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.

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An Open Letter to Secretary of State John Kerry: Know Before You Go

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

Newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry arrives in the UK at Stansted Airport on February 24, 2013 in Stansted, England. Kerry is embarking on his first foreign trip as Secretary of State with stops planned in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar before returning to Washington on March 6th. (Photo by Warrick Page/Getty Images)

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I know you have a lot on your plate as you begin your first trip overseas as Secretary of StateYou’ll be visiting America’s allies in Europe and the Middle East, by my count nine countries in eleven days. According to press reports, the on-going conflict in Syria is going to be at the top of your agenda, which is as it should be. The latest estimates by the United Nations indicate that at least 60,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since unrest beganHuman rights violations there have been appalling and wide-spread.

While you continue your important work on Syria, however, I hope that you can spare some time for the on-going human rights violations elsewhere in the Middle East.  Sadly, many of these violations are undertaken by America’s allies in the region, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain.

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Protection for women a top foreign policy priority

Originally posted on Politico.com

By Sen. John F. Kerry, Rep. Bill Delahunt, Kerry Kennedy & Larry Cox

Rita Mahato, a mother of three, works as a health adviser for the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC) in Nepal, counseling rape victims and registering cases of domestic violence routinely dismissed by the local police. In June 2007, a mob of more than 60 men surrounded her offices, threatening to rape and kill Rita and her colleagues – demanding that they end their work. Three years later, Rita and her team continue to be threatened, harassed and physically abused, yet the police have failed to take action. Despite threats to her life, Rita perseveres defending the human rights of women and seeking justice for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Sadly, Rita’s experience is not unique: women around the world are subject to abuse and many also face extreme poverty.

It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s why today a bipartisan coalition, led by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) in the Senate and Congressmen Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Ted Poe (R-Texas) in the House, will introduce the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). Introduction of this bill supports the efforts of President Obama and Secretary Clinton to rightly put women at the very center of a broad global security agenda that factors in the great challenges of our decade and invests in the world’s peacemakers.

Passage of the bill is critical. Every day, women and girls are battered, beaten, raped or otherwise brutalized. In some countries, more than 70 percent of women have been the victims of domestic violence. And, for most of these women, justice is elusive, because where violence against women is endemic, so too are impunity and poor governance. Not only can they expect police, prosecutors and judges to refuse to investigate cases against their perpetrators, too often, they can also expect to be condemned, shamed and even punished themselves.

IVAWA will support innovative programs that challenge public attitudes and cultural practices that perpetuate and condone violence against women and girls. In settings where women are prevented or discouraged from seeking justice, IVAWA will support training for police and judicial officials on countering violence against women and respecting the rights of victims. It will allow long-term prevention efforts such as increasing women’s economic security, expanding access to jobs and education, and engaging men to change behaviors and attitudes. Societies in which women are able to live and function in relative safety, empowered to realize their aspirations and move their communities forward are healthier, better developed, and more stable. Societies that take measures to deter discrimination and violence against women are better equipped to root out terrorism, less prone to conflict, and therefore more secure.

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"What went on here?" : U.S. Lawmakers Assess the Damage in Gaza

In the first congressional visit since Hamas was elected in 2006, Representative Brian Baird from Washington, Rep. Keith Ellison from Minnesota and Senator John Kerry visited Gaza yesterday.  They witnessed and reported the devastation of the population and the dire need of humanitarian assistance.  Rep.  Ellison, Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee member and the first Muslim congress member, stated that:

People, innocent children, women and non-combatants, are going without water, food and sanitation, while the things they so desperately need are sitting in trucks at the border, being denied permission to go in – Rep. Ellison.

Aid is slowed by the blockade as Palestinians rebuild.

Aid is slowed by the blockade as Palestinians rebuild.

None of the men toured the area as representatives of the Obama administration and all refused to meet with Hamas, but they opened up a dialogue between American lawmakers and Gaza residents.  Rep. Baird “wanted to witness the situation on the ground” and helped Palestinian aid workers highlight the humanitarian crisis to the BBC.  Sen. Kerry, on the other hand, emphasized the problems with Hamas leadership, while touring a bombed out American school:

…Your political leadership needs to understand that any nation that has rockets coming into it over many years, threatening its citizens, is going to respond – Sen. Kerry.

As lawmakers balance the politics of Hamas and Israeli interests, the Palestinian people are left with the shocking humanitarian devastation, 5,000 home destroyed, 1,300 lives lost, and over 5,000 injured.  More pointedly, Rep. Braid describes:

The amount of physical destruction and the depth of human suffering here is staggering. Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed, schools completely leveled, fundamental needs such as water, sewer, and electricity facilities have been hit and immobilized. Relief agencies, themselves, have been heavily damaged. The personal stories of children being killed in their homes or schools; of entire families wiped out, and relief workers prevented from evacuating the wounded are heart wrenching. What went on here? And what is continuing to go on, is shocking and troubling beyond words. – Rep. Baird.