State Department’s Annual Human Rights Report Does Not Examine U.S., But the Next Report Will

March 12, 2010 - 4:27 AM
Releasing this year's annual State Department report on human rights around the world on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters the Obama administration was 'committed to holding everyone to the same standard, including ourselves.'

Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at an event in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

(CNSNews.com) – This year’s annual State Department report on human rights around the world does not include a section on the United States, but the department is already working on a report that does focus on the U.S.  In releasing the report on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters the Obama administration was “committed to holding everyone to the same standard, including ourselves.”

Administration officials noted that a report on the U.S. human rights record is being prepared for release to the United Nations' Human Rights Council later this year.

There had been speculation that the U.S., for the first time in 34 years, might examine its own record in the report released on Thursday. That speculation was prompted by a comment Secretary Clinton made during a town hall-type meeting with State Department employees on July 10 last year.

Responding to a question about another annual report – on human trafficking – Clinton said, “I want us to start looking at the United States for every report we do.”

“I think we will have more credibility if we start looking at the United States while we criticize other countries as well,” she added.

Every year since 2000, the Chinese government has responded to the annual U.S. human rights report – which covers more than 190 countries around the world – with a report

f of its own dealing exclusively with the situation in the U.S.  (This year’s report, released on Friday, can be found here)

The reports, prepared by China’s State Council in advance and usually released within a day or two of the U.S. one, accuse the U.S. of ignoring its own faults while criticizing others. They typically examine issues including race relations, homelessness, use of firearms and even the amount of money spent in political campaigns; as well as foreign issues including weapons sales and counter terror policies.

Less consistently, several other countries with poor human rights records have also responded over the years to the annual U.S. report by suggesting America take a closer look at itself.

When unveiling the "2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" on Thursday, administration officials stressed that a report on the U.S. record will come later this year.

Clinton pointed to a process currently underway in preparing a report to be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva in the fall, when the U.S. goes through a “universal periodic review” (UPR).

The mechanism is designed to examine the rights records of all 192 U.N. member states once every four years. It involves a three-hour “interactive dialogue” between representatives of the state concerned and HRC members, based on reports compiled by the government, U.N. experts, and civil society groups.

In gathering information for use in the administration’s report for the UPR, consultations are being held across the nation involving government officials, citizens and civil society organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, Human Rights First and American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

The process began in January in New Orleans and will run until the end of April, with the last of nine scheduled consultations in Birmingham, Ala. Then the compilation of the report will begin.

The UPR for the U.S. is scheduled to take place on November 26, in Geneva.

“Assessing opportunities for progress and soliciting citizen engagement is one way that we demonstrate our commitment in word and deed to the basic principles that guide us toward a more perfect union and a more peaceful world,” Clinton said Thursday.

Briefing reporters following Clinton’s remarks, assistant secretary of democracy, human rights and labor Mike Posner also referred to the question of the U.S. rights record.

Mike Posner, State Department

Assistant Secretary of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Mike Posner briefs the media on the State Department’s annual report on human rights in Washington on Thursday, March 13, 2010. (Image: State Department)

“One of the challenges, one of the criticisms of the report over the years has been that we report on the whole world, except for ourselves,” he said. “And Secretary Clinton has made it very clear, as has the President, that we adhere to a single, universal standard of human rights and apply it to everyone, including ourselves.”

Posner also announced that the department would, for the first time this year, include the U.S. in its annual report on human trafficking.

The trafficking report, which has been released every year since 2001, ranks every country according to their compliance with efforts to eliminate trafficking. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), tier 1 countries fully comply, tier 2 countries are those making significant efforts to meet minimum standards, and tier 3 countries are those which are not, and may be subject to sanctions.

‘Catastrophe’

When the U.S. comes up for review at the UPR, it will go through a process which is held up as one of the most significant reforms built into the HRC when it was established in 2006 to replace the frequently criticized U.N. Commission for Human Rights.

In practice, it has disappointed many human rights advocates.

Governments such as those in

China and Iran present reports giving their version of the situation – with assertions like “there is no censorship in China” or “the Iranian society is a successful model of brotherly and peaceful coexistence” – while their allies offer praise and defend them against criticism from Western countries.

UPR sessions have on occasion witnessed clashes between country representatives and speakers from non-governmental organizations who have raised criticism about perceived abuses of the process.

In one session, an NGO representative was chastised by the HRC president after declaring “perhaps the largest threat to the legitimacy of this process at the moment has been what appears to be a coordinated attempt among some groups of allied states to conduct the UPR interactive dialogue in an orchestrated manner, designed to avoid genuine review” of the policies of the state under review.

“The UPR process, touted as the best element of the so-called reformed Human Rights Council, has proved to be a catastrophe,” Anne Bayefsky, a close observer of the HRC, said Thursday.

“Rights-abusing states line up like-minded countries to sing their praises and submit dozens of meaningless recommendations that the state can then pretend to ‘accept,’” she said. “Recommendations actually to protect rights are rejected by the concerned state out of hand. All the Council then does is rubber-stamp a report which lists accepted and rejected recommendations. Human rights violators experience no fall-out from the process.”

Bayefsky, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and editor of Eye on the U.N., said Obama administration officials had cited the UPR as one of the reasons they believed it was important to join the council. (The Bush administration shunned it.)

“They even claimed the

UPR on Iran two weeks ago would make a difference on human rights protection in Iran. In fact, Iran’s defense of its human rights record received a round of applause at the Council and the Obama spokesperson was allotted a grand total of two minutes to criticize the regime.”

As for the U.S. UPR in the fall, Bayefsky predicted it would be “an opportunity for rights-abusing states to take pot shots at the U.S., knowing that they risk nothing.”

“Now that the U.S. is a member of the Council, it is wedded to justifying its presence, despite the fact that the UPR process results in no pressure on serious violators to change anything,” she added.

UPR sessions have on occasion witnessed clashes between country representatives and speakers from non-governmental organizations who have raised criticism about perceived abuses of the process.

In one session, an NGO representative was chastised by the HRC president after declaring “perhaps the largest threat to the legitimacy of this process at the moment has been what appears to be a coordinated attempt among some groups of allied states to conduct the UPR interactive dialogue in an orchestrated manner, designed to avoid genuine review” of the policies of the state under review.