It was the 28th annual report issued since the State Department began the congressionally-mandated assessments and it included criticism of U-S allies and adversaries alike.
Introducing the two-million-word document at a news briefing, Secretary of State Colin Powell said President Bush regards the defense of human rights as the United States' "special calling" and said the annual reports are a "vital instrument" in policy making.
Mr. Powell said the past year saw important strides for human rights and democratic freedoms in a number of countries including Iraq, where he said the United States and its allies unseated an "outlaw regime" that had flouted 12 years of U-N Security Council resolutions, not the least of which were human rights measures:
He said that in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States is working to insure that respect for fundamental freedoms and the rule of law are built into international reconstruction efforts, and put into practice by the new leaderships there.
The report said the United States had hoped that China would have continued with what were termed "incremental" human rights advances in 2002. But it instead accused the Chinese leadership of "backsliding" last year with arrests of democracy activists and Internet essayists, repression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement and a continuing crackdown on Muslim Uighurs in the name of fighting terrorism.
The report called North Korea one of the world's "most inhumane regimes" where basic freedoms are unheard of. It said Burma's extremely poor human rights record worsened with the May, 2003 attack on a convoy of opposition National League for Democracy members that left its leader Aung San Suu Kyi under arrest and hundreds of other supporters wounded, raped or dead.
It also accused Burma of "egregious abuses" of ethnic minority civilians.
Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia also were accused of serious human rights abuses.