The State Department’s human rights report for 2018 released Wednesday notes Saudi Arabia’s killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi without mentioning Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who US intelligence services believe ordered the premeditated murder.
The annual report catalogs violence, repression and cruelty around the world, under a mandate set by Congress in foreign aid and trade laws. President Donald Trump has defended violators and spent little time addressing human rights. His administration officials have only selectively raised the issue and his State Department has made subtle changes to the annual report that seem to signal human rights and civil liberties are a lower priority.
Where previous administrations’ reports referred to a country’s human rights “problems,” the Trump administration’s reports call them human rights “issues.”
This year’s report makes it explicitly clear that a country’s rights record will not be a determining factor guiding US diplomacy.
“The policy of this administration is to engage with other governments, regardless of their record, if doing so will further US interests,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo states in the preface.
As in 2017, the report has a drastically reduced emphasis on sexual and reproductive rights, though it notes the treatment of LBGT communities, and again this year bucks international consensus by declining to identify the West Bank or Gaza Strip as Palestinian territories occupied by Israel.
Speaking to reporters at the State Department Wednesday, Pompeo singled out Iran, Nicaragua and China, noting that Beijing is “in a league of its own when it comes to human rights violations.”