State Department Human Rights Reports Selectively Criticize Abuses

Washington, D.C.Human Rights First today expressed concern regarding apparent changes made to the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017, compared to previous years’ reports. The organization also criticized the Trump Administration for using the preface of the Human Rights Reports to selectively criticize certain countries, rather than highlighting wider concerns at a time in which adherence to universal human rights is in retreat around the world.

“In keeping with its decision to eliminate reporting on women’s and reproductive rights, our analysis shows that in several instances, this year’s reports greatly pare back reporting on violence against women and domestic violence,” said Human Rights First’s Senior Vice President for Policy Rob Berschinski. “Additionally, in at least one case the Department of State has eliminated prior references to the judgments and opinions of credible international human rights bodies. The result is a less nuanced, less comprehensive, and less useful report.”

The Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, commonly known as the Human Rights Reports, index abuses and advances in terms of civil, political, and worker rights globally. The reports are widely regarded as a powerful tool to hold human rights violators accountable and to document the progress of governments toward respecting the dignity of their citizens.

“Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan deserves credit for personally attending the public rollout of this year’s Human Rights Reports, in contrast to Rex Tillerson’s decision last year not to bother,” added Berschinski. “Yet, regrettably, the acting secretary chose to use his introductory portion of the report to highlight human rights concerns in a select number of countries the United States considers rivals, rather than to also highlight abuses undertaken by friendly governments. This selective application does the administration no favors, particularly when the president himself harms American influence and weakens human rights protections around the world by uncritically supporting dictators, attacking journalists and the rule of law at home, attempting to gut U.S. foreign aid, and closing our doors to refugees fleeing conflict.”

Human Rights First notes that 15 months into the Trump administration’s time in office, the State Department’s top two human rights positions remain vacant, as is the role of special envoy to combat antisemitism, among other critical senior positions.


Published on April 25, 2018


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