AMBASSADOR PETERSON: Good afternoon. We submitted to the U.S. Congress earlier today the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for the 45th year. I think that number demonstrates as well as anything the depth of the U.S. interest in and dedication to the promotion of human rights. And as the Secretary said, it is as strong a dedication as ever. Our aim is always to identify human rights challenges and use our voice and our position on the world stage to draw attention to abuses of human rights, no matter where or when they occur. And to make progress in advancing these human rights, you need facts. That’s why each year, the U.S. Government issues the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which address, as required by U.S. law, the status of internationally recognized human rights in all countries that are members of the United Nations.
These reports provide an objective record of whether human rights and freedoms are being protected both by law and in practice around the world. The reports are prepared by U.S. diplomatic missions that collect, analyze, and synthesize information from a variety of sources. The country reports do not reach legal conclusions, rank countries, or draw comparisons across them. They do not attempt to catalog every human rights incident, nor are these reports an effort by the U.S. government to judge others. Instead, they are factual in nature. Publicizing facts and verifiable information can encourage governments to change course and seek to end human rights abuses.
At the conclusion of this press briefing, the 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices will be available to the public on the State Department website at www.state.gov. Thank you for being here today, and I am happy to take your questions.
MR PRICE: Please.
QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to follow up a little bit on China and the situation in Xinjiang. You – there’s a determination that this is a genocide ongoing. When you say genocide, it’s supposed to trigger whatever it takes from a power like the U.S. to stop it, to abide to the Never Again pledge, but the sanctions imposed so far seems a little bit low-key with regard to this target. Do you feel that U.S. is currently doing whatever it takes to stop a genocide in Xinjiang, and what needs to be done to do that?
AMBASSADOR PETERSON: Thanks very much. So the U.S. has already deployed a number of tools in response to the genocide determination. We have been clear that crimes against humanity and genocide have taken place and are continuing to be inflicted on Uyghurs, crimes against humanity against other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang. Obviously we can’t ignore this and we must meet such actions with serious consequences. We have deployed sanctions and we have taken sanction actions in unity with the United Kingdom and Canada, which announced similar tranches of sanctions under their respective authorities; also in parallel with the European Union, which undertook a broader global human rights action. This united response sends a strong signal to those who violate and abuse human rights that such actions will not be tolerated.
Even prior to the determination that genocide had taken place, we had been communicating with businesses working in China or businesses contemplating working in China. We issued a business advisory back in July of 2020. We did this in conjunction with the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Commerce, and Department of Homeland Security, cautioning businesses about the economic, legal, and reputational risks of supply chain links to entities that engage in human rights abuses, including forced labor in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China. Later on in September of 2020, the State Department published human rights due diligence guidance for transactions with foreign governments involving products or services with surveillance capabilities. It provides practical and accessible human rights guidance to U.S. businesses seeking to prevent their products or services with surveillance capabilities from being misused.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Thank you. Yes. The former administration nixed the designation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights as occupied territory. This year’s report seems to continue the tradition. Does that mean that you are fine with this non-designation designation? How do you designate the West Bank? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR PETERSON: So as we stated in previous year, we retitled this Human Rights Report to refer to the commonly used geographic names of the area the report covers, which are Israel, West Bank, and Gaza. That’s in line with our practices generally. We also believe it is clearer and more useful for readers seeking information on human rights in those specific areas. The title of the report was updated to reflect current practices in the department and to be clearer and more useful to readers and researchers.
QUESTION: But what is the West Bank? I mean, is it not occupied? Is it occupied? Are you fine with this new reality?
AMBASSADOR PETERSON: So language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.
MR PRICE: Please.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. My name is Mouhamed Elahmed with Al Jazeera Arabic. The United States Government was among 31 signatories of the joint statement of the Human Rights Council, which called on Egypt to lift its curb on the freedoms of expression and assembly. How are you planning, based on that joint statement and on today’s report – how are you planning to build on that to pressure Egypt to improve its human rights record? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR PETERSON: President Biden has made clear that human rights will be at the center of our foreign policy, and that includes with Egypt. That was part of the driver for the United States joining onto the joint statement at the Human Rights Council, calling upon Egypt to improve its human rights record and emphasizing the fundamental importance of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the need to respect a robust civil society.
We have – we continue to raise human rights concerns with officials in the Government of Egypt. We also continue to support civil society to the extent possible. As the Secretary told Foreign Minister Shoukry, human rights will be at the center of our relations with Egypt, and we look forward to strengthening our historic partnership and ensuring respect for democracy and human rights.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes, Kylie.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. I want to ask a quick question about the Secretary’s remarks with regard to the reproductive health section. And he said that there will be reports on that later in the year, because they weren’t included in the report. But I’m just curious, does the State Department have a determination as to how the – what the impact was of not having these sections in the report over the last few years on reproductive health globally?
AMBASSADOR PETERSON: That’s an excellent question, and I’m not sure that we have an immediate answer for that. I think that is something worth looking into. I think you will see a fair bit of research and study going into the impact on sexual and reproductive health rights in the context of COVID-19. I think we as a bureau, if we find the means to do so, may need to take a look at that question of was there an impact by not having this reflected in the human rights report.
MR PRICE: Michel.
QUESTION: Yeah. Hi. It’s Michel Ghandour with Alhurra Television. And putting the human rights in the center of the foreign policy, what will change in your dealing in the – in other – with other countries, especially with the Middle East countries?
AMBASSADOR PETERSON: There will be a shift, I think, in focus. We have long raised human rights issues, but this administration has been more forward leaning. And I think that changes the degree and the centrality to which we consider this issue as we are considering the whole universe of a relationship.
MR PRICE: We’ll take a couple final questions. Yes.
QUESTION: Hi. I have two questions, one on North Korea and one on South Korea. As this administration is dealing with North Korea’s nuclear issue, I’d like to know whether this North Korean human rights situation is going to be handled separately or as part of entire North Korean issues. Some human rights experts say that North Korea’s human rights issue sometimes sacrifice or being used as tools for negotiation with North Korea. So how are you going to address this North Korean human rights issue?
My second question on South Korea: South Korea last year passed a law banning leaflet sending activities into North Korea, so mostly done by North Korean defectors living in South Korea. So – and this law went into effect today. So what’s your view on this? Any concerns? And do you support these defectors’ effort providing like outside information into North Korea?
AMBASSADOR PETERSON: So on your first question, we do remain deeply concerned by North Korea’s egregious human rights record, which remains among the worst in the world. The State Department, together with the interagency, is currently undergoing a North Korea policy review process, and human rights will remain an indispensable component of our overall policy towards the North Korean Government. We will continue to hold the North Korean Government accountable for its egregious human rights violations.
In terms of the anti-leaflet bill, increasing the free flow of information into North Korea is a U.S. priority. The dissemination of information is critical for North Koreans to access fact-based information not controlled by the North Korean regime. As a global policy, we advocate for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and with regard to the DPRK, we continue to campaign for the free flow of information into the DPRK. We continue to work with our partners in the NGO community and in other countries to promote North Koreans’ access to information.
MR PRICE: Joel.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. Wanted to go back to the question of China. Chinese officials have stated explicitly in recent days that the U.S. conception of human rights is not normative, and they contend that their own human rights policies are anchored in UN law. So it seems that the two – two of these permanent members of the Security Council disagree about the bedrock principles or basic law, if you will, of the multilateral system. So I wonder, what are the ramifications of this dispute for multilateral approaches to human rights issues?
And then bearing in mind the sanctions over the weekend of Gayle Manchin and Tony Perkins of the International Religious Freedom Commission, I wonder, how much do you see religious freedom questions as a predictor of a government’s policies on human rights issues generally? How much does that organize some of these controversies?
AMBASSADOR PETERSON: I will underscore that our approach on human rights and our approach to the Human Rights Reports is grounded in the United Nations documents. That has been our guiding set of documents from the inception of the reports. So whatever China may say about our approach, it is based in those founding UN principles and guiding UN documents.
In terms of religious freedom issues, we are – clearly, we are deeply concerned by questions around religious freedom worldwide. Religious freedom has long been part of the State Department’s activities, and there is a separate standalone report on international religious freedom. Certainly, you can look at plenty of examples and see where governments who have gone down a wrong road on religious freedom subsequently go down a wrong road on other issues. I think we need to be concerned about religious freedom as an issue on its own and potentially look at the larger consequences that may go along with those concerns.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much. We’ll have an opportunity to hear more from the acting assistant secretary today at 4 o’clock for the briefing call. We hope many of you can join then. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.