Human Rights Report Singles Out Russia, China And Iran

The Trump administration singled out Russia, China, Iran and North Korea in an annual State Department assessment of global human rights, calling these nations “forces of instability” because of their frequent rights abuses. Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan also criticised Syria, Turkey, Myanmar and Venezuela in presenting the report Friday. The assessment for 2017 is the first such document addressing events during President Donald Trump’s time in office. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson faced criticism last year for failing to publicly present the 2016 report, which for the most part was prepared by Obama administration officials.

In a preface, Mr Sullivan said that “corrupt and weak governance threatens global stability and U.S. interests. States that restrict freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly; that allow and commit violence against members of religious, ethnic, and other minority groups; or that undermine the fundamental dignity of persons are morally reprehensible and undermine our interests,” he wrote. In remarks Friday, Mr Sullivan took particular aim at Russia for quashing dissent and civil society “even while it invades its neighbours and undermines the sovereignty of Western nations.” Despite warm ties between China’s president, Xi Jinping, and Mr Trump, Mr Sullivan accused China of spreading the worst practices of its authoritarian system, “including restrictions on activists, civil society, freedom of expression and the use of arbitrary surveillance.” He faulted Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, for the detention of journalists and academics, and said mass jailings after a failed 2016 coup attempt “undermine the rule of law.”

Some faulted the State Department report itself. Human rights groups criticised a reduction in the emphasis on assessing the state of women’s sexual and reproductive rights. The report “guts the analysis of sexual and reproductive rights, reflecting the Trump administration’s hostility toward these issues,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director for Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group. U.S. Ambassador Michael Kozak, a senior adviser in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, said officials discontinued the use of the phrase “reproductive rights” because it had been misinterpreted as being synonymous with abortion rights. He said officials removed the language to avoid misperceptions. “It’s not a diminishment of women’s rights or a desire to get away from it. It was to stop using a term that has several different meanings that are not all the ones we intend,” Mr Kozak said.

The 2017 report also changed the way it referred to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Previous assessments had sections devoted to “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” whereas this year’s report uses the heading of “Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza.” Officials said the shift reflects a change in the Trump administration’s views on Middle East policy. Mr Trump has struck a markedly more pro-Israel stance and has ordered cuts in U.S. funding for Palestinian aid.

Credit: Felicia Schwartz for The Wall Street Journal, 20 April 2018.

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