Covering Up Human Rights Violations

Gender-based violence? Denial of reproductive rights? Violence against LGBTI persons? Sexual slavery in military training camps? The Trump State Department has de-emphasized all of these human rights violations in country reports, according to a just-released analysis from the Asylum Research Centre.

The press release with highlights of the lengthy and detailed report summarizes: 

“ARC compared the State Department’s assessment of the situation in Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Sudan in 2016, the last year of President Obama’s administration, with the subsequent reports produced by President Trump’s administration covering events in 2017, 2018 and 2019. 

“The content changes identified by ARC were not consistent with the situation on the ground as documented by other sources and have the effect of downplaying the seriousness of the human rights situations in these countries. The principle changes related to women’s rights, civil and political rights, and issues relating to LGBTI persons. Examples of the findings included: 

“All reports under the Trump administration removed the Reproductive Rights section and replaced it with Coercion in Population Control thereby omitting information related to accessing reproductive rights, contraception and pre and post-natal healthcare. 

“Violence experienced by LGBTI persons, organisations and activists, as well as societal discrimination and abuse affecting LGBTI persons has been omitted from the Iraq reports, and the latter issue from the Iran reports. 

“The Iran reports neglected to document the use of prolonged solitary confinement and sexual humiliation as reported methods of torture; and omitted continued legal restrictions on women’s economic, social, political, academic, and cultural rights.” 

The State Department country reports are used by governments and non-governmental organizations to inform decisions on aid and engagement with governments. They may also be cited as evidence in asylum decisions, when someone is fleeing, for example, a country where LGBTQI people are subject to imprisonment and torture. 

Oxfam previously reported similar findings. In addition, the Oxfam analysis showed that the State Department reports de-emphasized human rights violations in countries that had more people seeking asylum in the United States.  

“Country Reports on Human Rights Practices are often crucial building blocks in asylum petitions. Advocates have worried that under the Trump administration, human rights reporting would be curtailed as part of a more general strategy of deterring asylum seekers and slashing refugee resettlements. They had good reason. Holding other factors equal, every 1,000 successful asylum petitions from a sending country was associated with a decrease of one and a half mentions. That is, a country whose citizens received 4,687 grants of asylum between 2014 and 2016, like El Salvador, would see a 50 percent decrease in reporting on women’s issues and rights relative to a country with no asylum grantees.”

Oxfam’s conclusion:

“These changes in reporting standards around women’s rights and issues—and to a lesser extent, LGBTI issues—threaten to undermine decades of US leadership and imperil women, girls, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans, queer, and intersex individuals and communities the world over.” 

These changes in State Department country reports align with changes the Trump administration is making in asylum law. From orders issued by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to proposed federal regulations, they have refused to consider gender-based violence and persecution as a ground for asylum. 

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