In late June, the U.S. State Department issued its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, as it has done every year since 1977. The reports, which cover 199 countries and entities, strive to provide a comprehensive and factual review of human rights conditions and practices around the world.
This year’s report notes that although the focus is, as always, on the actions of governments, the year 2014 will be remembered for atrocities committed by non-state actors such as ISIL, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, Jabhat al-Nusra and regional incarnations of al Qa’ida, against innocent civilians, as well as for the remarkable brutality of their actions.
But inhumane treatment of civilians was not limited to extremist groups. The government of Syria, and its affiliated militias, used equally brutal tactics against their own people, including massacres, indiscriminate bombings, summary executions, rape, and forced displacement of non-combatants.
Elsewhere, numerous states continued to use violence or repressive laws to silence domestic dissidents, and aggressively cracked down on freedom of expression, including through the use of new media. Governments blocked access to websites, and in some cases, human rights activists who used the internet were tried as criminals and punished as terrorists.
The Reports pointed out that there is a strong correlation between corruption, human rights abuses, and repressive governance. Again and again, 2014 saw unrestrained rulers use corruption to cement their overall grip on power.
For 39 years, the Human Rights Country Reports have documented stories of abuse and rights denied. Over the years, they have expanded to include human trafficking, internet freedom, the rights of persons with disabilities, and the LGBTI community. “The discomfort that these reports sometimes cause does more to reinforce than to undermine the value and credibility of these reports, said Secretary Kerry. “Truth cannot successfully be evaded or dented or defeated, not over time. It cannot be changed. The truth wins out.”
Leaders who are upset by these findings should look at how people are treated in their own countries.
“Every country, including the United States, has room to improve,” said Mr. Kerry. “The path to global respect always begins at home.”