Human rights report could touch off disputes over aid
Washington — While declining to assess the ''overall status of freedom in the world,'' the Reagan administration Monday released a 1,323-page report on human rights practices in 162 countries.
The massive study, which Congress will use as it makes decisions on foreign military and economic aid, details political oppression, killings, and torture, as well as general living conditions in virtually every country in the world.
Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state for human rights, said he would make no global judgment, but he listed Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador as improved because of their progress toward freely elected governments.
On the backward list, he put Iran, where the ''situation was worse than last year,'' and Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, where he says conditions have tightened. He also cited Lebanon, because of the continued violence, and Nicaragua, where the study found political and religious oppression by the leftist government.
The release of the annual report is certain to touch off disputes, especially over El Salvador, Israel, Egypt, and other nations that get high levels of US aid but have human rights problems. For example, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington-based group, late last year designated El Salvador along with Guatemala as the ''worst human rights violators'' in the hemisphere.
The State Department report holds, ''The Salvadorean government is attempting to institutionalize a democratic process and promote greater respect for human rights.'' But it lists politically motivated civilian deaths at 2,630 and concedes that torture ''by elements of the Salvadorean armed forces'' does occur.
Despite the expected controversy over the report, human rights advocates agree that the study provides useful information about how people are treated around the world.
''I think generally it's pretty solid,'' concludes a Democratic staffer in Congress who received an advance copy of the report. He adds that every year since Congress first ordered the studies in 1977, the reports have improved.
Some of the language is contradictory, he argues, because of the nature of the human rights report, which is assembled from diplomatic information with the aid of studies made by human rights groups. Says the Democratic staffer, ''The role of the administration is to keep relations going with these countries.'' Congress has a different role, which he describes as looking out for the public. ''American taxpayers don't want to send their hard-earned dollars to tin-hat dictators.''
Among the contradictory entries is that on Chile, a nation that now receives no military aid and very little economic aid from the US. However, the Reagan administration is expected to seek some military assistance for Chile.
The State Department reports that ''the human rights situation in Chile has improved significantly in comparison with the post-coup period, 1973-77. . . . '' The same paragaph goes on to say that ''the pace of improvements has slowed in the past two years'' and finally concludes that arrests for nonviolent political acts, allegations of torture, and internal exile continue, and in some cases have increased in 1982.
Among other findings in the report:
* ''There has not been very significant change in human rights in South Africa,'' Assistant Secretary Abramssaid.
According to the report, ''The 83.8 percent of South Africa's population which is not white suffers pervasive discrimination which severely limits political, economic, and social life.'' In a more diplomatic tone, the report says, ''National elections are free and fair, but only whites may presently participate.''
Explaining the contradiction, Abrams told a briefing that the country is a ''strange mixture'' where the white minority has a high level of political and personal freedom and democracy, while the nonwhites do not.
South Africa receives no US aid.
* Israel, which received $2.2 billion in US aid last year, comes under scrutiny for its treatment of occupied Arab lands on the West Bank. While the report declines to blame the official Israeli forces for killings on the West Bank, it cites numerous cases of violence and states, ''No major changes in the overall human rights situation are foreseen in the coming year.''
* Egypt, which got nearly $2 billion in American aid last year, was found to be holding 1,600 detainees in jail since the government cracked down on Muslim extremists in 1981. While steering clear of accusing Egypt of torture, the report cites several such charges, including a finding by Amnesty International, a human rights group.
* Turkey, which the Reagan administration is proposing to give $759 million in military aid next year (nearly double the current figure of $403 million), has a ''military government which is in the process of restoring parliamentary democracy,'' the study says.
Although political killings by private groups were common before the military took over in 1980, the report concludes, ''Such killings have now virtually stopped.'' Turkey is still accused of permitting torture of prisoners, and last year admitted that 15 persons had died of torture.
Such charges are likely to give ammunition to opponents of increased aid to Turkey, just as opponents will use human rights violations in El Salvador to try to block a proposed military aid increase from $26.3 million to $86.3 million there.
Under law, the Congress is forbidden to vote aid for any country that has a ''consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.'' While no country has ever been so branded, Congress has cut off aid to some nations.