On February 27, 2014, the U.S. State Department released its 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (commonly known as the Human Rights Reports) to the U.S. Congress. Now in their 38th year, the reports are mandated by Congress to inform U.S. government policy and foreign assistance and to provide reference material for other governments, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, legal professionals, scholars, interested citizens, and journalists.
According to the Department, the following were among the most noteworthy human rights developments in 2013.
Increased Crackdown on Civil Society and the Freedoms of Association and Assembly
“Governments in every region of the world continued to stifle civil society and restrict citizens’ universal right to freedoms of assembly and association. Authorities increasingly used legislation to silence political dissidence and used excessive force to crack down on civil society and protest.”
Restrictions on Freedom of Speech and Press Freedom
“Governments around the world also continued to restrict freedom of expression and press freedom as a means of tightly controlling or eliminating political criticism and opposition. This included hampering the ability of journalists to report on issues deemed politically sensitive by placing onerous restrictions on members of the press, such as requiring government approval prior to meeting with international organizations or representatives, and limiting visas for foreign journalists. Governments also used harassment and physical intimidation of journalists to create a climate of fear and self-censorship, both online and offline. Authorities further censored the media by closing independent newspaper outlets and television stations. Officials detained or arrested activists and journalists on false charges in order to limit criticism of the government and impede peaceful protest, and some have even been killed for simply voicing dissent.”
Accountability Deficits for Security Forces Abuses
“In too many places, government security forces abused human rights with impunity and failed to protect their citizens. Military and security forces in numerous countries engaged in unlawful arrests and extrajudicial killings, gender-based violence, rape, torture, and abductions . . . . Weak or nonexistent justice institutions did not hold security forces accountable for human rights abuses and often failed to uphold the rights to due process and a fair trial.”
Lack of Effective Labor Rights Protections
“People continued to work in conditions that were hazardous to their health and safety, some – often migrant workers – against their will. Workers’ attempts to organize and bargain collectively for improved labor rights protections were frequently impeded by governments’ inability or unwillingness to enforce labor protections, as well as government interference in their activities and violence and threats against labor leaders. However, 2013 did see the entry-into-force of International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189, which set forth protections for fundamental rights [for domestic workers] . . . , and several countries took steps to enact legislation to protect the rights of domestic workers.”
The Continued Marginalization of Vulnerable Groups
There was “continued marginalization of religious and ethnic minorities, women and children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons, persons with disabilities, and other vulnerable populations. Governments subjected these groups to repressive policies, societal intolerance, discriminatory laws, and disenfranchisement, and authorities failed to hold those who committed crimes against them accountable. Faith organizations and religious and ethnic minorities suffered growing intolerance and violence, as well as faced threats to and restrictions on their religious belief and practice. Women and girls in all regions suffered endemic societal discrimination, and there was a surge in gender-based violence. The rights of LGBT persons were increasingly threatened, as limitations on freedoms of association and assembly for the LGBT community and new laws criminalizing consensual same-sex relations unleashed increased violence and intimidation against LGBT persons. Finally, persons with disabilities continued to experience a lack of access to quality inclusive education, inaccessible infrastructure, and weak non-discrimination protections.”
 This summary of the most noteworthy overall human rights issues of 2013 comes from the Department’s simultaneously released 2013 Human Rights Fact Sheet. Also accompanying the reports themselves were remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry and by Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Uzra Zeya. Articles about the reports appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Future posts will examine the reports on human rights in Cuba and Ecuador. A prior post reviewed the similar reports for 2012.
 ILO Convention No. 189 (Convention concerning decent work for domestic workers) entered into force on September 5, 2013, after eight nation-states had ratified the treaty. As of March 4, 2014, the number of ratifications had increased to 12; this group does not include the U.S.