100 Days: State Dept. Sets Record for Violating Deadline for Human Rights Reports

By Brittany M. Hughes | June 5, 2015 | 11:51 AM EDT

Secretary of State John Kerry (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. State Department has set an all-time record this year in the duration of its failure to comply with the legal deadline for submitting its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices to Congress.

Current law requires the department to submit the reports by Feb. 25. Today, June 5, is the 100th day past that deadline, and the State Department still has not presented the reports.

Prior to this year, 89 days was the longest the department went past the legal deadline before releasing the reports. The 89-day delay took place in 2012, when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

As the post-deadline delay in the release of the human rights reports hit its 100th day today, the State Department was finding time to celebrate an event it billed as "Pride at State."

That event, scheduled for 2:00 p.m., will feature remarks by Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom and has been jointly organized by the department itself and GLIFAA, which State says is "the officially recognized employee affinity group representing LGBTI employees at the Department of State, USAID and foreign affairs agencies."

When the department does release the overdue human rights reports, they will include details of human rights abuses in, among other nations, Iran, Cuba, Malaysia and Vietnam. The administration is currently in the final phases of negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran, has recently re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba and is planning to include Malaysia and Vietnam in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

The annual reports were first published in 1977, under a legal mandate included in the 1976 International Security and Arms Export Control Act. According to the law as originally enacted, the reports were supposed to detail the human rights abuses in nations receiving security assistance from the United States so that members of Congress would be better informed about the nature of the governments that were receiving this type of aid.

Sec. 301 of the initial 1976 law stated: “The Secretary of State shall transmit to the Congress, as part of the presentation materials for security assistance programs proposed for each fiscal year a full and complete report, prepared with the assistance of the Coordinator for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, with respect to practices regarding the observance of and respect for internationally recognized human rights in each country proposed as a recipient of security assistance.”

The law was later expanded to include all members of the United Nations, as well as countries receiving “economic” assistance from the United States.

The original provision did not set a specific deadline for the report. But the first Human Rights Reports, covering 82 countries, were released in March 1977.

On Aug. 3, 1977, the Foreign Assistance Act was amended to include a Jan. 31 deadline for State Department to submit the annual Human Rights Reports to Congress. The amendment specified that the reports were to be sent to the Speaker of the House and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In that pre-internet era, the department would often submit the report in print to Congress by the Jan. 31 deadline and then release a public printing of it in February.

From 1978 to 1997, the State Department failed to submit the human rights reports to Congress by the Jan. 31 deadline only once. That was in 1996, when the State Department under then-President Bill Clinton, submitted the report 34 days late on March 5.

In 1998, Congress changed the statutory deadline for the reports from Jan. 31 to Feb. 25.

In the 17 years since 1998, the State Department has been late in releasing the human rights reports 12 times.

Under former President George W. Bush, the Human Rights Reports were released past the federally-mandated deadline six times. The latest the Bush administration ever released the reports was in 2003, when they were published 34 days late on March 31.

In the seven years President Obama’s State Department has been responsible for releasing the reports, the department has released the Human Rights Report by the Feb. 25 only one time, in 2009. That was just one month after Obama took office and his administration took control of the State Department.

In every year since then, the State Department has been late in releasing the human rights reports.

Prior to this year, 2012 was the latest the department ever released the reports. That year, under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the department released the reports on May 24--89 days past the statutory deadline.

Last year, the administration released the reports on Feb. 27—only two days past the deadline.

This year, the reports were first scheduled for release on April 20. On April 16, the department announced that the release of the reports had been delayed, but did not provide a reason or a rescheduled publishing date.

Despite the record-setting delay, the State Department has declined to provide an update on when the reports would be released. Department Spokesperson Jeff Rathke has blamed the ongoing delay on a lack of schedule opportunities.

During a State Department press briefing Tuesday, May 26, CNSNews.com asked Rathke: “As of today, the 2014 Human Rights Report is 90 days past its federally mandated deadline of Feb. 25. Why hasn’t the State Department released this report?"

“I can check and see if there’s an update on that. I know it’s--we’ve just been trying to find a scheduling opportunity for release. So I don’t have any additional update on that,” Rathke responded.

CNSNews.com also asked Rathke: “Is the administration at all concerned that releasing this report would interfere with the Iranian nuclear talks or the TPP negotiations?”

“Not that I’ve heard,” Rathke responded.

At a press briefing the following day, when CNSNews.com asked for an update, Rathke simply stated, “I don’t have anything further to say beyond yesterday.”

Following the press briefings, the State Department press office has responded to CNSNews.com’s repeated request for an update by saying the department has “no further update at this time.”

This morning, CNSNews.com’s latest phone request to the State Department press office seeking an update on when the department planned to release the reports did not get an immediate response.

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices since 1999 can be found on the State Department’s website.

The dates that State Department released the report each year, and whether the department complied with the deadline that year, can be seen in the chart below.

 

 

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