Human Rights Videos

Maria Otero
   Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
Johnnie Carson
   Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
Jeffrey D. Feltman
   Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
Harold Hongju Koh
   Legal Advisor U.S. Department of State 
Melanne Verveer
   Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Washington, DC
April 1, 2010

Under Secretary Maria Otero, Democracy and Global Affairs

The 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights seek to illuminate the status of human rights worldwide. They address the transnational issues of human security that must be priorities for every country, including the United States.

As Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, I, along with Secretary Clinton, realize the importance of coming together under a common goal to promote human rights. These reports are a physical representation of that goal—incorporating the hard work of innumerable people and organizations all deeply dedicated to improving the status of human rights.

Last year, we published reports that evaluated the state of international religious freedom and chronicled the tragedy of human trafficking. Now, through the publication of the annual human rights reports, the State Department will offer a comprehensive look at the greater spectrum of human rights.

En español (unofficial translation) after 1:15!/video/video.php?v=1339167954097&ref=mf

Los informes por País sobre los Derechos Humanos para el año 2009 devención a la situación de los derechos humanos en el mundo entero. Se dirijan a los temas transnacionales de la seguridad humana que deben mantener se como prioridades para cada país, incluso los Estados Unidos.

Con el apoyo de la Secretaria Clinton y en mi capacidad de Subsecretaria del Estado por la Democracia y Asuntos Globales, hago encampes sobre la importancia de definir y apoyar una meta compartida internaciones que se marca los derechos humanos. Estos informes buscan llegar a esta meta y se aflijan el trabajo y el fuerzo incansable de la gente de las organizaciones dedicadas a elevar la importancia de los derechos humanos.

En el año pasado, publicamos otros informes que evaluaron la situación de la libertad internacional sobre religiones y la tragaría de esclavitud y trata de personas. Ahora, a través de estas publicaciones anuales de informes sobre derechos humanos, el Departamento de Estado ofrece un grupo de informes que son juntos prever una óptica total sobre los derechos humanos.

Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson, Bureau of African Affairs

“The Human Rights Report is a very powerful tool for promoting freedom around the world. This year both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made historic trips to Africa. During their respective visits, they highlighted democracy, good governance and the respect human rights as critical to the continent’s future. During his speech in Ghana in July, the President said “we must bear witness to the value of every child in Darfur and the dignity of every woman in the Congo.” The country reports on Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo do just that. The reports for each country on the continent help us to identify areas of great concern such as security force abuses, infringements on civil liberties, corruption, gender-based violence, civilians killed due to conflict, and discrimination against persons due to their sexual orientation. They are a critical tool in amplifying the voices of African activists, as well as focusing our diplomats and assistance efforts to partner with governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and citizens to encourage democracy. In our efforts to advance human rights and promote freedom around the world, we have born witness to successes and seen very clear progress in Africa – this is the ultimate goal of the human rights reports.”

Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Feltman, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs

In the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the United States documents the challenges and accomplishments in human rights worldwide. The reports apply the same standards to every country, in every region of the world. They are meant to raise awareness about government practices across a wide range of human rights issues. The reports point towards areas where governments and citizens can work constructively toward improvement.

For example, the reports include a section dedicated to the particular struggles that women face, such as their vulnerability to honor crimes and domestic abuse. Raising awareness about women's issues encourages countries to revisit legislation, as Jordan has begun to do, that will bolster the protection of women and ensure just punishment human rights abusers.

The Department of State presents the 2009 Reports to the Congress, and to the world, as a record that will inform our policies and our priorities. The reports help us to encourage and work with governments to fulfill their obligations to protect the rights of their people.

Legal Adviser Harold Koh, Office of the Legal Adviser

The State Department Country Reports on Human Rights are the authoritative statement of human rights conditions in all the countries of the world. The United States reports on its own human rights practices before various international bodies like the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture. It’s an extraordinary amount of work, now honed over thirty years to make it an authoritative.

These reports are used in courts. They are used by human rights NGOs. They are massively documented and carefully prepared over a year’s time. Also, they used a standard format so that they can be compared from year to year to see whether human rights conditions are improving, staying the same, or getting worse.

When the reports began they were very short, only a couple of hundred pages. Now they are thousands of pages and they’re focused. They come out on the internet and there are hundreds of thousands of hits within hours after they appear. They are then used by Congress in its legislative activities, by courts in asylum decisions, by litigants in U.S. courts and other courts around the world to reflect the facts about what the human rights conditions are.

The reports have changed over time. There was a period in which they came to be viewed of reflecting certain U.S. biases. By the end of the late 90s the Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights stopped their critique of the reports on the grounds that they have become authoritative. More recently Human Rights First resumed its analysis and critical commentary on the reports, but we expect under the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Michael Posner, they will be returned to their authoritative status.

What’s new about the reports usually reflects what’s new in the area of human rights. During my time as Assistant Secretary in 1998 to 2000, we began to report on examples of discrimination and other kinds of human rights abuses against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered persons. That has now been expanded to include sections on other societal discrimination covering persons with HIV-AIDS and the like. There has been much broader coverage of child soldiers and their use, initiatives to expand press freedom, initiatives on Internet freedom, and reporting on prison conditions, etc. These reports can also be used with regard to issues of religious freedom, anti-Semitism, trafficking in persons, and other kinds of reports that are issued by special Ambassadors who are part of the State Department system.

In sum, this is a unique way of evaluating the human rights records of each of the 192 UN member states. It will take a while to read through all the reports, but you get the gist very quickly. It is a profoundly important moment each year when the United States reaffirms its commitment to universal standards, applies those standards to other countries, and then acknowledges how those own standards apply the U.S.’s own conduct. This is a nation that’s born on human rights, it’s founded on the notion that there are certain inalienable rights—among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These reports spell-out how those values are reflected in those activities in other nations around the world who share the same values.

Ambassador-at-Large Melanne Verveer, Global Women’s Issues

“Human rights are women's rights, and women's rights are human rights."

Secretary Clinton first said this as First Lady back in 1995 at the Fourth UN World Conference on Women that took place in Beijing. And here 15 years later, it is still a statement that guides the work we in the State Department do each and every day. This week we have celebrated International Women's Day at the Department, with Secretary Clinton's recognition of ten inspiring women leaders and a series of discussions centered on what we can do to advance women's rights here at home and abroad. So it is also fitting that during this week when we recognize the courage, commitment, and leadership of so many women around the world who are advancing political, economic, and social progress that we also release the annual Country Reports on Human Rights.

From Afghanistan to Somalia, girls can't get an equal education, and likewise, women in so many places aren't treated equally in the workplace or in their respective legal systems. Our work seeks to empower and educate women and girls around the world. But to do that, we must start from a factual basis, which is why these country reports are so important. The country reports inform our bilateral discussions, our interactions with other countries within multilateral mechanisms such as the Human Rights Council, and even the laws we make at home. The International Violence against Women Act that was recently introduced in the Congress.

I invite you to review the human rights reports, available on the State Department's website, and to learn more about the status of women around the world.

Human Rights Activists, Perspectives on the Human Rights Reports

Disclosure: The U.S. Department of State does not endorse the opinions expressed in the following commentaries

Tom Malinowski, Washington Advocacy Director- Human Rights Watch
I think the human rights reports have grown into something unique and remarkable. They are actually amazingly the only comprehensive human rights report that covers the entire, every single country, and every important human rights issue put out by any entity anywhere. No human rights group puts out a global report as comprehensive as the State Department does. No government, to my knowledge, does.

Elisa Massimino, President and CEO- Human Rights First
Beginning in 1979, we started to do an annual critique of the country reports where we would read the reports carefully and comment on their objectivity looking in particular for any signs of political editing. […] For the United States government to put forward its judgment, its fact finding, about what’s happening on the ground in all of these countries. It means that governments have to listen. It doesn’t mean that they like it. It doesn’t mean they don’t try to dismiss it, but it’s meaningful.

Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director- Freedom House
By doing the reports it forces all the people in the State Department to have to analyze what’s going on in these countries. And with analyzing what’s going on in these countries, hopefully will spill over to policy. Now if I was going to recommend, the next step is to make sure that the assessments of what’s happening in the countries translates into policy towards other countries. […] Part of the strategy of a dictatorship or authoritarian regime is to isolate those people that are opposing the regime and they are made to feel, human rights defenders or democratic activists, are made to feel that no one knows what’s happening to them, they are completely isolated. By assessing what’s happening within the countries, you are shining a spotlight on abuses and you are empowering those defenders and making them feel less alone. And that’s an incredible important gift and contribution that an outside actor can play for those people that are really doing the hard work on the frontlines.

Aung Din, Executive Director- U.S. Campaign for Burma
This report delivers a direct message to the Burmese military junta and other authorities in the region. That means that the United States is watching very carefully about the human rights violations against their own citizens. And also one day they will be accountable for their human rights abuses. So this is a very strong message to the authorities in regions like my country.

Andrew Apostalou, Senior Program Manager- Freedom House
Iran is a human rights disaster at the moment. We have scores of people who have been murdered by the government. We have thousands of people who have been arrested. And we have many, many, hundreds of cases of really appalling torture and sexual abuse in prisons. And drawing attention to those abuses and stopping them is absolutely critical. Iran is a problem in many fields, in the nuclear field, in terms of terrorism, in terms of its threats to other UN member states, but at the core of this problem is a regime that tramples upon human rights and anything anybody can do to draw attention to those human rights abuses is incredibly valuable. The people of Iran are amazingly brave. They have taken on a regime that other people are scared of and I think by documenting those abuses, documenting them, and calling for change, we are showing a very minimal and very important level of solidarity.

Elisa Massimino, President and CEO- Human Rights First
The reports speak in the voice of the U.S. government and states facts because that is their value. Obviously no government likes to be criticized, but it’s very important in terms of setting foreign policy and decisions about aid and really to help the government come up with its game plan, its objectives with respect to human rights in all of these countries.