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State report takes tough tone on China

From NBC's Andrea Mitchell and Libby Leist
The State Department today strongly criticized China in its annual human rights report, putting Hillary Clinton on the spot for not confronting the Chinese more aggressively during her visit to Beijing last week.

Clinton came under harsh fire from human-rights groups who said she downplayed the issue with Chinese leaders. 

Today, in announcing the report's release, Clinton defended her record.

"The promotion of human rights is essential to our foreign policy," she said, "but as a personal aside, I have worked for many years and in various capacities on the issues that are encompassed under the rubric of human rights. It is of profound importance to me and has informed my views and shaped my beliefs in ways large and small. As Secretary of State, I will continue to focus my own energies on human rights ... I am looking for results. I am looking for changes that actually improve the lives of the greatest numbers of people."

Notably though, today's report is much harsher on China than Clinton was during her visit to Beijing. It cites China's poor human rights record that has "worsened in some areas."

Clinton carried a more muted message in a press conference with the Chinese Foreign Minister on Saturday. Without elaborating on details of her discussions, she said, "The promotion of human rights is an essential aspect of our global foreign policy, and something we discussed candidly with the Chinese leadership."

The State Department report is detailed and explicit: "The government continued to limit citizens' privacy rights and tightly controlled freedom of speech, the press (including the Internet), assembly, movement, and association. Authorities committed extrajudicial killings and torture, coerced confessions of prisoners, and used forced labor. In addition, the Chinese government increased detention and harassment of dissidents, petitioners, human rights defenders, and defense lawyers. Local and international NGOs continued to face intense scrutiny and restrictions. China's human rights record worsened in some areas, including severe cultural and religious repression of ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and Tibet."

Human Rights groups were outraged after hearing that Clinton said human rights "can't interfere" with other larger policy issues where the U.S. needs China -- like the global economic crisis, security and climate change

Other highlights from the report:
Some countries were stabilizing forces on the continent --"nevertheless, during the year, human rights and democratic development in the region continued to face severe challenges, especially in a number of countries plagued by conflict"

-- CONGO: "The human rights situation ... deteriorated further during the year severely undermining the countries progress since national elections in 2006."

-- SUDAN: Fifth year of conflict, 2.7 million internally displaced and another 250,000 across border in Chad, civilians continued to suffer the effects of genocide

-- ZIMBABWE: Illegitimate government engaged in systematic abuse of human rights; which increased dramatically during the year, in conjunction with an escalating humanitarian crisis caused by repression, corruption, and destructive economic and food policies which the Mugabe regime persisted in applying despite their disastrous humanitarian consequences

EAST ASIA: Advances and setbacks
-- BURMA/MYANMAR: "The military regime ... continued its oppressive methods, denying citizens the right to change their government and committing other severe human rights abuses."

-- CHINA: Human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas. The government continued to limit citizens' privacy rights and tightly controlled freedom of speech, the press, assembly, movement and association… .

-- NORTH KOREA: Human rights record remained abysmal. While the regime continued to control almost all aspects of citizens' lives, denying freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, and restricting freedom of movement and workers' rights, reports of abuse emerged from the country with increased frequency

EUROPE AND EURASIA: Challenges in the region were strengthening new democracies, stemming government restrictions and repression of human rights NGOs and addressing hate crimes and hate speech.

-- BELARUS: The government's human rights record remained very poor and authorities continued to commit serious frequent abuses.

-- RUSSIA: Cautioned a negative trajectory in its overall domestic human-rights record with numerous reports of government and societal human rights problems and abuses during the year.

-- IRAN: Intensified its systematic campaign of intimidation against reformers, academics, journalists, and dissidents through arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and secret trials that occasionally end in executions.

-- IRAQ: Security improved, some reconciliation occurred BUT "continuing insurgent and extremist violence against civilians undermined the government's ability to uphold the rule of law, resulting in widespread and severe human rights abuses"

-- AFGHANISTAN: human rights have improved "significantly" BUT the country's record remained poor due to weak central government institutions and a deadly insurgency." Reports of arbitrary arrests, detentions, extrajudicial killings, torture and poor prison conditions.

-- PAKISTAN: human rights situation remained poor, despite some positive steps reinstating judges, etc.

-- CUBA: Increase in suppression of speech and of assembly compared to the previous year -- harassment of dissidents intensified, including the beating of activists by security officials or government organized mobs.