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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Human Rights


The protection of fundamental human rights was a foundation stone in the establishment of the United States over 200 years ago. Since then, a central goal of U.S. foreign policy has been the promotion of respect for human rights, as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United States understands that the existence of human rights helps secure the peace, deter aggression, promote the rule of law, combat crime and corruption, strengthen democracies, and prevent humanitarian crises.

Because the promotion of human rights is an important national interest, the United States seeks to:

  • Hold governments accountable to their obligations under universal human rights norms and international human rights instruments;
  • Promote greater respect for human rights, including freedom from torture, freedom of expression, press freedom, women's rights, children's rights, and the protection of minorities;
  • Promote the rule of law, seek accountability, and change cultures of impunity;
  • Assist efforts to reform and strengthen the institutional capacity of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Commission on Human Rights; and
  • Coordinate human rights activities with important allies, including the EU, and regional organizations.

The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) applies three key principles to its work on human rights:

First, DRL strives to learn the truth and state the facts in all of its human rights investigations, reports on country conditions, speeches and votes in the UN, and asylum profiles. Each year, DRL develops, edits, and submits to Congress a 5,000-page report on human rights conditions in over 190 countries that is respected globally for its objectivity and accuracy. DRL also provides relevant information on country conditions to the Immigration and Naturalization Service and immigration judges in asylum cases.

Second, DRL takes consistent positions concerning past, present, and future abuses. With regard to past abuses, it actively promotes accountability. To stop ongoing abuses, the bureau uses an "inside-outside" approach that combines vigorous, external focus on human rights concerns (including the possibility of sanctions) with equally robust support for internal reform. To prevent future abuses, it promotes early warning and preventive diplomacy. Each year DRL ensures that human rights considerations are incorporated into U.S. military training and security assistance programs; promotes the rights of women through international campaigns for political participation and full equality; conducts high-level human rights dialogues with other governments; coordinates U.S. policy on human rights with key allies; and raises key issues and cases through diplomatic and public channels.

Third, DRL forges and maintains partnerships with organizations, governments, and multilateral institutions committed to human rights. The bureau takes advantage of multilateral fora to focus international attention on human rights problems and to seek correction. Each year, DRL provides significant technical, financial, or staff support for U.S. delegations to the annual meetings of several international human rights organizations; conducts regular consultations with Native American tribes and serves as the Secretary's principal advisor on international indigenous rights issues; maintains relations with the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights; and supports the creation of effective multilateral human rights mechanisms and institutions for accountability.


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