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June 25, 2015

State Department Country Reports Highlight Need for U.S. Leadership on Human Rights

Washington, D.C. - Human Rights First today welcomed the release of the State Department’s 2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, noting that the widespread violations of human rights detailed underscore the urgent need for the United States to press foreign governments to protect the basic rights and freedoms of their citizens. The Country Reports, which have been delayed for months, are released and submitted to Congress annually, and highlight human rights violations perpetuated during the past year in all countries that receive U.S. assistance as well as all United Nations member states.

“This year’s State Department Country Reports highlight key human rights concerns throughout the world, including abuses perpetrated by U.S. allies in the Middle East and elsewhere, the spread of discriminatory anti-LGBT legislation in central Asia, and the growth of antisemitic and racist violence in Europe,” said Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke. “The reports give prominence to the terrible human rights violations committed by non-state actors, including terrorist groups like ISIL and Boko Haram, but they also emphasize the responsibilities of governments whose violations of human rights have created the conditions exploited by violent extremists. These reports should prompt further action by the U.S. government in pressing for human rights, including a strategy to ensure that the fight against terrorism and extremism is enhanced by freedom and human rights protections."

In response to today’s reports Human Rights First urges the Obama Administration to:

  • Make clear at the highest levels its opposition to human rights violations by U.S. partners in the multilateral initiative to combat violent extremism and terrorism, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, which undermine this vital global effort.
  • Press Saudi Arabia to end practices that fuel violent extremism, including the targeting non-violent human rights activists and inciting sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.
  • Urge Bahraini authorities to release non-violent political prisoners and human rights defenders, and to implement political reforms that would meet the legitimate demands of the majority of the population for more representative governance.
  • Raise concerns about the misuse of counterterrorism laws to crackdown on peaceful dissent.
  • Press the government of Kyrgyzstan to reject the passage of the proposed propaganda law, which, if passed, would violate the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons and contribute to a climate of violence and discrimination against them.
  • Adopt a strategy to reverse Hungary’s backsliding on democracy and rule of law by supporting human rights, good governance and independent media organizations.
  • As he did during his recent trip to Jamaica, President Obama should continue to champion those voices calling for positive change for LGBT people in the Caribbean. 
  • In line with his public comments at the Countering Violent Extremism Summit in February, President Obama should publicly oppose the targeting of legitimate human rights NGOs by the Kenyan government during his visit to Nairobi next month.

“The Country Reports make clear that several U.S. allies are using counterterrorism and national security justifications to crack down on civil society groups, peaceful expression, and legitimate dissent,” added Stahnke. “As President Obama prepares for his trip to Kenya, he should use these Country Reports to highlight that the global struggle against terrorism and violent extremism is undermined when human rights are denied and civil society oppressed.”

Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley is in Kenya this week, meeting with civil society leaders and attending the CVE Summit. For more information, or to speak with Dooley or Stahnke, contact Corinne Duffy at [email protected] or 202-370-3319.