On May 24, 2012, the U.S. Department of State released its annual report on human rights conditions in every other country in the world. Secretary of State Clinton said that the reports “make clear to governments around the world: We are watching and we are holding you accountable. And they make clear to citizens and activists everywhere: You are not alone. We are standing with you.” Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner added, “In too many countries, egregious human rights violations continue, including torture, arbitrary detention, denial of due process of law, disappearance, and extrajudicial killings.”
The annual U.S. reports cover internationally recognized individual, civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and various international treaties. The U.S. Department of State submits reports on all countries receiving assistance and all United Nations member states to the U.S. Congress in accordance with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Trade Act of 1974.
The Department of State prepares these reports using information from U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, foreign government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations and published reports. U.S. diplomatic missions abroad prepared the initial drafts of the individual country reports, using information they gathered throughout the year from a variety of sources, including government officials, jurists, the armed forces, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, and labor activists.
Once the initial drafts of the individual country reports are completed, the Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, in cooperation with other Department offices, work to corroborate, analyze, and edit the reports, drawing on their own sources of information. These sources included reports provided by U.S. and other human rights groups, foreign government officials, representatives from the U.N. and other international and regional organizations and institutions, experts from academia and the media. Bureau officers also consult experts on worker rights, refugee issues, military and police topics, women’s issues, and legal matters, among many others. The guiding principle was to ensure that all information was reported objectively, thoroughly, and fairly.
As Secretary of State Clinton stated on the release of the latest report, “Congress mandated these country reports more than three decades ago to help guide lawmakers’ decisions on foreign military and economic aid, but they have evolved into something more. Today, governments, intergovernmental organizations, scholars, journalists, activists, and others around the world rely on these reports as an essential update on human rights conditions around the world – where we have seen progress, where progress has come too slowly or at great cost, and all too often, where it has been rolled back.”
In my work as a pro bono lawyer for asylum seekers in the U.S., for example, these reports were important corroborative evidence to support the claim of someone who alleges that he or she has a well founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, ethnic group, political opinion or membership in a particular social group if returned to his or her home country. In addition, my experience with some of the country reports, especially El Salvador, has shown that over time they have become increasingly more objective.
With respect to China, the new report said that human rights had deteriorated. It cites “repression and coercion” of rights advocates, tight restrictions on political dissidents, curbs on journalists and on Internet access, and “severe cultural and religious repression” of ethnic Uighurs and Tibetans.
The next day (May 25th) China said that the U.S. report was inaccurate and irresponsible. As the Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, the report was “baseless, biased and completely wrong.” In fact, the spokesman said China has made world-recognized gains in improving human rights since broad social and economic reforms were launched 30 years ago. China’s economy has grown rapidly over the last three decades, and the government marks poverty reduction as one of its greatest human rights achievements. Moreover, the person said, “The Chinese people themselves are the most qualified to judge China’s human rights condition . . . . Countries can hold talks about human rights on equal footing to increase mutual understanding and help each other improve, but should never use the relevant issue as a tool for interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.”
China simultaneously retaliated with its report on human rights in the U.S. It criticized the arrest of Occupy Wall Street protesters and other alleged U.S. violations of civil and political rights.
The Chinese report on human rights in the U.S. reflects other countries’ frequent criticism of the U.S.’ annual reports for failure to evaluate and criticize the U.S. itself. But the U.S.’ recent submission of its own human rights record to Universal Periodic Review by the U.N. Human Rights Council, as discussed in a prior post, is another means for the U.S. to do just that with on-the-record comments and criticism by other governments.