For nearly five decades, the United States has issued the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which strive to provide a factual and objective record on the status of human rights worldwide – in 2021, covering 198 countries and territories. The information contained in these reports could not be more vital or urgent given ongoing human rights abuses and violations in many countries, continued democratic backsliding on several continents, and creeping authoritarianism that threatens both human rights and democracy – most notably, at present, with Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine.
The Biden Administration has put human rights at the center of U.S. domestic and foreign policy. We have also recognized our nation has not always succeeded in protecting the dignity and rights of all Americans, despite the proclamations of freedom, equality, and justice in our founding documents. It is through the continued U.S. commitment to advance human rights, both domestically and internationally, that we best honor the generations of Americans who are Black, Brown, or other people of color, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+ persons, immigrants, women and girls, and other historically marginalized groups whose advocacy for their rights and for others has pushed America toward a “more perfect union.”
President Biden has called the defense of democracy and human rights the defining challenge of our time. By convening the first Summit for Democracy in December 2021 – bringing together representatives from 100 governments as well as civil society and the private sector – he sparked global attention and vigor toward democratic renewal and respect for human rights. Participating governments made significant commitments to revitalize democracy at home and abroad at the first Summit on which we expect meaningful progress during the current Year of Action and before the time of a second Summit.
The reports paint a clear picture of where human rights and democracy are under threat. They highlight where governments have unjustly jailed, tortured, or even killed political opponents, activists, human rights defenders, or journalists, including in Russia, the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nicaragua, and Syria. They document abuses of peaceful protestors demanding democracy and fundamental freedoms in countries such as Burma, Belarus, Cuba, Hong Kong, and Sudan. They highlight worrying cases of transnational repression – where governments reach across borders to harass, intimidate, or murder dissidents and their loved ones – as exemplified in the dangerous forced diversion by Belarus of an international commercial flight for the sole purpose of arresting a critical independent journalist.
But they also contain signs of progress and glimmers of hope, as the indomitable will to live freely can never be extinguished. In Iraq, people cast their votes to shape the future of their country in more credible and transparent parliamentary elections than in 2018. In Botswana, a court advanced the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons by upholding the decriminalization of same-sex relations. In Turkmenistan, all imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses conscientious objectors to military service were pardoned, a win for freedom of religion or belief. The stability, security, and health of any country depends on the ability of its people to freely exercise their human rights – to feel safe and included in their communities while expressing their views or gender, loving who they love, organizing with their coworkers, peacefully assembling, living by their conscience, and using their voices and reporting from independent media to hold governments accountable. There is much progress to be made, here in the United States and globally. But I know that by working together in the Year of Action and using resources like the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, we can come closer to building a world where respect for human rights is truly universal.
Antony J. BlinkenSecretary of State