register and field candidates for parliamentary elections, including party leader Aung Sun Syu Kyi.
Burma offers an example of a government moving towards a model of greater openness, democracy, and liberty, attributes that can lead to greater innovation, prosperity, and inclusion. Much remains to be done to implement reforms and especially to address the legacy of decades of violence against ethnic minorities. But the size of the task ahead does not diminish the excitement of these first steps, or the sense of possibility they may inspire in other closed societies, such as Iran, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Eritrea, or Sudan.
Several other countries also took important steps in 2011 toward improving their human rights records, although more work remains to be done. In Colombia, the government worked to address the climate of impunity with respect to harassment, intimidation, and killings of human rights workers, journalists, teachers, and trade unionists. Extrajudicial killings declined in large measure due to efforts by the government to stop such crimes. In Zambia, presidential, parliamentary, and local elections held in September were free, credible, and orderly. The incumbent president relinquished power and accepted the will of the Zambian people. In Tunisia, citizens held transparent and credible elections for a Constituent Assembly, which in turn elected a former political prisoner as the country's interim president. The country is now rewriting its constitution.
Along with such hopeful developments, this report documents a range of negative developments in 2011. A number of countries became less free as a result of flawed elections; the imposition by powerful leaders of less democratic constitutional provisions; restrictions on the universal rights to freedom of expression, assembly, or association, including on the Internet; moves to censor or intimidate the media; or attempts to control or curtail the activities of nongovernmental groups. In Nicaragua, extensive irregularities in the electoral process marked a setback to democracy and undermined the ability of Nicaraguans to hold their government accountable.
Other disturbing trends in 2011 include continued persecution of religious minorities, including, but not limited to, Ahmadis, Bahais, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, Jews, and others. In many countries there was an uptick in discrimination against members of racial and ethnic minorities; people with disabilities; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people, all of whom were frequent targets of abuse, discrimination, and violence. In some countries medical personnel were harassed, intimidated, and arrested. Both governments and opposition forces tried to prevent humanitarian assistance from reaching civilians in dire circumstances.
Egypt and Kyrgyzstan held historic elections that were deemed to be generally free and fair. Yet the elections in these countries, as well as the standoff following the 2010 presidential election in Cote d'Ivoire, provided a poignant reminder that elections are a critical but insufficient element in genuine transitions to democracy and the rule of law. Committed citizens in each of these countries continued to work toward building the habits and institutions of democratic governance, including a political culture in which electoral losers understand they must cede power, and elected representatives wield power fairly.
Overall human rights conditions remained extremely poor in many of the countries that were spotlighted in our 2010 country reports, including, but not limited to, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Belarus, and China.
Several broader trends were prominent in 2011. New connective technologies spread news of citizen activism, and political change, around the world. People continued to find innovative ways to use technology to break down the walls of fear and isolation that undemocratic governments erected to try to keep their populations quiescent. They used these technologies to speak out against societal discrimination, corruption, and restrictions on civil and political liberties that are keeping them from enjoying equal rights, dignity, or respect. Yet repressive regimes also used those same technologies to spy on their own citizens for the purposes of silencing dissent.
...We also report on the status of media freedom, which remained poor in many countries and declined in others. The year 2011 brought an increase in the number of journalists and bloggers silenced to death or jail as they attempted to bring news to the public. These reports also chronicle the many ways in which some governments attempted to censor the media through regulations or laws that are contrary to the universal right to freedom of expression and opinion, and through harassment, intimidation, or violence. In Ecuador and Venezuela, government actions against independent media outlets had a chilling effect on media freedom.
This year's reports highlight the treatment of marginalized people, including LGBT people and people with disabilities. Too many countries still criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, and LGBT people face discrimination and violence in many more countries. We continue to focus on other vulnerable populations, including women and children. Domestic and societal violence and discrimination against women continue to be serious problems in many countries. Women and children are often the first to suffer during conflicts."