Where are the State Department Country Reports on Human Rights? Are Clinton and Geithner visits to China at play? (Updated May 1)

Section 116(d) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended, provides that “(T)he Secretary of State shall transmit to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, by February 25 of each year, a full and complete report regarding the status of internationally recognized human rights, within the meaning of subsection (A) in countries that receive assistance under this part, and (B) in all other foreign countries which are members of the United Nations and which are not otherwise the subject of a human rights report under this Act emphasis added).”
–as quoted by Pete Winn, cnsnews.com, full cite below.

The State Department is required by law to submit annual reports describing in detail the situation concerning human rights in the different countries of the world by February 25 of each year. During George W. Bush’s administration, these reports were submitted no later than March 11, with one exception (March 31, 2003 for the 2002 reports), and usually earlier.

See Pete Winn, “State Department Misses Statutory Deadline for Delivering Human Rights Report,” CNSnews.com, April 10, 2012.

Last year the Obama administration did not submit the human rights country reports for 2010 until April 8, 2011. Even by that standard, the reports for 2011 are very seriously overdue.

The State Department has offered the following excuse for failing to comply with the statutary deadline in 2012:

A State Department spokesman said …the country reports on human rights had not been released in either February or March and that the department was waiting to release them at a time when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can personally do so.

“They’ve been postponed a couple of times, the roll-out, because of scheduling issues, and because the Secretary wants to personally roll out the reports due to the importance she places on human rights,” Anthony Pahigian, spokesman for the Bureau of Democracy, (Human) Rights and Labor at the State Department, told CNSNews.com.

“But we’ve been–we’re keeping Congress informed, and we hope to find an opportunity,” he said. “It’s obviously a very busy season for everybody. There’s a lot going on.”

–Pete Winn, cnsnews.com, April 20, 2012.

The law requires that the reports be released by February 25, not when the Secretary of State finds time to do so or when it fits her political agenda.

This reporting process is supposed to be totally free of political considerations.

Diplomatic Context: Clinton and Geithner’s visits to Beijing; the Bo-Xilai and Chen Guangcheng Affaires

One would hope that the visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, and other U.S. officials to Beijing has not played a role in the delay of the issuance of the report.
The recent escape of Chen Guangcheng, a blind human rights lawyer who has been under house arrest, has been treated as a “problem” for the United States and its visiting delegation. He is reported to have sought and found refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

See David Elmer (Beijing), “Dissident Chen Guangcheng ‘chased by undercover Chinese agents’ as he fled to US Embassy; Astonishing details of how a blind lawyer escaped house arrest in China emerged as fellow dissidents said he had arrived safely at the American embassy in Beijing,” The Telegraph, April 28, 2012.

To be sure it is a sensitive moment in the generational change of leadership underway this year, greatly unsettled by the fall of Bo Xilai from power in Chongquin and the continuing criminal investigations into the death of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, in November, 2011. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, is currently in custody accused of poisoning Heywood. There are also allegations that Bo Xilai was spying on high party leaders in the country.

But, in any year, whatever the situation, the United States makes a huge mistake when its acts bashfully about its deepest values. If Chen Guangcheng seeks diplomatic asylum, the United States should focus on the human rights violations to which he was subjected and which led him to seek refuge. It may take some time to negotiate an end to his residence in the embassy, whether that be a return to life in China or a departure in accordance with a grant of diplomatic asylum.

Secretary Clinton and other U.S. officials need to address the issue, without acting ashamed of or bashful about our nation’s fundamental values, and then move on to conduct the other important business at hand.

That business should include a very serious engagement with China regarding their continued support for the Syrian regime, and the need for their cooperation in devising a real solution for a transition to a post-al-Assad government in a democratic Syria.

Why are the country reports late, and when will they be released?

Whether or not the visits to China had anything to do with the delay in issuing the human rights reports, Secretary Clinton needs to explain immediately to the American people why the country reports on the human rights situation in countries around the world have been delayed for more than two months, in violation of the statutory deadline of February 25, and when they will be released.

The report, including the individual country reports, should be released at the earliest possible date–as required  by U.S. law.

The Trenchant Observer


For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here.