This week, the Department of State released the 2018 Human Rights Report. For four decades, these reports have served as an objective and thorough record of human rights conditions around the world providing enduring guidance for our foreign policy. Information in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices help us design targeted policies and assistance programs to advance human rights around the world.
Over the past year, we have taken a variety of actions to address many of the most pressing human rights problems identified in these reports.
As part of our efforts to hold North Korean human rights abusers accountable, we issued our fourth periodic report on serious human rights abuses and censorship in the country and the Treasury Department imposed corresponding sanctions. Additionally, the President and Vice President met with North Korean refugees, demonstrating our commitment to the North Korean people.
In response to the ongoing abuses of human rights under the Cuban regime, we highlighted the plight of Cuban political prisoners through our #JailedForWhat campaign, which aided the release of democratic activist Tomás Nuñez Magdariaga. Subsequently, Secretary Pompeo issued an open letter to the Cuban government, urging them to release political prisoners and abandon their efforts to curb freedoms of association, assembly, and speech.
To show our commitment to hold Iran accountable for its human rights abuses, our #PrisonersofIran campaign highlighted the regime’s malign behavior. U.S. officials also hosted a discussion with the Iranian diaspora at the UN General Assembly in New York which emphasized the Iranian government’s abuse of its own citizens.
We convened a meeting of Syrian human rights and civil society activists who briefed senior U.S. and U.K. officials and other international partners to highlight the plight of an estimated 210,000 persons detained in Assad’s prisons, to address the horrific abuses that continue in Syria.
In November, the United States and fifteen other OSCE countries invoked the Moscow Mechanism—a rare diplomatic action reserved for serious human rights concerns—against the Russian Federation for abuses in Chechnya. The Mechanism triggered a fact-finding mission, which concluded that Chechen authorities had committed torture and other appalling offenses against LGBTI persons. The mission also found a worsening “climate of intimidation” for journalists and civil society activists. These abuses, committed under the guise of counterterrorism, were undertaken with impunity due to the inaction of Russian authorities.
In Burma, the United States remains committed to promoting accountability for those responsible for ethnic cleansing of Rohingya, and for grave abuses against members of other ethnic minority communities. The Administration has sanctioned five Burmese military and border guard police generals as well as two Burmese military units for their involvement in serious human rights abuses in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States. In addition, the Department published a report documenting atrocities in Rakhine State, which drew on over a thousand interviews with a random sample of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The United States supported the UN Fact Finding Mission, and supports its successor, an independent investigation mechanism, to collect, preserve, and analyze evidence, as well as the mandates for the UN Special Envoy to Myanmar and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar.
We have sought to highlight the widespread and systemic abuses in China. In October at the Hudson Institute, Vice President Pence expressed our concerns with China’s ongoing crackdown on Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Muslims. In November, the United States expressed our alarm at the Chinese government’s worsening crackdown on Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of China. The Secretary also raised our concerns about China’s detention of over one million Muslims in Xinjiang directly with his counterpart Director Yang Jiechi during the U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue (D&SD) on November 9 in Washington. We continue to urge China to immediately free all those arbitrarily detained and end its counterproductive policies that conflate peaceful religious expression with extremism.
The United States supports journalists and human rights activists. We believe societies are strengthened, not threatened, by expressions of opinion and dissent. To this end, the United States imposed sanctions on 17 Saudi Arabian officials for their role in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We repeatedly expressed our concern about the Burmese government’s unjust imprisonment and prosecution of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who reported on the atrocities in Rakhine State. In November, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert hosted a meeting with 2018 International Press Freedom Awardees from the Committee to Protect Journalists to discuss the intimidation, harassment, and detention they experienced because of their work.
This administration has taken sustained actions to combat violence, abuse, and discrimination against all those around the world targeted on account of their religious beliefs. In July, Secretary Pompeo hosted the first ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The Ministerial convened religious leaders, rights advocates, victims of religious repression, government officials, and representatives of international organizations to discuss challenges to religious freedom and to combine efforts to advance global respect for this freedom for all. Some 85 likeminded foreign governments and more than 400 civil society organizations participated. In November, we designated ten governments as Countries of Particular Concern for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.
The Human Rights Reports are essential to the advancement of universal human dignity around the world. The United States remains steadfastly committed to promoting and protecting human rights as integral elements of our foreign policy. As the President’s National Security Strategy makes clear, promoting American values is key to spreading peace and prosperity around the globe.
About the Authors: Veronika Hanks and Allie Ng serve in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor’s Office of Policy Planning and Public Diplomacy.