Every year since 1976, the Department of State submits to the United States Congress reports detailing the state of human rights in every country around the globe. They are meant to be used as a resource by lawmakers, scholars, civil society and human rights activists in the United States and all over the world, for shaping policy; conducting diplomacy; and making assistance, training, and other resource allocations.
The Reports note that last year saw numerous examples of democratic change driven by the idealism and courage of leaders and citizens. “Tunisia’s President and Libya’s Minister of Justice were veteran human rights advocates. Georgia held parliamentary elections that resulted in a peaceful transfer of power,” and Burma made dramatic progress as “the government began to turn the page on decades of authoritarian rule.”
Nonetheless, a number of disturbing trends have emerged world-wide.
First is a crackdown by numerous governments on civil society activism, including new laws impeding or preventing freedoms of expression, assembly, association and religion; increasing restrictions on organizations receiving funding from abroad; and the killing, harassment, and arrest of political, human rights, and labor activists.
The hope of the early days of the Arab Awakening has run up against the harsh realities of incomplete and contested transitions."
Next is the ongoing struggle by people in the Middle East for democratic change. According to the reports, “the hope of the early days of the Arab Awakening has run up against the harsh realities of incomplete and contested transitions: Bashar Al-Asad’s brutality against his own people in Syria; inter-communal tensions and political violence in Yemen, Bahrain, and Iraq; and serious hurdles to sustainable democracy in Egypt and Libya.”
And finally, many governments continue to persecute, or turn a blind eye toward the persecution of members of vulnerable groups such as adherents of religious and ethnic minorities, women, persons with disabilities, LGBT people, migrants, and members of minority ethnic groups.
Such tactics are counter-productive, said Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Governments that respect human rights are more peaceful and more prosperous. They are better neighbors, stronger allies, and better economic partners. . . . The United States stands with people and governments that aspire to freedom and democracy, mindful from our own experience that the work of building a more perfect union – a sustainable and durable democracy – will never be complete.”