Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Erin Barclay on the 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
MR PATEL: All right, thanks, everybody. I’m going to turn the floor over now to Assistant Secretary Barclay, who’s going to make some remarks. And then her and Ambassador Van Schaack are on hand to address some other questions you all might have.
Assistant Secretary, please.
MS BARCLAY: Thank you all. Good almost one minute to the afternoon. As Vedant said, my name is Erin Barclay, and it is really an honor for me to be here with all of you for the release of the 47th Annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices, which we submitted to the United States Congress today.
As Vedant noted, I’ve had the great privilege of leading the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor team since September of 2022, and I am extremely proud of DRL for being at the forefront of preparing these important reports with colleagues across the department and U.S. missions abroad.
Since 1976, as required by Congress, the United States has issued the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, affectionately called the Human Rights Report, addressing the status of internationally recognized human rights in all countries that are members of the United Nations. These reports support the U.S. goal of advancing individual liberty and democratic freedoms around the world and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which this year celebrates its 75th anniversary.
Adopted on December 10th, 1948 in the wake of the Second World War, the Universal Declaration is the founding document of our international order. Under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, who was the first chairperson of the Committee on Human Rights, the adoption of the Universal Declaration marked the first time in history that we had a shared global vision to promote a peaceful future of all nations by advancing the human rights, as the Secretary said, of everyone everywhere.
In recognizing this milestone of its 75th anniversary, we have reaffirmed the legacy, relevance, and the fundamental truth the Universal Declaration enshrines; that is, that is that all individuals are born equal in dignity and rights, that all governments have a responsibility and a role to play in protecting those universal human rights. Today, this truth beats in the hearts of people around the world, who in the face of injustice and oppression courageously call upon governments to respect the exercise of human rights and the fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and religion or belief.
The United States stands in solidarity with these human rights defenders as well as with members of marginalized groups, who are often denied equal protection under the law and targeted for violence, including women and girls; those belonging to racial, religious, or ethnic minority groups; LGBTIQ+ persons, and persons with disabilities. As we support pro-democracy activists, we have seen people and – people in governments in every region of the world unite in condemning human rights abuses. As Secretary Blinken discussed in his remarks, the Kremlin’s brutal continued war against Ukraine underscores the need to hold to account those who commit unconscionable abuses, including against children.
The egregious and repeated abuses Russia’s forces continue to commit in Ukraine are far from the only abuses perpetrated in 2022 by governments and other malign actors across the globe, though, as the Human Rights Report lays out. We must continue to shine a spotlight on abuses wherever and however they are committed, mobilize global urgency in stopping and preventing them, and hold perpetrators to account.
Disinformation and misinformation around the globe further threaten democracy and human rights, and one contribution the Human Rights Report makes is to bring facts to the table. The report’s annual publication also makes clear the priority the United States places year-round on advancing human dignity and freedom, and reiterates our commitment to these issues in all countries, no matter, as the Secretary said, whether they are partners or adversaries.
The Biden administration has put human rights and democracy at the center of our foreign policy, and one signature way the administration is promoting worldwide respect for human rights and democratic principles is by hosting the Summit for Democracy. Next week, March 29th and 30th, the United States will host the second Summit for Democracy with the governments of Costa Rica, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, and the Republic of Zambia. We are thrilled to have these four partners join us in co-hosting the summit this year. President Biden, joined by leaders from the co-host nations, will assemble world leaders in a virtual plenary, leader-level plenary, followed by a series of hybrid gatherings with representatives from governments, civil society, and the private sector in each of the co-hosted locations. Stay tuned next week for more about the summit.
At the conclusion of this press briefing, the 2022 Human Rights Report will be available to the public on the State Department’s website. Thank you for being here today, and I’m happy to take a few questions.
MR PATEL: Daphne.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Human rights advocates have raised concerns about treatment of dissidents and minorities in India. Human Rights Watch in 2019 said the Indian Government’s policies targeted minorities. The Indian Government recently banned a BBC documentary and then raided the BBC’s offices, and India is ranked 150th in the press freedom index. Blinken has raised concerns about the rise of rights abuses in India last year without going into specific incidents. Are you concerned by India’s treatment of minorities and dissidents and by the state of press freedom in the country? And have you raised these concerns directly with Indian counterparts?
MS BARCLAY: Thank you very much for the question. As the Secretary said, we raise the difficult issues in all of our conversations with our partners. The U.S. and India regularly consult at the highest levels on democracy and human rights issues. We have and we will continue to strongly urge India to uphold its human rights obligations and commitments.
Not surprisingly, we also regularly meet with civil society both in the U.S. and in India to hear their perspectives and learn from their experiences, and we encourage the Government of India to consult with them as well.
On the BBC issue, we’re of course aware of the BBC issues and we will continue to support free press around the world and have communicated the same.
MR PATEL: Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. On the West Bank, the occupied West Bank, a very quick question. Does this administration consider a – the demolition of a Palestinian perpetrator’s home or the arrest of his siblings or his parents to be collective punishment? And if so, does that fall under the – does that qualify as a war crime?
And second, do you expect that the Palestinian organizations, human rights organizations that were shut down on October 26th, 2021, to be reopened anytime soon? Thank you.
MS BARCLAY: Thanks very much for your question. The U.S. is committed to advancing human rights is Israel and in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. As the President and Secretary Blinken have said, Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, justice, and integrity.
Promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms is critical to their own right, and it also helps to preserve space for a two-state negotiated solution.
QUESTION: Does the demolition of homes and arresting of relatives and parents and siblings and so on qualify as collective punishment, in your view?
MS BARCLAY: I’m not going to comment on that at this point, but I’m happy to talk to you —
QUESTION: Can I just get in? This is something that just happened yesterday, right? But Israel’s finance minister made some comments in Paris about Palestinians not being a people. Is that something that falls under your purview, something you can comment on? I’m sorry, it’s a DRL question, right? I mean, if you want to answer it, Vedant, that’s fine. But, I mean, this is something that happened last night. This is a guy who has not been without controversy before, and these latest comments are just – seem to add fuel to the fire. So what do you think about that? What do you think about the – an Israeli cabinet minister saying that the Palestinian people don’t exist?
MR PATEL: Matt, I think we’ll let the assistant secretary speak to any questions about the report. But on the comment about the finance minister broadly, look, I think what I would say is I’ve not seen those comments specifically, but certainly it’s something that we would —
QUESTION: I’m sorry. That’s just —
MR PATEL: I’ve not —
QUESTION: What do you mean you haven’t —
MR PATEL: I’ve not seen those comments specifically. But we of course would take issue with that kind of a – that kind of description or that kind of language being used. But we’re going to get back to questions about the report.
Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Thanks so much for coming down here. I have two questions, first about housekeeping. The fact that —
MS BARCLAY: I’m sorry? Say that —
QUESTION: The first part of my question is about housekeeping, the fact that we still have acting assistant secretary on this role. How much of this takes away from the – from, let’s say, the success stories that you might actually put out there?
The second part of the question. More broadly, the question was asked to the Secretary about the tools in your toolkit. I cover South Caucasus. All the cases I raised throughout the year and last year in this room are in the report, but those folks are in jail: in Azerbaijan, Ali Aliyev, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev; in Georgia President Saakashvili; in Russia Kara-Murza, and others. Does that – is it a reflection of the fact that you are running out of your tools in that part of the world? Thanks so much.
MS BARCLAY: Thanks for your question, especially the first one, because it gives me an opportunity to brag about my bureau. So let me say this about the DRL Bureau. It is a bureau full of committed public servants who every day come into work and do the job for the American people. I’m extremely proud of them, and the administration is very fortunate to have all of the DRL team in place doing exactly what the administration’s policies are on democracy, human rights, and labor.
On your second question about the reports in terms of events that are reported year upon year, I think part of that is a reflection of how long the trajectory is in many cases to do better on human rights. And we see international reporting in that space, some of which shows sometimes it’s a generational change. That doesn’t mean we don’t continue to raise those issues. You mentioned issues of political prisoners. This is front and center in all of our diplomacy bilaterally and multilaterally. We regularly raise cases, individual cases of political prisoners with appropriate officials, and we will continue to do that going forward.
MR PATEL: You had your hand up? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Emel Akan from the Epoch Times. Thank you for taking our questions today. I saw that you mentioned forced organ harvesting in China in your report. So as you may know, there is mounting evidence that the Chinese Communist Party continues to harvest organs from living individuals, primarily Falun Gong practitioners. Congress has introduced bills targeting offenders. Where does the State Department stand on holding the CCP accountable for organ harvesting, and what steps are you planning to take to put an end to this atrocity?
MS BARCLAY: So I’m not going to count – comment on the legislation specifically. We are tracking it. I’m aware of it. Organ harvesting has been a part of the Human Rights Report, has been reported on there, and we will continue to focus on that as an issue across – on the broad spectrum of human rights and trafficking issues going forward where it comes up.
QUESTION: Thank you. So I read the reports on Georgia, 57 pages covering the issues on Georgia, and there is a really, really grim picture that the report suggests. You met the foreign minister in Geneva I think three weeks ago. Have you raised those issues with him? You mention that you talk about the political prisoners to Alex question. Have you raised the issue about the Saakashvili with him?
MS BARCLAY: Thanks very much for your question, and I did have the opportunity to meet with the Georgian foreign minister when I was in Geneva for Human Rights Council high-level week a couple weeks ago. And I’m not going to comment on the specifics of my conversations with the foreign minister, but we raised the spectrum of issues, many of which the report articulates, and I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Okay. And just to follow up, so there is a growing concern that Georgia is moving towards Moscow. There is a growing authoritarianism, Russian oligarchy, total disrespect to rule of law and freedom of media, freedom of speech, et cetera. So what is the general sense about Georgia in the State Department? Because if you look at the dynamic of those reports, if you look at the past years, they also suggest really grim picture of Georgia. So are those issues, concerns stay on paper, or do you actually do something about it?
MS BARCLAY: Yeah, no, thanks very much for the question. It’s important. It doesn’t just stay on paper. These are issues that we talk to the Georgian Government about and, as you know, we have a 30-plus-year partnership with the Government of Georgia, and that —
QUESTION: People of Georgia.
MS BARCLAY: The people of Georgia. Thank you very much. I appreciate that correction. And we want to continue to work together with the people of Georgia to move towards their Euro-Atlantic ambitions.
MR PATEL: You had your hand up in the back. And then Kylie, we’ll come to you after that. Yeah, you. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. I want to follow up – I just want to follow up on China real quick. Can you share more details on when was the last communication with China counterparts on human rights cases?
And also, I know that Secretary Blinken has, like – has made his remark in the opening about China and Russia, but is there any concern from the State Department that, given those countries are – they don’t have good human rights record according to the report, is there any concerns that the two leaders get closer and there will be more human right abuse cases coming from those two countries?
And the third one is China’s ministry of foreign affairs just published a report basically pointing fingers at the United States. It’s called The State of Democracy in the U.S., like accusing U.S. of doing that. And any comments or, like, response to that?
MS BARCLAY: Sure. Let me pick up your last question first. So we always welcome critique of the human rights situation in our country, as long as it is credible and fact-based and objective. We regularly submit ourselves to various processes in the UN, for example, the Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council. We recently reported to the committee – the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and other treaty bodies. So as the Secretary said, we don’t sweep our problems under the rug. We are ready to shine a light on them and work to improve them in our own country.
On your question about China specifically, the human rights situation in China is something that we are regularly raising with partner states bilaterally and in multilateral settings where China is present, and this includes looking to promote accountability for China’s genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang but also human rights abuses across China. They remain – human rights remains at the forefront of our discussions with the PRC and are continuously highlighted in high-level discussions.
MR PATEL: Final question, Kylie.
QUESTION: I think this is a better question for Ambassador Van Schaack, if that’s okay, but my question is: This report talks about a multitude of war crimes that have been committed by Russia in Ukraine, and so I’m wondering if you can bring us up to date on efforts to share U.S. evidence of war crimes committed in Ukraine by the Russians with the ICC just given – obviously we saw what they came out with last week regarding one war crime, but the U.S. clearly has evidence of multiple war crimes that have been committed. So can you just update us as to where those conversations and efforts stand?
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Yeah. Indeed, last week, the – a pretrial chamber of the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin and his children’s commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, charging both of them with deportation and forced transfer of civilians and specifically of children. So it’s a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, and we’ve discussed that here when we talked about the crimes against humanity determination that was made. This has now been charged as war crimes.
We have appreciated new authorities that Congress has given us when it comes to our ability to interact with the court and to potentially share information. We’re looking for ways to be helpful. We generally don’t talk about the specifics of what we do share because, in many respects, that might reveal prosecutorial trajectories, for example, or undermine the safety and security of witnesses. But we are looking for ways to support this, and we have been supporting accountability from the beginning when it comes to the Russia-Ukraine war, in particular supporting the work of the prosecutor general in Ukraine, who has primary jurisdiction over all of the war crimes and other atrocities being committed there.
QUESTION: Okay. And without getting into specifics over what could be shared or what has been shared, can you just say if at this point any of the evidence that the U.S. has has been shared with the ICC?
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: This is still under consideration.
MR PATEL: Thanks, everybody. Thanks, everybody.
Official news published at https://www.state.gov/acting-assistant-secretary-for-democracy-human-rights-and-labor-erin-barclay-on-the-2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/
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