By Lesley Wroughton and David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States released its annual human rights report on Thursday, with strong words for countries such as Iran, Cuba, Myanmar and Vietnam, even as it seeks to improve relations with them.
Though the United States and other world powers are attempting to reach a nuclear deal with Iran by June 30, the State Department report criticized Tehran for having the second-highest execution rate in the world and said proceedings often did not comply with constitutional protections.
It said the most significant human rights problems in Iran were severe restrictions on freedom of expression, religion and on the media, while people were also arbitrarily and unlawfully detained, tortured, or killed.
On Cuba, the State Department said that while Havana had largely eased travel restrictions in January, the government still denied passport requests for certain opposition figures, or harassed them upon their return to the country.
The United States eased travel restrictions as part of a historic agreement in December between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, aimed at normalizing ties between the two former Cold War rivals.
The 2014 report expressed concern over violence, intimidation, and detentions used to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly. It said Cuba severely restricted Internet access and maintained a monopoly on media outlets.
In introducing the report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it was not intended to be "sanctimonious," as every country including the United States had room for improvement.
"We couldn’t help but have humility when we have seen what we have seen in the last year in terms of racial discord and unrest. So we approach this with great self-awareness," he said.
In Russia, the State Department said the political system was becoming "increasingly authoritarian" and that Moscow had passed new measures to suppress dissent.
The report criticized Myanmar and Vietnam, with which the United States has been working hard to improve relations, as well as U.S. ally Thailand, where the military took power in a coup in May 2014.
It said abuses of minority Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State remained "severely troubling" despite a "broader trend of progress since 2011" in the country.
The report pointed to "severe" restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and the media in Thailand, and said that while Vietnam had amended its constitution to include a chapter on human rights, the government had not put it into effect.
The report said more governments were using the fight against terrorism as an excuse to crack down on dissent, and criticized rampant corruption in China, Venezuela and Nigeria.
(Additional reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Bernadette Baum an Steve Orlofsky)