Trump State Dept Walks Away from Human Rights
March 5, 2017
Yeganeh Torbati / Reuters
The State Department released its annual report on human rights around the world on Friday but the release was overshadowed by criticism that the Secretary of State gave the report little of the traditional attention or fanfare. Rex Tillerson declined to unveil the report in person, breaking with stablished Democratic and Republican precedent. A senior US official would only answer reporters' questions by phone on condition of anonymity rather than appearing on camera -- also a break with precedent.
US State Department Criticized over Quiet Release of Human Rights Report
Yeganeh Torbati / Reuters
WASHINGTON (March 3, 2017) -- The US State Department released its annual report on human rights around the world on Friday but the release was overshadowed by criticism that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave the report little of the traditional attention or fanfare.
Tillerson declined to unveil the report in person, breaking with precedent established during both Democratic and Republican administrations. A senior US official answered reporters' questions by phone on condition of anonymity rather than appearing on camera, also a break with precedent.
"The report speaks for itself," the official said in response to a question about why Tillerson did not unveil it. "We're very, very proud of it. The facts should really be the story here."
The report, mandated by Congress, documents human rights conditions in nearly 200 countries and territories and is put together by staff in US embassies. This year's report was largely completed during former President Barack Obama's tenure.
According to the report, Philippine police and vigilantes "killed more than 6,000 suspected drug dealers and users" since July and extrajudicial killings have "increased sharply" in the Philippines in the last year. Philippine officials say their government does not tolerate human rights violations or state-sponsored extrajudicial killings.
The report's language on Russia remained broadly similar to that of years past, noting the country's "authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin."
President Donald Trump has said he would like to improve US relations with Russia.
Traditionally, the secretary of state unveils the report with public comments emphasizing the centrality of human rights in US foreign policy and highlighting specific findings.
Tillerson's Democratic predecessors John Kerry and Hillary Clinton gave public comments on the report in 2013 and 2009, their first years in the post, respectively, and continued to present it throughout their tenures.
In 2005, during Republican President George W. Bush's administration, the undersecretary of state for global affairs, Paula Dobriansky, presented the report on camera on behalf of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
So far in his one-month tenure, Tillerson has not held a news conference and has mostly refrained from answering questions from the media.
Human rights groups criticized the way the report was rolled out.
"It's just signaling a lack of basic interest and understanding in how support for human rights reflects what's best about America," said Rob Berschinski, senior vice president for policy at Human Rights First.
Berschinski was deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor until Jan. 20, and helped coordinate the report.
On Friday, the US official quoted from Tillerson's confirmation hearing to offer proof that he views human rights conditions as crucial to US interests, adding, "These statements are very clear about our commitment to human rights."
In the introduction to this year's report, Tillerson wrote "our values are our interests when it comes to human rights."
But in his confirmation hearing, Tillerson sidestepped questions on human rights conditions in other countries, declining to condemn countries like Saudi Arabia and the Philippines, saying he wanted to see the facts first.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio on Friday said on his Facebook page he was "disappointed that the secretary of state did not personally present the latest report."
"American leadership in defense of basic human rights, on behalf of those whose voices have been silenced, is needed now more than ever," Rubio wrote.
Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom.
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016
Promoting human rights and democratic governance is a core element of US foreign policy. These values form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies. Standing up for human rights and democracy is not just a moral imperative but is in the best interests of the United States in making the world more stable and secure.
The 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (The Human Rights Reports) demonstrate the United States' unwavering commitment to advancing liberty, human dignity, and global prosperity.
This year marks the 41st year the Department of State has produced annual Human Rights Reports. The United States Congress mandated these reports to provide policymakers with a holistic and accurate accounting of human rights conditions in nearly 200 countries and territories worldwide, including all member states of the United Nations and any country receiving US foreign assistance.
The reports cover internationally recognized individual civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments.
The Human Rights Reports reflect the concerted efforts of our embassies and consulates to gather the most accurate information possible. They are prepared by human rights officers at US.missions around the world who review information available from a wide variety of civil society, government, and other sources.
These reports represent thousands of work-hours as each country team collects and analyzes information. The Department of State strives to make the reports objective and uniform in scope and quality.
The Human Rights Reports are used by the U.S. Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches as a resource for shaping policy and guiding decisions, informing diplomatic engagements, and determining the allocation of foreign aid and security sector assistance.
The Human Rights Reports are also used throughout the world to inform the work of human rights advocates, lawmakers, academics, businesses, multilateral institutions, and NGOs.
The Department of State hopes these reports will help other governments, civil society leaders, activists, and individuals reflect on the situation of human rights in their respective countries and work to promote accountability for violations and abuses.
Our values are our interests when it comes to human rights. The production of these reports underscores our commitment to freedom, democracy, and the human rights guaranteed to all individuals around the world.
I hereby transmit the Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016 to the United States Congress.
Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
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