SOME OF THE WORST human rights violations last year - attacks on civilians, crackdowns on dissidents, illegal detentions and discrimination against minorities - were committed by Russia and China, says the State Department.
In its annual survey of human rights released Wednesday, the State Department documented worsening and widespread human rights abuses in both countries.
Human rights groups credited the department for issuing such tough critiques, but questioned why the information wasn't translating into tougher action by President Bill Clinton's administration. "It's an attempt to look good after the fact," said James O'Dea, Washington director for Amnesty International.
With Russia, the Clinton administration was slow to publicly criticize Russian President Boris Yeltsin for ordering an assault in December of civilian targets in secessionist-minded Chechnya. And with China, the president backed down last spring from tying trade privileges to improvements in human rights.
The human rights report, which was delivered to Congress, could stir debate among lawmakers on punishing Russia for its human rights abuses by limiting aid.
Assistant Secretary John Shattuck, who monitors human rights for the State Department, said Russia had assaulted the human rights of thousands of civilians in Chechnya. He said the department was reviewing assistance programs to see if some aid could be redirected to assist Chechen refugees.
Shattuck said the department agreed with the accusation of Russia's human rights commissioner, Sergey Kovalev, that Russian troops violated human rights on a "massive scale" in Chechnya.
The State Department report said the Russian army used "disproportionate forces and inflicted heavy civilian casualties" in Chechnya.
Overall, the State Department said Russia's human rights record last year was "uneven":
The rule of law has yet to be institutionalized.
Discrimination against certain minorities, including Jews, continues.
Conditions in most prisons are deplorable.
With China, the Clinton administration's strategy of "constructive engagement" through continued economic and political ties has produced little results. Shattuck said no large change in U.S. policy toward that country was anticipated.
By the State Department's own account, …