Department of State Human Rights Reports: The Resource That Washington Ignores

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to how the 2013 Human Rights Reports were the foundation of U.S. foreign policy and a statement to the world that the U.S. is watching to make sure that foreign governments protect the human rights of their citizens (Photo Credit: Mladen  Antonov/AFP/Getty Images).

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to how the 2013 Human Rights Reports is the foundation of U.S. foreign policy and a statement to the world that the U.S. is watching to make sure foreign governments protect the human rights of their citizens (Photo Credit: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images).

At long last, the 2013 country reports documenting global human rights trends has been released by the U.S. Department of State.

This year’s report, which was first produced during the Carter administration, is as important for what it does not say – or perhaps how it says it – as it is for what it says. In looking back at events in 2012, the report highlights several alarming trends, first what can only be described as a growing assault on civil society and human rights defenders.

From questionable lawsuits against people who are no longer alive in Russia, to legislation severely restricting foreign funding for human rights work, as well as narrow limits on the scope of issues that rights organizations are allowed to address in Ethiopia to considering legislation to force human rights groups that do receive some financial support from foreign institutions to register as foreign agents in Kenya, the efforts to undermine the ability, rights and legitimacy of civil society to operate freely is growing and raises several concerns over how well the peoples in those countries can enjoy any of their rights. When one adds the statistics detailing the crackdown on the media and journalists, the risks inherent in seeking to enjoy freedom of expression reach a new level of clarity.

The 2012 entries are also a powerful reminder of the widespread issue of discrimination and violence against women and members of the LBGTI community. While some individual attacks and incidents managed to emerge in the global media as happened with the brutal rape case in India, the daily barrage of harassment and attacks and the lack of accountability that women suffer continued from Egypt to Mexico to the DRC.

The report also documents the deliberate targeting of members of the LGBT community by governments in direct violations of their obligations to protect the rights of all people regardless of race, sexual orientation or gender identity.

It is therefore disappointing that this important document is largely ignored by the very government that produces it. The gap between what the reports document and the imperatives they convey for what U.S. policy should be toward a government that is committing human rights abuses and what U.S. policy is continues to grow. Military support for Bahrain and Egypt continues even as the governments in both countries seek to gut civil society, restrict freedom of expression and maintain impunity for violations of the security forces. The same report that castigates the government of Venezuela for restrictions on association and expression continues to arm the government of Colombia despite the armed forces’ direct links to human rights abuses and the government’s failure to being those responsible to justice.

Today Secretary of State John Kerry and Asst. Secretary of State Uzra Zeya both spoke to how these report were the foundation of U.S. foreign policy and a statement to the world that the U.S. is watching to make sure that foreign governments protect the human rights of their citizens. It is time that the United States held its foreign and domestic policies to the same standards.

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