Latest U.S. Report on Human Rights Around the World

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On Friday (April 19th), the U.S. Department of State released its latest annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.[1]

In his Preface, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said, “It is in our interest to promote the universal rights of all persons. Governments that respect human rights are more peaceful and more prosperous. They are better neighbors, stronger allies, and better economic partners. Governments that enforce safe workplaces, prohibit exploitative child and forced labor, and educate their citizens create a more level playing field and broader customer base for the global marketplace. Conversely, governments that threaten regional and global peace, from Iran to North Korea, are also egregious human rights abusers, with citizens trapped in the grip of domestic repression, economic deprivation, and international isolation.”

Therefore, Kerry continued,” we advocate around the world for governments to adopt policies and practices that respect human rights regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, or disability; that allow for and honor the results of free and fair elections; that ensure safe and healthy workplaces; and that respect peaceful protests and other forms of dissent.”

In so doing, Kerry acknowledged that “from our own experience [we know] that the work of building a more perfect union – a sustainable and durable democracy – will never be complete.”

The Introduction to the Report highlighted these five developments from 2012.

  1. Shrinking space for civil society activism around the world. Active participation of civil society in determining policies for the society is an important part of human rights. Yet in 2012, many governments “continued to repress or attack the means by which individuals have the ability to come together, air their views, and put forward their own proposals.” Mentioned specifically in this regard were Iran, Venezuela, Russia, Egypt, Bangladesh and China. [2]
  2. The ongoing struggle by people in the Middle East and North Africa for democratic change. Although there were some encouraging changes in this region, there also was “erosion of protections for civil society, sexual violence against women, violence against and increased marginalization of members of religious minorities, and escalating human rights violations.” This was most pronounced in Syria, but significant problems in this regard were seen in Bahrain and Egypt.
  3. Steps toward emerging democracy and a tentative opening for civil society in Burma. In 2012 Burma “continued to take significant steps in a historic transition toward democracy.” These changes are “the result of hard work by the Burmese people and sustained U.S. and international pressure to reform.” This transition, however, is not yet complete. Much work remains to be done.[3]
  4. The game-changing nature of information and communication technologies, in the face of increased suppression of traditional media and freedom of expression.  New technologies have made information more widely available throughout the world. Yet some governments seek to stop the free press. The world-wide number of journalists killed or imprisoned increased. Some governments used counter-terrorism as a “pretext for suppressing freedom of expression.”  Others endeavored to restrict internet freedom. Ecuador was cited as an example of a state where the president publicly criticized specific journalists and encouraged lawsuits to be brought against them, where a ban was instituted on press coverage favoring one candidate, philosophy or political theory and where the government used legal pretexts to harass and close several media outlets.[4]
  5. The continued marginalization of and violence against members of vulnerable groups. Too many governments “continue to persecute, or allow the persecution of, members of religious and ethnic minorities; women; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people; people with disabilities; migrants; and members of other vulnerable populations, including tribal communities.” Anti-Semitism in the Middle East, Europe and Latin America was specifically mentioned as a problem.

These reports have been prepared by the State Department pursuant to a 1961 federal statute. Since then other federal statutes require U.S. foreign and trade policy to take into account countries’ human rights and worker rights performance.

Since 1976 a Coordinator of Human Rights (later upgraded to an Assistant Secretary) in the Department of State has the overall responsibility for preparing these reports based upon information from U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, foreign government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations, published reports, foreign government officials, jurists, the armed forces, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, and labor activists.


[1]  News of the Report in the U.S. media has been virtually nonexistent. Here is the New York Times article on the Report.

[2] On April 21st China responded to the U.S. criticism with “The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2012.” This year, the Chinese report focused on U.S. gun crime, citing “astonishing casualties”; growing poverty in the U.S. and a wide wealth gap; and America’s overseas wars. It also singled out what it said was low voter participation in U.S. elections and the detention of terrorism suspects in Guantánamo.

[3] Similar recent reports about Burma come from Human Rights Watch, Former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and a Burmese Buddhist. On the other hand, the government continues to declare amnesties and release political prisoners, and we continue to be inspired by Aung San Suu Kyi’s, whose  acceptance in 2012 of her Nobel Peace Prize of 1991 was the subject of an earlier post.

[4] Ecuador’s wide-ranging measures to squelch hostile journalism have been the subject of persistent and detailed criticism by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and as discussed in a prior post Ecuador in retaliation has mounted, and continues to mount, a campaign to try to weaken the Commission and thereby its criticism of Ecuador.

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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