State Department Country Reports 2011: Comprehensive Reporting Highlights Human Rights Challenges Facing the United States
Washington, D.C. – Today, the State Department released its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011, a series of documents that Human Rights First notes make a clear connection between human rights and national security. “The Country Reports have evolved to become an invaluable reference document for people around the world,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. “As Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, Democracy and Labor Michael Posner rightly observed today, these reports make a compelling argument for the ‘connection between human rights and national security,’ and demonstrate that in shaping policy the ‘real choice is not between stability and security; it is between reform and unrest’.” Hicks noted that too often, including during the past year, Posner’s important insight has not been reflected in U.S. policies. This year’s report leads off recalling the momentous events of the Arab Spring, beginning in Tunisia in January 2011. The United States has been challenged by these events and has not always succeeded in implementing a consistent policy of support for human rights and democracy in the countries of the region. “The decision to waive human rights conditions imposed by Congress on military aid to Egypt despite continuing persecution of independent non-governmental human rights organizations is an example of policy failing to live up to the rhetoric of policy makers. Although the U.S. explicitly delinked its decision to sell arms to Bahrain from progress on human rights improvements, the sale risks undermining U.S. efforts to secure from the Kingdom actions that will end widespread violations of human rights,” Hicks observed. Human Rights First also observed that the introduction and country highlights to the reports – as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Posner’s roll out remarks – failed to mention Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record, its denial of any freedom of religion, its denial of women’s rights and extensive restrictions on political freedoms. This contrasts with the emphasis rightly given to other gross violators in the region, like Syria and Iran. “The failure to highlight Saudi Arabia – a key regional ally – as one of the most serious human rights abusers raises questions about the consistency of U.S. support for human rights and will elicit charges of double standards that will be damaging to U.S. efforts to promote human rights everywhere,” stated Hicks. With regard to Syria, in her introductory remarks, Secretary Clinton stated that President Assad’s rule “must and will end.” Disappointingly, she offered no further elaboration of the obstacles to bringing that about, in particular, the obstruction of Russia and China to multilateral action through the United Nations Security Council. Human Rights First praised the more streamlined format and the improvements in online accessibility, improvements that will make the information gathered in the reports more easily available to a global audience concerned about the universal values of human rights. “The United States Government is neither a news agency nor a human rights monitoring organization; it is a government with unmatched global reach and power whose influence has an impact on human rights conditions in many countries. Therefore, in reporting on human rights conditions in 199 countries and territories, the administration and Congress should use these findings to craft policies that can strengthen U.S. influence and adequately respond to the many human rights challenges described in the reports,” concluded Hicks.