Video: The ups, downs of Obama’s first year

updated 1/20/2010 1:11:17 PM ET 2010-01-20T18:11:17

President Barack Obama has stressed the challenge of restoring U.S. credibility on human rights in his first year in office, but the results are mixed so far, a leading research and advocacy group said Wednesday.

In an annual report on conditions in more than 90 countries, Human Rights Watch said Obama has improved U.S. presidential rhetoric. But Kenneth Roth, executive director of the independent group, said Obama "has a long way to go to transfer that rhetoric into policy impact."

While Obama insisted that the CIA abide by military rules in questioning terrorism suspects, he has refused to investigate or prosecute the people who ordered torture or provided the legal justification for it, the 612-page report said.

The president also pledged to close the Navy-run detention center for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but he refuses to repudiate the use of military commissions and long-term detention without charge or trial, the group said.

Still, the contrast with Human Rights Watch's appraisal of Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush, is a sharp one. A year ago, the group accused Bush of largely withdrawing from defense of human rights after deciding to combat terrorism "abusively."

Human rights groups have intensified pressure on governments, both democratic and authoritarian, the report said. And in what Roth called a "perverse tribute," governments have stepped up pressure on rights defenders.

Some governments are so abusive, though, that no domestic human rights organization can function, the report said, citing Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan.

Russia stood out for a large number of murders of human rights activists, usually by unidentified assailants. Several of the victims had reported on arbitrary detention, torture and execution in the war-torn republic of Chechnya.

Other countries in which monitors were killed or injured included Sri Lanka, Kenya, Burundi, Malaysia, India and Uzbekistan.

Ethiopia recently enacted a law prohibiting any group that receives at least 10 percent of its funds from abroad from doing any human rights work. As a result, the human rights movement has been largely shut down in the African country.

Video: One year later, did Obama keep promises? On other fronts, at a news conference on Wednesday, Roth accused Israel of war crimes in its conflict with Gaza last winter and supported Google in its anti-censorship campaign in China.

Roth faulted the Obama administration for rejecting a report on Gaza by U.N. investigator Richard Goldstone that concluded both Israel and the militant Palestinian group Hamas had committed war crimes.

Of Google, he said, "We very much support efforts by Google to resist any censorship." But Roth said the Obama administration, not Google, should be taking the lead.

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