State Department Human Rights Reports: Is the Administration Pulling Its Punches?

While the country focuses on the rapid spread of coronavirus, and questions whether the Administration has done enough to slow that spread, another ongoing tragedy is worth both reflection and action.  Released March 11, the latest round of State Department Human Rights Reports reveal an all-too-familiar story of broad societal and government hostility and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people around the globe.

But the reports also leave an unsettling optic:  is the Administration pulling its punches in addressing these abuses, particularly those by governments of Trump’s closest political allies?

Many of Trump’s allies are the world’s leading human rights abusers.  Russia’s Vladimir Putin is far from a good democratic model or human rights spokesman.  Nor are Brazilian President Bolsonaro or Egyptian President el-Sisi considered to be friends of human rights.  And democratic practice in Poland has, under that country’s current government, eroded considerably.

However, these countries are among Trump’s closest allies. Is that perhaps why the State Department’s report on Brazil fails to report on the virulently anti-LGBTI statements that came from various Brazilian officials last year, including Brazilian President Bolsonaro?

Or why the report on Poland makes no explicit mention of the growing number of “LGBT-free zones” that homophobic Polish political leaders have allowed to take hold, without central government intervention or disapproval?

Or why the report on Egypt fails to note that U.S. civil society organizations had to pressure the Administration to suspend financial support to Egypt’s Forensic Medical Authority — identified in the report as being responsible for forced anal exams, which many consider a form of torture?

These omissions are unconscionable.  While the report on Poland notes that dozens of local officials issued anti-LGBTI statements or declarations, why does it fail to note the failure of national authorities to condemn those statements?

Why does the report on Russia fail to drive home the point that the dozens of listed violations against LGBTI people in that country, including Chechnya, can be laid at the door of President Trump’s close confidant, Vladimir Putin?

As for Brazil, many consider the increasingly anti-LGBTI rhetoric from Brazil’s government, including Bolsonaro, as tantamount to an open call to violence.  Indeed, in the three months leading up to Brazil’s presidential election, in which Bolsonaro explicitly campaigned on an anti-LGBTI platform, the Washington Post (citing Folha de Sao Paulo) reported a 75 percent increase in homophobic hate crimes in Sao Paulo alone, with levels remaining extremely high post-election as well.

Why the silence on Bolsonaro’s statements?  Where, indeed, is the outrage?

Once considered the gold standard for reporting on human rights, the State Department’s annual country human rights reports have become, under Secretary Pompeo’s stewardship, an increasingly perfunctory exercise of sterile prose — with no political analysis and little apparent diplomatic impact.

They’re also a blight on the State Department’s leadership and integrity.

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