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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday (Mar 13) denounced China and Iran as Washington offered its annual human rights report, while going easier on other countries like North Korea in the name of “US interests.”

China, often seen as the main strategic adversary of the United States in the long term and locked in thorny trade talks with Washington, “is in a league of its own when it comes to human rights violations,” he said.

“In just 2018, China intensified its campaign of detaining Muslim minority groups at record level,” Pompeo told reporters, referring to Beijing’s campaign of repression in the restive Xinjiang region.

“Today, more than one million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslims are interned in re-education camps designed to erase their religious and ethnic identities.”

As for Iran, President Donald Trump’s favourite bete noire, Pompeo alleged that last year, “the regime killed over 20 people and arrested thousands without due process just for protesting for their rights.”

The State Department’s annual human rights report, which is presented as a factual, country-by-country description of the situation on the ground, usually does not offer comparisons with past years.

But on Tehran, it says: “The government’s human rights record remained extremely poor and worsened in several key areas.”

As for North Korea, with which Trump is trying to negotiate a deal on denuclearisation, a reference in last year’s report to “egregious” rights violations has been replaced with a damning, if somewhat more neutral, assessment.

It cites Pyongyang for “unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by authorities…”

Trump has repeatedly said he has a good relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Rights experts consider Pyongyang one of the worst offenders in the world, but the Republican president barely speaks about rights violations when he talks about the North these days.

“The policy of this administration is to engage with other governments, regardless of their record, if doing so will further US interests,” Pompeo writes in the report’s preface.

On Saudi Arabia, while the report mentions the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which cast a shadow on US ties with its ally Riyadh, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – considered by the US Senate to be behind the killing – is not mentioned by name.

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