Saving Lives and Empowering Citizens: Highlights from 2017

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People stand in a semi-circle talking. Two in the center wear uniforms for UNHCR, one on the right- the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary- looks down with his hand on his chin, thinking. Two on the left appear to be local citizens.
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration Simon Henshaw (right) meets with UN officials and refugees in Bangladesh, November 2017.

Saving Lives and Empowering Citizens: Highlights from 2017

As terrorism, trafficking, atrocities, and the plight of refugees dominate today’s headlines, the seven bureaus and offices of the Department’s Under Secretariat for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J) are advancing American values and interests by protecting the security and rights of impacted citizens around the world. Below are a few of the accomplishments within the J Under Secretariat during 2017.

Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO)

  • Preventing atrocities and deliberate violence against civilians is a core national security priority for the United States. CSO is the State Department secretariat for the interagency Atrocities Prevention Board. In 2017, the Board met to assess countries at risk for atrocities and develop options to deter perpetrators and protect vulnerable populations. One prime example of the Administration’s commitment to atrocities prevention was Secretary Tillerson’s recent remarks on the ethnic cleansing against Rohingya communities in Burma’s northern Rakhine state.

  • Promoting defections from armed groups is often cheaper than airstrikes or training a partner military, and can greatly reduce the strength of violent extremist organizations. As part of the campaign to defeat ISIS, CSO is leading an interagency process to strengthen U.S. efforts to encourage defections.

Ugandan Archbishop McLeod Baker Ochola presents “peace art” from local children at a CSO-supported Reintegration Festival for former armed fighters, April 2017.

  • To support Yemen’s peace process, CSO funds a Yemeni-led mapping project that identifies local mediators who could help maintain an eventual peace agreement. CSO brought together these influential men and women in October for a conflict-mediation workshop to share good practices. CSO Conflict Advisers are also embedded in the U.S. Yemen Affairs Unit, where they support the Embassy’s engagement with Yemeni political and economic leaders.

Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism (CT)

  • On November 20, the Secretary of State designated the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The designation was based on the Secretary’s determination that DPRK repeatedly has provided support to acts of international terrorism, and further isolates Pyongyang from the international community.

  • On December 21, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2396, which provides member states new tools to detect and counter foreign terrorist fighters and homegrown terrorists.  The United States drafted and led the negotiation of the resolution, which requires all UN members to use Passenger Name Record data to stop terrorist travel. It further directs UN members to collect biometric data and develop watchlists of known and suspected terrorists. Resolution 2396 also calls for stricter aviation security standards and urges UN members to share counterterrorism information both internally and with each other. 

  • The Strong Cities Network – launched by the United States and the governments of Denmark and Norway in 2015 – has grown to more than 115 members across six continents. On May 17-19, the city of Aarhus, Denmark hosted approximately 500 mayors, policy makers, and practitioners from more than 50 countries for the Strong City Network’s second annual global meeting. This network is a notable example of building resilience against terrorism at the grassroots level around the world. Through this network, cities connect with their global counterparts, share experiences, and develop effective and cost-efficient strategies.

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL)

  • Protecting victims of ISIS is a human rights priority for the Trump administration. DRL is working to support transitional justice and accountability efforts in Iraq and Syria, building on lessons from Mali, South Sudan, and Sudan.

  • Freedom of opinion and expression are fundamental rights. Due to steady U.S. diplomatic engagement, the Government of Uzbekistan has released 14 prisoners of concern since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took office in 2016. Uzbekistan has also taken significant steps to eliminate large numbers of people from blacklists. The Department looks forward to further releases of prisoners of concern, as well as sustained progress towards broad political, social, and human rights reforms in Uzbekistan.

  • The Administration rolled out the first iteration of the sanctions under a new Executive Order implementing the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act – leveraging this new tool to pursue tangible and significant consequences for those who commit serious human rights abuse and engage in corruption. The United States also designated 40 Venezuelans pursuant to E.O. 13692 who participated in undermining democratic processes and/or engaged in corrupt and repressive acts, as well as designated two under the Kingpin Act.

  • To commemorate LGBTI Pride Month, DRL hosted an interactive webchat with over 300 viewers on practical strategies to respond to and prevent bias-motivated incidents and hate crime, followed by speaker programs in the Philippines and Vietnam.

Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL)

  • In Central America, gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18 threaten U.S. national security. INL runs programs to keep at-risk youth out of gangs as well as programs to strengthen law enforcement. INL’s Model Police Precinct program emphasizes community engagement and crime prevention with intelligence gathering, targeted investigations, and community involvement, and has advanced the professional capability of law enforcement throughout the region.  The program teaches community policing, and has produced a significant reduction in homicides in some locations. INL-supported Transnational Anti-Gang units in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala have assisted U.S. prosecutions in Annapolis and Oklahoma City.

U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Jean Manes speaks at a graduation ceremony for 1,144 youth from the Gang Resistance Education and Training program, representing 11 public schools in San Salvador.

  • The United States co-hosted the inaugural Global Forum on Asset Recovery in December. The Forum brought together anti-corruption practitioners and policy makers from 26 countries and produced tangible progress in recovering public assets that had been stolen from Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, and Ukraine.

  • To confront intellectual property theft, INL supported U.S. prosecutors in Abuja, Bangkok, Bucharest, Hong Kong and Sao Paulo to train foreign counterparts. In Bucharest, prosecutors helped take down one of the world’s largest websites for online piracy.

  • In the Central African Republic, INL helped re-establish criminal courts in three districts, leading to the first criminal court sessions held in 10 years.  In Sierra Leone, INL with UNDP, launched a mobile case management and tracking app to help track new court cases and monitor case progress in an efficient manner. 

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM)

  • Total U.S. humanitarian assistance contributions worldwide were more than $8 billion in fiscal year 2017 – including funding from PRM and USAID. This money saves lives, providing urgent relief to millions of people suffering from war, persecution, famine or other crises.

  • For example, the United States was one of the first to pledge humanitarian support to the Rakhine State crisis in Burma and Bangladesh, and U.S. contributions since August 2017 stand at nearly $95 million. Our commitment has been followed by generous contributions from other donors. In November, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw led a delegation to Burma and Bangladesh to assess the situation firsthand. 

PRM Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw walks through a refugee camp during a visit to Bangladesh in November 2017.

  • The United States continues to be the largest single donor to the overall Syria humanitarian response. Maintaining its steadfast commitment to getting lifesaving support to the people of Syria wherever they are, the United States has provided nearly $7.5 billion in humanitarian assistance since the start of the crisis. 

Office of Global Criminal Justice (GCJ)

  • GCJ coordinated policy discussions on atrocities committed at the hands of ISIS. This analysis led to a statement by Secretary Tillerson in August affirming that ISIS committed genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas under its control and that it is responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these groups and, in some cases, against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.

  • The United States supported the operationalization of the Central African Republic Special Criminal Court, which appointed a Special Prosecutor and recruited several other national and international staff and judges in 2017.
  • GCJ worked with others to craft the U.S. government’s comprehensive response to the crisis in Burma’s Rakhine State, including ensuring an emphasis on accountability for perpetrators of ethnic cleansing.

Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP)

  • In June, the TIP Office released the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report, the result of extensive research and engagement with foreign officials, NGOs, faith groups, experts, and international organizations. This year’s report emphasized the importance of prosecuting human traffickers and imposing sentences severe enough to deter others from engaging in this criminal activity. The report also urged governments to put in place or strengthen protections for victims, especially so they are not penalized for crimes committed as a direct result of their exploitation.  

  • In 2017, the United States launched the Program to End Modern Slavery. In its first award under this program, the Department awarded $25 million to the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, which will invest the money over three years in transformational anti-trafficking programs in three countries and two industries. The Fund will also seek to leverage the initial U.S. investment to attract additional commitments from other governments and private donors.

Cross-cutting activities

  • On December 4, DRL and the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues jointly hosted an event at the State Department on Engaging Men and Boys in Preventing Violence Against Women and Children. Pamela Pryor – Senior Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights – moderated a panel of specialists from Promundo, Vital Voices, Hardwired, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Institute for Peace. The event concluded with Deputy Secretary Sullivan launching Voices Against Violence, a public-private-partnership that will provide urgent assistance to victims and survivors of extreme forms of gender-based violence and harmful traditional practices.

From Left to Right: Pamela Pryor (J), Dr. Nathan Galbreath (DOD/ SAPRO), Amb. Steven Steiner (USIP), Deputy Secretary Sullivan, Cindy Dyer (Vital Voices), Gary Barker (Promundo), and Tina Ramirez (Hardwired) speak on ending violence against women and children, December 2017.

Across the world, the Department of State is championing the rights and needs of everyday people. Learn more about our work in this area at

About the Author: Abigail Bellows is a Special Assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Input for this blog was provided by relevant bureaus and offices. 

Editor’s Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State’s publication on Medium.