Since 1977, the State Department has produced the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Congress mandated these reports to establish the facts to inform their decisions on foreign military and economic aid. Today, governments, intergovernmental organizations, scholars, journalists, activists, and others rely on these reports as an essential update on human rights conditions around the world.
The 2011 reports describe the citizen uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, in which people stood up and demanded their universal rights, dignity, greater economic opportunity, and participation in their countries' political future. In this turmoil, thousands were killed across Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria and many others were abused by security forces. The images of demonstrators who had seemingly lost all fear, risking their lives to oppose governments they deemed illegitimate, inspired us all.
Several countries took important steps toward improving their human rights records. In Burma, long isolated because of the government's poor treatment of its own people, the government took a number of bold steps to begin the long and difficult process of political reform and reconciliation. In Zambia, presidential, parliamentary, and local elections held in September were free, credible, and orderly. 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. Their country is now rewriting its constitution.
The reports also document negative developments in 2011. A number of countries became less free as a result of flawed elections; 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. Other disturbing trends in 2011 include continued anti-Semitism and an uptick in discrimination against members of racial and ethnic minorities; people with disabilities; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people.
This year, we made the human rights reports -- available at HumanRights.gov/reports and state.gov -- easier to read online. Readers can jump directly to topics of interest with a new table of contents, share reports on social media, and research topics across countries with the Build a Report tool.
For the first time, we have also added an executive summary at the top of each report. Our goal is to allow readers to gather information quickly across regions on the issues that most interest them and we hope readers will find these changes useful.
Join Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner for a live Facebook chat on Friday, May 25, at 10:00 a.m. EDT.Related Content: Remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton | Fact Sheet