2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices Q&A

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
Washington, DC
April 8, 2011

Spanish version»

Q: Why does the Department of State issue the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices?

The State Department issues a report on human rights as part of its commitment to the protection of human rights around the world. It is one way to demonstrate if we monitor human rights in countries across the world we are expressing the commitment that we have to this area. We also see this report as one way of providing credible thoughtful, analytical information to all of those people around the world, whether it is non-governmental organizations, universities, other governments who are specifically looking at this issue. Our report becomes a source of information for them. It also becomes a source of information for our own policy making. As we are dealing with different countries, we consult this report, we use it in order to be able to advance our work. We see it as a way to help governments decrease whatever abuses may exist and also increase their own capacity to protect and to address the issues of human rights in their own countries.

Q: Is this report mandated?

This report is mandated by Congress. It is a report that we produce because Congress, for many years now has asked us to be able to look at how it is that human rights is addressed in different countries because our congress considers that an integral part of the way in which we carry out our foreign policy.

Q: Are there any trends that became apparent in the 2010 Report?

This report has three themes that underlie all of the work that it has country by country. They are the three themes that we see most prevalent today. The first one has to do with the repression of civil society in different countries. That basically addresses the degree to which different types of civil society organizations can freely express and freely work to protect the human rights of their citizens. In fact we see today, this report ends at the end of 2010, but we see that in countries like Egypt, even like Iran, these conditions existed and we now see some of the protests, and some of the areas we are seeing changing in the Middle East as demonstrating the inability in those of societies of civil societies to express themselves as one of the problems that emerged.

We also see that Secretary Clinton as part of her commitment to this issue has created a special dialogue, you could call it a strategic dialogue, with civil society in which we discuss these issues directly with representatives of civil society, that allows us then to have their input as we do our own work. We are also using the mechanisms that we have, for example the Human Rights Council. To be able to incorporate topics such as freedom of association and other areas to the topics that we control, that have to do with civil society.

One of the themes that the report focuses on that is very related to civil society, is the explosive way in which the Internet, mobile phones, and other types of types of technologies have emerged in order for different groups to be able to use them to promote democracy and to promote human rights. And we see this as one element that is only going increase as we move it forward. And we also see that there are countries, China is a good example, where bloggers expressing their position through Internet are either blocked or are not really allowed to express them. And this is one area that we believe is an important area to develop and where freedom of expression is a very important component of protecting human rights.

And then the final theme we see in these reports is the importance of protecting what you would all vulnerable groups. Vulnerable groups extend to women and children, to religious groups, to ethnic minorities, to people with disabilities, to people with sexual orientation… what we call LGBT. If we look at all of these areas, the protection of human rights need to focus on protecting these groups that are among the most vulnerable and are the ones that can most easily beeffected in their own countries. We see in some societies- Uganda, Malawi, even Honduras- are examples where we have seen persecution and even killings in the area of LGBT. We see, in a country like Pakistan, I just attended the memorial service of the Minister of Minorities, Minister Bhatti, who was just assassinated. The conditions of ethnic or religious minorities. So, this is one area that is, again, of enormous importance and is highlighted in this report.

Q: Do other nations judge U.S. human rights performance?

The United States is often judged in its own performance in human rights and it never says it has a perfect record, because indeed we don’t. But there are both governments that are friendly to the US or that are governments that are adversaries to the US, there are non-profit organizations, there are academics, there’s a wide range, who look, critique, analyze, our own performance in this area. We welcome it. We believe it’s important to hear that. We also believe that if you are a democracy, you can’t say you are infallible, but you have to be accountable. So, from our perspective, these reports and this effort to look at the human rights status in the United States is part and parcel of what we should be addressing.

Q: Do you report on human rights abuses against vulnerable populations, such as women and children?

Yes it does. It, this report, focuses on vulnerable populations, as they manifest themselves in different societies. In almost all of them we find that women and children, people with disabilities, LGBT populations, are populations that suffer. But we would add to that religious minorities, ethnic minorities, and, regardless of the county one is in, these are the groups that one needs to give special attention to in protecting human rights.

Q: What specifically does the Department do to address human rights concerns outlined in the Human Rights Report?

The United States, to address human rights concerns, in addition to putting the report before the public, it has a variety of tools. Clearly, its own foreign policy mechanisms are ones that it uses to elevate this issue, to raise it to a level where governments can see that we are paying particular attention to it. When Secretary Clinton talks about this, when high principals at the Department of State address it with other presidents or with prime ministers, or ministers, it is an expression of the importance that we are giving this to issue and we consider that a very important component of the way we work. We also have resources. Resources that can allow us to provide some financial support to some organizations, mostly in civil society, that are working to protect the rights of those in their country, to focus on perhaps minorities, or human rights defenders or other groups that we believe really need the support. So, in our effort then to increase the capacity in a country to address these issues we support civil society with these efforts. And then we work with governments as well to improve their own institutions, to help them work more closely in order to improve their capacity to protect human rights.