US sees rights problems in South Asia
The United States on Wednesday reported widespread human rights violations across South Asia but also noted glimmers of hope thanks to political transitions in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
In an annual report on human rights, the State Department said abuses remained rife in South Asia with major problems in the treatment of women in much of the region.
But the report saw progress as Pakistan shook off military rule, Nepal's insurgents transformed into a ruling party and a caretaker government guided Bangladesh into elections. Bhutan and Maldives also witnessed dramatic changes.
"There were several improvements with regard to elections and political competition in South Asia," the study said.
The State Department said that Pakistan -- a frontline ally in the US "war on terror" -- had a poor human rights record due to extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances.
But the report said the number of politically motivated disappearances declined last year, during which military leader Pervez Musharraf -- who had imposed a state of emergency -- stepped down.
It saved some of its harshest criticism for Pakistan's prison system, which it called "extremely poor" with serious overcrowding, inadequate food and frequent abuse of non-Muslim inmates.
The State Department also deplored Pakistan's treatment of women, saying that few men were punished for crimes from severe domestic violence to gang rape to so-called "honour killings" of family members.
The State Department said that the rights situation remained weak in Afghanistan, despite improvements since the 2001 invasion that toppled the Taliban regime.
It acknowledged that President Hamid Karzai's government lacked control over much of Afghanistan. Citing rights groups, the report said local law enforcement tortured detainees, including by pulling out their nails, burning them with oil and sodomy.
The State Department said that India -- the region's largest country and the world's biggest democracy -- generally respected human rights.
But the report said that most extrajudicial killings and other abuse cases went unpunished and it voiced concern about "increasing attacks" against religious minorities in the secular but Hindu-majority nation.
The report also noted "serious problems" in India in treatment of women, including killings related to dowry payments and infanticide of baby girls.
One of the bleakest points in the region was Sri Lanka, where the State Department said both the government and Tamil Tiger rebels committed a growing number of abuses as the three-decade war climaxes.
It said that young Tamil men made up the "overwhelming majority" of victims of human rights violations, even though Tamils make up only 16 percent of the population in the Sinhalese-majority nation.
By contrast, the report found that violence "declined significantly" last year in Bangladesh, where a caretaker government oversaw elections.
The State Department, however, said that human rights remained a "serious concern" in Bangladesh with authorities failing to investigate extrajudicial killings.
In Nepal, the State Department noted that elections produced the "most diverse legislature in the country's history" and peacefully dissolved the monarchy -- the goal of a bloody decade-long Maoist insurrection.
But the report said there was still an atmosphere of impunity for rights violators and that groups linked to the Maoists -- now in the government -- continued abuses in the former kingdom.
The State Department said the rights "improved considerably" in the Himalayan state of Bhutan as it transitioned from a monarchy to a democracy.
It also noted the transition in Maldives, where former political prisoner Mohamed Nasheed ousted Asia's longest serving leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the archipelago's first multi-party election.