Kerry Criticizes This Country: 'U.S. Has Room to Improve' on Human Rights

By Patrick Goodenough | June 25, 2015 | 8:06 PM EDT

The mayor of Madison, Wisc., Paul Soglin, addresses a crowd of protesters in the city during a protest last March over the shooting death last March of Tony Robinson, an unarmed black man, by a white police officer. (AP Photo/Andy Manis, File)

( – “There is nothing sanctimonious” or arrogant in the State Department’s publication of an annual report on human rights around the world, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday, adding that the U.S. cannot help but be humble itself given the racial tensions at home over the past year.

Releasing the latest report – covering 2014 and issued 120 days late – Kerry said some foreign governments may take issue with it.

“My advice to any leader who is upset by these findings is really to examine them, to look at the practices of their country, and to recognize that the way to alter what the world thinks and the way to change these judgments is to alter what is happening in those countries,” he said.

“That is the advice that we also give to ourselves,” Kerry added. “There is nothing sanctimonious in this. There is zero arrogance. And we couldn’t help but have humility when we have seen what we have seen in the last year in terms of racial discord and unrest.”

“So we approach this with great self-awareness. But we also understand that when human rights is the issue, every country, including the United States, has room to improve,” he said. “And the path to global respect always begins at home.”

Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski, who released the report with Kerry at the State Department, tackled the same subject in a posting on the State Department blog.

“[A]s we issue these reports, we recognize that American history, too, has been marked by human rights failings. The United States does not speak from a position of arrogance or self-righteousness,” he wrote.

“As President Obama explained last week, ‘America never makes a claim about being perfect. We do make a claim about being open to change … It’s precisely because we’re imperfect that we believe it’s appropriate for us to stand up.’”

(The president’s comments were in fact made last April, at the Summit of the Americas in Panama.)

The congressionally-mandated human rights reports have been released in varying forms every year since 1977, and the latest one covers 199 countries and territories.

Each year a number of countries respond coldly to the U.S. criticism. Among the most immediate reaction to this year’s report was Moscow’s. The foreign ministry’s top human rights official, Konstantin Dolgov, said the report contained no constructive criticism, was “one-sided, cut off from reality,” and based on flawed methodology.

China goes further in its annual reaction. Since 2000, it has issued a retaliatory report focusing just on the United States. Those reports, prepared in advance by the State Council, communist China’s cabinet, are usually released within a day or two of the U.S. one, and typically accuse the U.S. of ignoring its own faults while criticizing others.

In the early months of the Obama administration, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a town hall meeting of State Department employees, “I think we will have more credibility if we start looking at the United States while we criticize other countries as well.”

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

Despite those remarks, the annual human rights reports do not include the United States – the law mandating them requires them to cover all “foreign countries which are members of the United Nations.”

The report released Thursday offered another reason for the U.S.’s omission as well.

“We do not include our own record in this report because we cannot be objective observers of our own behavior,” it said. “But we welcome scrutiny by human rights groups, other governments, and multilateral organizations. We are mindful of, and take seriously, advice from domestic and international civil society about how we can improve.”

The report went on to note that the U.S. participates in a regular evaluation of its human rights record carried out by the U.N. Human Rights Council – most recently last month.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

Sponsored Links