The Trump administration on Friday labeled Russia and China threats to global stability, saying that their poor human rights records put the countries, the United States’ principle strategic rivals, in the same ranks as Iran and North Korea.
“The Russian government continues to quash dissent and civil society even while it invades its neighbors and undermines the sovereignty of Western nations,” the acting secretary of state, John J. Sullivan, said in brief remarks as the State Department released its annual report on global human rights in 2017.
The government report, mandated by Congress, catalogs human rights problems around the world, offering an encyclopedic accounting of government-sponsored murders, forced sterilizations and other egregious acts.
Mr. Sullivan listed a number of atrocities committed last year, including the slaughter of Syrians by the government of President Bashar al-Assad, the massacres of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar and the continued repression of North Koreans under their leader, Kim Jong-un.
“Promoting human rights and the idea that every person has inherent dignity is a core element of this administration’s foreign policy,” Mr. Sullivan said. “It also strengthens U.S. national security by fostering greater peace, stability and prosperity around the world.”
Last year pointed to a decided slide toward authoritarianism, but Mr. Sullivan said there were some bright spots, including in Uzbekistan, Liberia and Mexico.
The report this year, the first written entirely during the Trump administration, underwent significant alterations that reflected the change in administrations.
John Sifton, an advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said the Trump administration strengthened the report’s criticisms of countries it considers rivals while muting anything directed at nations it considered friendly.
“Those kind of changes make the report seem less fair and thus less credible around the world,” Mr. Sifton said.
An entire section that last year was titled “Reproductive Rights” was renamed “Coercion in Population Control,” with much of the text, including most references to the availability of birth control, eliminated.
Another section that had been labeled “Israel and the Occupied Territories” was retitled “Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza.” The word “occupied” was largely eliminated from the text.
The news media in Israel reported last year that David Friedman, the American ambassador to the country, had asked the State Department to stop using the word “occupation” when referring to the territories, and he has said publicly that settlements in the West Bank are part of Israel.
The United States has referred to the West Bank as “occupied” for decades. Heather Nauert, the department’s spokeswoman, said in January that the Trump administration had not changed its policy regarding the term “occupied territories.” But in her remarks at the time, she carefully avoided using the word “occupied,” and on Friday, she and other officials declined to answer repeated questions about the word’s almost complete banishment from the report.
As in previous versions, the report identifies problems in 194 nations while excluding the United States, an omission that has long prompted foreign countries to cry hypocrisy.
Asked whether this year’s frequent descriptions of news media suppression might be considered particularly problematic in light of President Trump’s musings to reconsider libel laws and penchant for dismissing critical coverage as “fake news,” officials drew a strong line between insulting journalists and killing or jailing them.
“I think the report is very clear about the kind of things that we consider to be inappropriate restrictions on freedom of the media,” said Michael G. Kozak, an ambassador and the senior official in the State Department’s bureau of democracy, human rights and labor. He added that journalists in Cuba “also get called names, but if it were limited to that, they’d be pretty happy as compared to the situation they’re in now.”
Rob Berschinski, senior vice president for policy at Human Rights First, said that in choosing to almost exclusively single out rival nations to the United States, Mr. Sullivan had given critics an easy means of dismissing the report.
“This administration has taken selective criticism to a new level,” Mr. Berschinski said. “The result is a further weakening of America’s moral legitimacy when it talks about supporting human dignity overseas.”
Last year, former Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson chose to skip the announcement of the report, leading to widespread criticism that the administration was signaling a lack of concern.
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