In early March, the U. S. Department of State released its Country Reports On Human Rights Practices for the year 2016.
“As in recent years, the 2016 reports document continued narrowing space for civil society,” said a high-level State Department official at the Reports’ introduction.“Both state and non-state actors have taken steps to restrict civil society activity; to limit media and internet freedom; to suppress opposition voices; and in the worst cases, kill people or drive them from their homes. In many countries, we’ve seen governments crack down on the fundamental freedoms of expression and association by the use of direct and overt means, such as controlling political activity or banning or limiting political opposition, or by using laws or burdensome bureaucratic requirements to restrict civil society functioning.”
The Reports are not meant to point fingers or judge the actions of sovereign nations. Nor are these U.S. policy documents. The 199 nations and territories covered in these Reports are in no way ranked or compared to each other. The Reports do not draw legal conclusions.
Indeed, the Reports were first mandated by the U.S. Congress when it became clear that some regimes that received U.S. aid had perpetrated gross abuses of human rights. That was 41 years ago. Since then, U.S. State Department Human Rights officials have tapped credible sources all over the world, from local and international human rights organizations to resources in the media, government, diplomatic, and intelligence agencies. All year, they collect, analyze and synthesize the information.
The reports are meant to respond “to specific questions, such as whether there were credible reports of torture during 2016, whether security forces are held accountable for human rights violations, and whether there were reports of politically motivated disappearances,” said the official.
That’s because, in the words of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, “U.S. leadership demands action specifically focused on improving the conditions of people the world over.The annual Human Rights Reports are a part of that endeavor.”