Human rights country reports (State Department) – http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt
Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:
- What are some real life cases of torture involving electric shock?
- What are some documented cases of torture from Uzbekistan?
- What are some countries that torture lawyers or journalists?
Believe it or not, there are government officials in the State Department whose job it is to judge other countries’ adherence to universally acknowledged human rights. From the website:
The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices are submitted annually by the U.S. Department of State to the U.S. Congress in compliance with sections 116(d) and 502B(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), as amended, and section 504 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. The law provides that the Secretary of State shall transmit to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, “a full and complete report regarding the status of internationally recognized human rights, within the meaning of subsection (A) in countries that receive assistance under this part, and (B) in all other foreign countries which are members of the United Nations and which are not otherwise the subject of a human rights report under this Act.”
Reports on several countries are included that do not fall into the categories established by these statutes and that thus are not covered by the congressional requirement.
The reports cover internationally recognized individual, civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The reports are arranged by year, then by country. Each country report has the following sections:
- Respect for the Integrity of the Person
- Respect for Civil Liberties
- Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
- Official Corruption and Government Transparency
- Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
- Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
- Worker Rights
Each section has fairly specific, if short incident reports, like these incidents of torture from the 2010 reports:
During the year Suliman al-Reshoudi remained in prison on charges of financing and supporting terrorism and was “in and out” of solitary confinement, according to the ACPRA. The royal family-funded NGO National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) confirmed that al-Reshoudi had been indicted and tried. In October 2009 the ACPRA wrote an open letter to King Abdullah highlighting that the 73-year-old al-Reshoudi, a member of the ACPRA, was subjected to “severe physical and psychological tortures,” including tying his feet to a bed frame with two separate chains and being forced into a sitting position throughout the day and shackled at night. The prisoner has been in solitary confinement for three years because of his reform advocacy and activism, according to ACPRA.
On May 27, in Masvingo security agents abducted and tortured two ZINASU leaders, Alec Tabe and Godfrey Kuraune. Tabe and Kuraune were organizing a demonstration against high examination fees at Masvingo Polytechnic. They were picked up by Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) agents, who then tortured them on their chests and genitals with a pair of pliers before leaving them at a nearby police station. Tabe and Kuraune were released after paying an admission of guilt fine to the police.
Probably surprising to some, the State Department is willing to call out US allies on human rights violations, as in the Saudi Arabia example above.
Here’s another Google trick for writers. You can use the “inurl” operator to search for particular types of abuse, body parts or profession. Use [words of abuse here] inurl:drl/rls/hrrpt in your favorite search engine. For example, using (“electric shock” inurl:drl/rls/hrrpt) at Google produced about 857 results at the end of 2013, including mentions of the use of electric shocks in 2010 in Cambodia, Russia, Venezuela and Pakistan. For some particularly horrific sounding stories from 2010, try the search (nipples inurl:drl/rls/hrrpt). I’d prefer not to discuss them in this book.
Since you are an educated writer, you know that the United States own record on human rights has been controversial since 2001. It is beyond the scope of this book to offer an opinion, but you might find it instructive to take words from stories of documented US abuses (waterboarding, sleep deprivation, sexual humilation) and search them against inurl:drl/rls/hrrpt.
Overall, this will be a good resource for writers of torture and crime stories. It will also be useful for stories set in foreign countries in terms of what sort of actions are likely to draw the unpleasant attentions of the local security authorities.