U.S. human rights report blasts China over Uighurs, Russia's targeting of Navalny

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States highlighted a deteriorating picture for human rights across the world on Tuesday, calling out China’s repression of Uighurs and Russia’s targeting of political dissidents, among other abuses.

The State Department released reports on the rights situation last year in nearly 200 countries, which are required annually by law and include detailed reports on geopolitical rivals like Russia and China.

“The trend lines on human rights continue to move in the wrong direction,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters.

Blinken said some governments had used the coronavirus crisis as a “pretext to restrict rights and consolidate authoritarian rule.”

In China, authorities had disappeared four citizen journalists reporting on the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan. Academics in China who strayed from the official narratives about the pandemic faced harassment, censorship and in some cases interventions by universities and police, the State Department said.

The report on China issued on Tuesday used more assertive language to describe the Chinese government’s mass detention program in Xinjiang province.

Blinken said in January that he agreed with a determination by his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, that China was committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, which China denies.

In addition to the “more than one million” Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minority groups it said were in extrajudicial internment camps, the report said there were “an additional two million subjected to daytime-only ‘re-education’ training”, a new reference not included in the previous year’s report.

The report on Russia highlighted the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who was jailed earlier this year when he returned after receiving treatment for being poisoned with a nerve agent. It said “credible reports” indicated officers from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) poisoned Navalny.

In Ethiopia, the department called out what it said were significant human rights issues. It accused the government of at times not taking steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, “resulting in impunity for abusers.”

It also said limited access to the Tigray region, where thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes, makes it difficult to determine the extent of human rights abuses and violations.

The United Nations has raised concerns about atrocities being committed in Tigray, while Blinken has described acts carried out in the region as ethnic cleansing. Ethiopia has rejected Blinken’s allegation.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman and a government spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment early on Thursday.

Blinken also said that the State Department would bring back topics of reproductive health in the country reports, topics removed by the former administration of President Donald Trump.

An addendum will be released later this year that will cover the issues, which include information about maternal mortality and discrimination against women in accessing sexual and reproductive health, Blinken said.

“Because women’s rights - including sexual and reproductive rights - are human rights,” Blinken said.

Reporting by Simon Lewis, Daphne Psaledakis and Michael Martina; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Christopher Cushing