In releasing the State Department’s global human rights report for 2017, acting Secretary of State John Sullivan also singled out Syria, Myanmar, Turkey and Venezuela as nations with poor human rights records.
Improved human rights in Uzbekistan, Liberia and Mexico were global “bright spots,” Mr Sullivan added.
The governments of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea “violate the human rights of those within their borders on a daily basis and are forces of instability as a result,” Mr Sullivan said in a preface to the congressionally mandated report that documents human rights in nearly 200 countries and territories.
Countries like these that restrict freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, allow and commit violence against religious, ethnic and other minority groups or undermine the people’s fundamental dignity “are morally reprehensible and undermine our interests,” Mr Sullivan added.
Mr Sullivan said Russia’s government “continues to quash dissent and civil society, even while it invades its neighbours and undermines the sovereignty of Western nations.”
“We once again urge Russia to end its brutal occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, to halt the abuses perpetrated by Russian-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region, and to address impunity for the human rights violations and abuses in the Republic of Chechnya,” Mr Sullivan said.
Mr Sullivan said the US seeks to lead other nations by example in promoting just and effective governance based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Michael Kozak, a senior State Department official who helped oversee the report, said he did not think policies by President Donald Trump’s administration on freedom of the press, refugees, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and other issues undermined the report or left the United States open to accusations of hypocrisy.
Mr Sullivan said the right of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression are “under attack almost daily” in Iran, drawing criticism from Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi.
The Iranian state news agency IRNA quoted Mr Qasemi as saying the report was “completely biased and politically motivated, and presented a distorted and unrealistic image of the conditions in Iran”.
Report could compound tensions with China and Russia
The report’s release comes at a time of increased tensions with China over trade and other matters.
It also coincides with deteriorating relations with Moscow over its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington accuses of using chemical weapons on his own people, and US accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
Mr Sullivan accused China of spreading “the worst features of its authoritarian system” by restricting activists, civil society and freedom of expression.
“We are particularly concerned about the efforts of Chinese authorities to eliminate the religious, linguistic and cultural identities of Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, as well as restrictions on the worship of Christians,” Sullivan added.
Mr Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the coming months even as Washington increases pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
Mr Sullivan said Mr Kim oversees one of the most “repressive and abusive regimes in the world” and accused Pyongyang of “systematically” neglecting its own people to “underwrite and fund its illicit weapons program and child labour.”
He also condemned what he called “ethnic cleaning” of Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar, and said those responsible for attacks against the Rohingya should be held accountable.