"Some of the greatest accomplishments in expanding the cause of human rights have come not because of legislative decree or judicial fiat, but they came through the awesomely courageous acts of individuals," says Secretary of State John Kerry.
In comments made February 27 upon the release of the 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Kerry said that "the fundamental struggle for dignity, for decency in the treatment of human beings between each other and between states and citizens, is a driving force in all of human history."
The reports — now in their 38th year — document human rights violations and abuses in almost 200 distinct countries and territories. Based on input from U.S. embassies, human rights activists, nongovernmental organizations and other sources, the country reports are mandated by the U.S. Congress to help guide U.S. government policy and foreign assistance. The reports also serve as a reference for other governments, international institutions, nongovernmental organizations, legal professionals, scholars, interested citizens and journalists.
"We know that we're not perfect," Kerry said of human rights in the United States. "We don't speak with any arrogance whatsoever, but with a concern for the human condition. Our own journey has not been without great difficulty and, at times, contradiction. But even as we remain humble about the challenges of our own history, we are proud that no country has more opportunity to advance the cause of democracy and no country is as committed to the cause of human rights as we are."
The annual human rights report, Kerry emphasized, "is not just some high-minded exercise. This is the most comprehensive, authoritative, dispassionate and factual review of the state of human rights globally, and every American should be proud of it."
With the latest reports, which cover 2013, the United States joins with many other nations in reaffirming its commitment "to a world where speaking one's mind does not lead to prosecution and where professing one's love does not lead to persecution, a world where practicing or changing one's faith does not lead to imprisonment and where marching peacefully in the street does not get you beaten up in a blind alley or even killed in plain sight," Kerry said.
According to a State Department fact sheet released along with the reports, the most noteworthy human rights developments in 2013 were:
• Increased crackdowns by governments on civil society and restrictions on the freedoms of association and assembly.
• Restrictions by governments on freedom of speech and press freedom.
• Abuses by government security forces that engaged with impunity in unlawful arrests and extrajudicial killings.
• Lack of effective labor rights protections.
• The continued marginalization of vulnerable groups, including religious and ethnic minorities, women and children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons, and persons with disabilities.
The full reports for each country are available at the State.gov and HumanRights.gov websites.