US’s Deputy Secretary of State, John Sullivan, decried Syria, China, Russia, North Korea and Iran to be “forces of instability” on Friday, April 20. These countries have been given this branding because they’ve become a global threat due to continuous human rights abuses.

Regarding China, the Secretary said, “China continues to spread the worst features of its authoritarian system, including restrictions on activists, civil society, freedom of expression, and the use of arbitrary surveillance. The absence of an independent judiciary, the government’s crackdown on independent lawyers, and tight controls on information undermine the rule of law.” 

Mr. Sullivan mentioned the suffering of the Iranian people in the hands of an authoritarian government, saying that their “human rights were under attack daily.” Russia was mentioned for “quashing dissent in civil society even while it invades its neighbors and undermines the sovereignty of western nations,” which most likely refers to the poisoning of British citizens in the UK via nerve gas.

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The context of Secretary Sullivan’s announcement was the launching of the yearly global human right’s report in Washington. For 2018, the focus has been state actors’ destabilizing abuses.

However, this report has come under intense scrutiny from human rights groups, pointing out the lack of information on reproductive and women’s rights, which have been featured in the report over the past years.

The report has instead been heavy on recent government-led suppression of only certain human rights in these countries, rights that are recognized internationally as well as in America. 

Additionally, as Secretary Sullivan introduced the report, he emphasized how important human rights reporting is for America’s security and interests. “States that restrict freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly; that allow and commit violence against members of religious, ethnic, and other minority groups; or that undermine the fundamental dignity of persons are morally reprehensible and undermine our interests. The governments of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, for example, violate the human rights of those within their borders on a daily basis and are forces of instability as a result.”

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Andrea Prasow, the director for Human Rights Watch in Washington, took issue with the absence of sexual and reproductive rights in this report, telling the Agency-France Presse that this reflects “the Trump administration’s hostility toward these issues.”

Ms. Prasow continued, “In doing so, the administration is undermining a document that has long been relied upon by the Congress, foreign governments and activists alike to assess human rights conditions around the world. This is unfortunately only one facet of the administration’s efforts to downplay human rights as an element of US foreign policy.”

It was admitted by Michael Kozak, and ambassador and senior diplomat on the team that wrote the report, that the method of reporting on reproductive rights in this year’s report had actually used earlier standards. For example, though the report makes note of China, Belarus and North Korea for forced abortions and sterilizations, there is no mention in the report of access to contraception and abortion, or the lack thereof, in these and other countries.

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Mr. Kozak justified this by saying that the report is mainly to document government abuses of internationally recognized human rights.

President Donald Trump is not widely considered to be a champion for global human rights, having announced during his campaign that he is in favor of waterboarding or other means of torture for terrorism suspects. He has also supported the killing of the families of these suspects. 

The report’s main purpose is to serve as material for makers of policy at the State Department, and does not mean that the US will take steps against the nations mentioned in the report.