The Trump administration has omitted or altered vital information about human rights – including torture, reproductive rights and persecution based on sexuality – from its annual assessments of human rights, a new report reveals.
The state department’s annual reports have long been relied upon by governments, judges and lawyers – as well as the United Nations – as a “gold standard” of objective information about the human rights situation in countries around the world. The US began compiling these reports in 1976.
The Asylum Research Centre conducted a line-by-line analysis and comparison between US state department human rights reports in the last year of the Obama administration and the first three years of the Trump administration.
The ARC focused on five countries with serious human rights abuses – Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Sudan – to conduct its analysis.
It found that sections of the US reports were not consistent with the situation on the ground as documented by other reliable sources of information and had the effect of downplaying the seriousness of the human rights situations in these countries.
The principal changes related to women’s rights, civil and political rights, and issues relating to LGBTQ+ people.
Reports during the Trump era have also generally been shorter with certain sections removed or renamed.
All reports during the Trump administration removed the “Reproductive Rights” section and replaced it with “Coercion in Population Control”, omitting information related to accessing reproductive rights, contraception and pre- and post-natal healthcare.
Violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, organisations and activistswas omitted altogether from reports on Iraq, despite well-documented examples of homophobic violence in the country.
The Iran reports failed to document the use of prolonged solitary confinement and sexual humiliation as reported methods of torture. They also ignored discrimination and abuse of LGBTQ+ people, even though human rights organisations have documented systematic discrimination and violence against sexual minorities in the country.
The Iraq reports no longer mentioned the use of torture in prisons operated in the Kurdistan region of the country.
The Pakistan reports failed to mention the end of the moratorium on capital punishment, the execution of individuals who were under the age 18 when they allegedly committed the crime, and women’s inability to access legal representation.
The 2019 Eritrea report no longer mentioned widespread sexual violence against women in military training camps that amounted to torture and the forced domestic service of women and girls in training camps that amounted to sexual slavery.
The 2019 Sudan report appeared to suggest that human rights abuses – such as arbitrary killings by the security forces, forced disappearances, the detention of peaceful protesters, the failure to properly investigate alleged mistreatment, and traditional legal practices discriminating against women – only took place during the regime of Omar al-Bashir. Other sources have documented their continued occurrence since the veteran dictator was deposed by the army last year.
Liz Williams, co-director of ARC said: “Our research shows that the state department under the Trump administration has excluded human rights issues from its reports which continue to be well documented elsewhere. We are concerned that these omissions have the effect of denying the existence of rights or abuses and may result in certain types of asylum claims being dismissed if the US Department of State reports are relied upon in isolation.”
Some individual changes or omissions to these reports during the Trump administration have previously been highlighted but this is the first time a comprehensive analysis has been carried out.
ARC expressed concern that the failure to comprehensively document human rights abuses could lead to an inability to hold perpetrators of these abuses to account.
The fundamental changes have implications for decisions of governments around the world on foreign policy, aid, diplomatic engagement and refugee rights.
In the UK, judges and the Home Office use these reports regularly to inform decisions about whether or not asylum seekers should be granted sanctuary or forcibly returned to their home countries. Information from these reports can make the difference between life or death for some asylum seekers.