This report is Human Rights Watch's fifteenth annual review of human rights practices around the globe. It summarizes key human rights issues in sixty-four countries, drawing on events through November 2004.

Each country entry identifies significant human rights issues, examines the freedom of local human rights defenders to conduct their work, and surveys the response of key international actors, such as the United Nations, European Union, Japan, the United States, and various regional and international organizations and institutions.

The volume begins with four essays addressing human rights developments of global concern in 2004. The lead essay examines far-reaching threats to human rights that emerged during the year: large-scale ethnic cleansing in Darfur in western Sudan, and detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, symptomatic of a broader problem of torture and mistreatment of detainees by U.S. forces. It argues that the vitality of human rights defense worldwide depends on a firm response to both of these threats.

International indifference and inaction in the face of continuing atrocities in Darfur have cost the lives of tens of thousands of people and damaged the human rights principle that sovereignty should not stand in the way of protecting people from mass atrocities. The U.S. government’s use of torture at Abu Ghraib, though affecting far fewer people directly, reflects a larger pattern of disregard for human rights law and standards by the world’s sole superpower.

While the lead essay focuses on Abu Ghraib and its repercussions, the second essay, a companion piece to the first, details what has taken place in Darfur and the continuing reluctance of the U.N. Security Council and other powerful international actors to mount a decisive response. 

The third and fourth essays address two of the most controversial issues of the year: evidence of growing conflicts between religious communities and the human rights movement, and the global backlash against movements for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. While the essays call for stringent protection of religious freedom, both argue that rights groups should oppose efforts in the name of religion, tradition, or morals to censor expression or limit the behavior of others when the only “offense” is in the mind of the person seeking to impose their views.

This report reflects extensive investigative work undertaken in 2004 by the Human Rights Watch research staff, usually in close partnership with human rights activists in the country in question. It also reflects the work of our advocacy team, which monitors policy developments and strives to persuade governments and international institutions to curb abuses and promote human rights. Human Rights Watch publications, issued throughout the year, contain more detailed accounts of many of the issues addressed in the brief summaries collected in this volume. They can be found on the Human Rights Watch website,

As in past years, this report does not include a chapter on every country where Human Rights Watch works, nor does it discuss every issue of importance. The failure to include a particular country or issue often reflects no more than staffing limitations and should not be taken as commentary on the significance of the problem. There are many serious human rights violations that Human Rights Watch simply lacks the capacity to address.

The factors we considered in determining the focus of our work in 2004 (and hence the content of this volume) include the number of people affected and severity of abuse, access to the country and the availability of information about it, the susceptibility of abusive forces to influence, and the importance of addressing certain thematic concerns and of reinforcing the work of local rights organizations.

This year’s World Report does not have separate chapters addressing our thematic work but instead incorporates such material directly into the country entries. Please consult the Human Rights Watch website for more detailed treatment of our work on children's rights, women's rights, arms, academic freedom, business and human rights, HIV/AIDS and human rights, international justice, refugees and displaced people, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s rights, and for information about our international film festival.

indexJanuary 2005