State Department Human Rights Reports Highlight Need for U.S. Leadership

NEW YORK— Widespread violations of human rights detailed in the State Department’s 2007 country reports, released today, underscore the urgent need for U.S. leadership in improving conditions around the world, according to Human Rights First.


The State Department today showed its commitment to objectively catalogue the human rights conditions in other countries, and to recognize that the international community’s concerns about U.S. actions do not constitute “interference in our internal affairs,” according to the reports.

This year’s reports provide an honest assessment of the human rights practices of countries around the world, holding even key counter-terrorism allies to account.

“Diligent efforts of hundreds of State Department and Foreign Service staff provide objective and, in some cases, hard-hitting assessments of the human rights practices of countries around the world,” said Maureen Byrnes, executive director of Human Rights First.

“The problem is not so much that the reports fail to tell it like it is, but rather that because of the United States’ own polices on torture, rendition and detention, the Bush Administration is less able to combat human rights abuses abroad,” Byrnes added.

Some of the human rights violations that the United States is itself responsible for appear in the reports, but without any mention of the U.S. role in these abuses.

For example, the Afghanistan report, while noting that arbitrary detention “remains a serious problem,” fails to acknowledge that the United States detains hundreds of people in that country without adequate legal process.

Furthermore, the objective and thorough reporting only serves to highlight the gap between the human rights failings of foreign governments and U.S. policy towards them.

“The country reports demonstrate that countries around the world, including some of our close allies, continue to violate the principles of freedom that the Bush Administration has espoused,” said Byrnes. “We need clear statements and effective policies that support these essential human rights principles.”

Some examples of the failure to match policy with human rights conditions include:

· The introduction describes the Egyptian government’s attacks on opposition political activists, journalists, and human rights groups and notes that “our long-term interests are best served when we show by word and deed our abiding solidarity with” human rights defenders. However, exactly one week, ago the Bush administration waived Congress’ hold on $100 million in aid to Egypt—a hold imposed until the Egyptian government improves its human rights record—on national security grounds.

· The report on Pakistan notes some of the deleterious effects of the dismissal of judges by President Musharraf. But the Bush Administration has pointedly failed to call for the reinstatement of these judges and, according to several recent reports, is pressuring Pakistani leaders to avoid reinstating the Chief Justice.

· While Secretary Rice made support of human rights defenders a centerpiece of the reports last year, U.S. support for President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia has apparently not suffered in the least, despite his administration’s record of denigrating and unfairly prosecuting human rights defenders as the report well documents.

· The State Department’s human rights report on Iraq describes in great detail the brutal, targeted persecution of numerous Iraqi civilians for their religious beliefs, nationality, gender, and political opinion. However, in 2007 U.S. policy failed to address the dire Iraqi displacement crisis that has resulted from these conditions. Humanitarian aid to refugees and the countries hosting them was inadequate, and the U.S. has resettled fewer than 4,000 Iraqi refugees in the past year, in spite of U.N estimates that up to 100,000 are in urgent need of third country resettlement, and millions more remain displaced internally and in neighboring countries.

Finally, perhaps because of a perception that human rights obligations stop at the water’s edge, the reports also fail to catalogue human rights violations committed or facilitated by a country outside its borders.

For example, the report rightly documents the continuing mass atrocities occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan, characterized by murder, forced displacement, and violence against women. However, the report omits any mention of governments that continue to enable the regime in Khartoum. In particular, China has continued to increase oil imports from Sudan, obstructed Security Council efforts to help curb the violence in Darfur and bring its perpetrators to justice, and become the largest supplier of small arms to Sudan. While the government of Sudan and rebel groups are directly responsible for the atrocities in Darfur, China undeniably contributes to the escalating violence.


Published on March 11, 2008


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