State Dept. Sets 22-Year Record for Delaying Release of Human Rights Reports

By Brittany M. Hughes | May 27, 2015 | 10:03am EDT
Secretary of State John Kerry in Kenya, May 4, 2015. (AP FIle Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama’s State Department has set at least a 22-year record in delaying the release of its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which the law mandates must be released by Feb. 25.

The reports are now 91 days late.

The annual reports detail the human rights violations perpetrated within nations around the world—including countries such as Iran, with which the administration is now negotiating a nuclear-arms agreement, and Vietnam and Malaysia, with which the administration is now negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal.

During a press briefing Tuesday, State Department Spokesperson Jeff Rathke said that the department had not yet released the legally overdue reports because it was looking for a “schedule opportunity” to do so.

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.

Despite Rathke’s claimed lack of scheduling opportunities, Secretary of State John Kerry made time last week to visit State Department staff at the Seattle Passport Agency on his way to Seoul, South Korea, where he met with Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se before giving a lengthy speech on the importance of an open and accessible Internet at Korea University on May 18. The next day, Kerry flew back to Washington State for a tour of the local Boeing facility, where he joked about “trading up” to a Boeing Dreamliner jet for his travels, promising he would “show it off all over the world.”

On May 21, Kerry gave a speech at the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council Reception, where he took time to mention Benjamin Franklin’s practice of measuring ocean water temperature with a thermometer in a bucket before repeating his concerns about the impact of climate change on global ice caps, krill and whales.

Following the briefing, CNSNews.com reached out to the State Department by phone and email to ask if the 2014 Human Rights Report would be released prior to the administration’s June 30 deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran on June 30. By Wednesday morning, the department did not immediately respond.

Federal law mandates that the State Department produce annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for each country that is a member of the United Nations or is receiving assistance from the United States. According to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the reports must be submitted to the Speaker of the House and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by Feb. 25 each year.

The 2014 reports were initially scheduled to be released on April 20. On April 16, however, the State Department announced that the reports had been delayed. The department has not set a new release date.

On May 12, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), along with Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting that the 2014 Human Rights Reports be published by May 15. In the letter, lawmakers expressed concern that the reports would not be published before the June 30 deadline for the Iran nuclear agreement, adding that “the question of Iran's nuclear ambitions and its human rights record are inextricably intertwined.”

 A spokesperson with Cruz’s office told CNSNews.com Tuesday that they had not yet received a response from the State Department.

 "The Obama administration has insisted on treating Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon in isolation from Tehran's long history of dangerous behavior. But I believe the mullahs' brutal oppression of their own people and violent aggression abroad are part of a larger pattern that makes any deal over their nuclear program that leaves them on the path to a bomb unacceptably reckless,” Cruz said in an emailed statement to CNSNews.com. “We are talking about the basic security of the American people here--not to mention that of our closest allies.

"Since the administration has not been forthcoming with the information on both Iran's abysmal human rights record and military adventurism they are required by law to produce, Congress owes it to the nation to demand it before we can judge any nuclear deal President Obama may strike with Tehran,” Cruz added.

CNSNews.com checked the date that the State Department released the human rights reports going back to 1993. In the 22 years since then, 2012 was the year in which the State Department delayed the longest in releasing the reports. That year, which was also a Leap Year, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released the 2011 Country Human Reports on Human Rights Practices on May 24, which was 89 days late.

Last year, the 2013 reports were  published on Feb. 27, two days after the deadline.

During President George W. Bush’s two-term presidency, both the 2000 and 2003 Human Rights Reports were published on Feb. 25. The 2004 Report was published three days late on Feb. 28, 2005.

Four other Human Rights Reports published under the Bush administration, including those for 2001, 2005, 2006, and 2007, were all published in early March.

During Bush’s presidency, the latest date on which the Human Rights Reports were released was March 31.

During the eight years President Bill Clinton was in office, the reports were released three times during the month of January, four times during February, and once in March.

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