Jonathan Farrar, an acting assistant secretary in charge of the U.S. State Department's annual human rights country reports, had this to say Tuesday about China's unexpected removal from the list of the 10 worst human-rights offenders:
Countries in which power was concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers remain the most systematic human rights violators. Here we would cite North Korea, Burma, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Eritrea and Sudan. Some authoritarian countries that are undergoing economic reform have experienced rapid social change, but have not undertaken democratic political reform and continue to deny their citizens basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. China remains a case in point.
Looking at the list of countries above -- all of whom have terrible human rights records -- I have to wonder: Why not Saudi Arabia, where there is no formal constitution, women have very few rights, and "there is no legal recognition or protection of religious freedom"? Is Iran really worse than China, which has "tens of thousands of political prisoners," according to the report? At least Iran has contested politics, even if the hardliners always seem to win these days. All of which is to say that State's criteria are pretty fuzzy, as is understandable given the unquantifiable nature of many of the issues in question. So why have the ranking at all?