U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has decried an “alarming recession of democracy” and respect for human rights in many parts of the world over the past year, with governments growing “more brazen” in reaching across borders to threaten and attack critics.

“In few places have the human consequences of this decline been as stark as they are in the Russian government’s brutal war on Ukraine,” Blinken said in remarks on the release of the U.S. State Department’s 2021 global human rights report.

“Governments are locking up more critics at home…. We’ve also seen a rise in governments arbitrarily detaining individuals to try to gain leverage in bilateral relationships, to use them as human pawns,” he added.

Bodies of civilians exhumed from a mass grave lay in plastic bags in Bucha, near Kyiv, which was recaptured by the Ukrainian Army from Russian forces, who are accused of committing war crimes.
Bodies of civilians exhumed from a mass grave lay in plastic bags in Bucha, near Kyiv, which was recaptured by the Ukrainian Army from Russian forces, who are accused of committing war crimes.

Blinken also denounced rights violations in China, which he accused of perpetrating “genocide” against Uyghur Muslims, and in Afghanistan, where he said the Taliban is increasing the “arbitrary detentions of women, protesters, and journalists” since it regained power in August 2021.

While the report looks at almost 200 countries around the world, Blinken also noted that the United States faces “challenges” on human rights as well.

But he rejected criticism from human rights organizations who say the administration of President Joe Biden, which has said it centers its foreign policy around human rights, has failed to put enough pressure on some U.S. allies.

“Whether a country is a friend or one with which we have real differences, the measuring stick we apply is the same,” he said. “That reflects a core principle of human rights: they’re universal.”