House Foreign Affairs Democrats Demand Answers on Human Rights Report
WASHINGTON—Today, all Democratic Members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs denounced the Trump Administration decision to censor critical elements of the State Department’s annual Human Rights Report.
Recent news revealed that the Department is suppressing reporting on violations of women’s reproductive rights. Reports also suggest the Department will scale back its reporting on abuses of LGBTQI individuals and other marginalized populations
In a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Members wrote: “If the U.S. fails to report on the full range of rights violations that women experience, we are telling the world that those violations don’t matter, when nothing could be further from the truth. We cannot hope to build a more peaceful and prosperous world if women’s rights – all of women’s rights – are not fiercely protected.”
The letter was signed by Ranking Member Eliot L. Engel (NY); Asia Subcommittee Ranking Member Brad Sherman (CA); Europe Subcommittee Ranking Member Gregory W. Meeks (NY); Western Hemisphere Subcommittee Ranking Member Albio Sires (NJ); Representative Gerald E. Connolly (VA); Middle East Subcommittee Ranking Member Theodore E. Deutch (FL); Africa Subcommittee Ranking Member Karen Bass (CA); Terrorism Nonproliferation and Trade Subcommittee Ranking Member William R. Keating (MA); Rep. David N. Cicilline (RI); Vice Ranking Member Rep. Ami Bera (CA); Rep. Lois Frankel (FL); Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI); Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX); Rep. Robin L. Kelly (IL); Rep. Brendan F. Boyle (PA); Rep. Dina Titus (NV); Rep. Norma J. Torres (CA); Rep. Bradley S. Schneider (IL); Rep. Thomas R. Suozzi (NY); Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY); and Rep. Ted W. Lieu (CA).
Full text of the letter can be found below and here:
March 5, 2018
Dear Secretary Tillerson,
We write to express our grave concerns regarding reported changes to the Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights. Media reports indicate that the Department will scale back its reporting on violations of women’s reproductive rights, as well as the rights of LGBTQI individuals and other marginalized populations around the world. We strongly oppose such changes and urge you to immediately reverse this decision.
The Department’s annual human rights report typically details the full range of women’s rights violations in a given country. Such violations may include insufficient access to voluntary and comprehensive family planning services and safe abortion care, as well as coercive practices, such as forced abortion or sterilization.
It is critical that the Department continue to document and accurately report on the full spectrum of women’s rights violations, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We look to the Department’s human rights report to develop our priorities and better understand the specific challenges faced by key populations across the globe. If the Department fails to detail women’s rights violations in their entirety, Congress will lack the comprehensive picture that we require.
As Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, we know that affording women access to voluntary family planning information and services enables them to raise their standards of living and climb out of poverty. We know that this helps them raise healthier children who, in turn, can excel academically and professionally. We also know these services dramatically reduce rates of maternal and newborn deaths.
If the U.S. fails to report on the full range of rights violations that women experience, we are telling the world that those violations don’t matter, when nothing could be further from the truth. We cannot hope to build a more peaceful and prosperous world if women’s rights – all of women’s rights – are not fiercely protected.
We respectfully request responses to the following questions:
- Were State Department officials directed to modify the annual human rights report with respect to discussions of family planning, abortion or discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, race or ethnicity?
- If so, what specific changes were officials directed to make?
- Will the Department continue to report on community-based discrimination and human rights abuses, in addition to government-sanctioned abuses?
- Why was this directive issued?
- Who issued this directive?
We thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to your prompt response.
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 UNFPA, “By Choice, Not By Chance: Family Planning Human Rights and Development.” (November 14, 2012). http://www.unfpa.org/webdav/site/global/shared/swp/2012/EN_SWOP2012_Report.pdf
 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “No Time to Lose: Fulfilling Out Family Planning Promise to 120 Million Women.” (November 12, 2015). https://www.gatesfoundation.org/Media-Center/Press-Releases/2015/11/Family-Planning-Promise