The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

What’s still missing from the State Department’s human rights reports

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Women fighting for human rights sits in her home María Guadalupe García, 40, used to organize women to become advocates for themselves in El Salvador. Photo: Oscar Leiva/Oxfam America

For the second year in a row, language on the rights of women and LGBTI populations has vanished.

The Trump administration continues to ignore human rights violations that women and the LGBTI population face around the world. And there are undeniably many—according to UN Women, 1 in 5 women and girls under the age of 50 reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a 12-month period.

It’s working on many shameful fronts. Last month the US was successful at stripping language on sexual and reproductive health services from a UN security council resolution. At a UN Commission on the Status of Women gathering in March, US officials broke precedent by aligning themselves with countries with dangerous track records on upholding women’s and LGBTI rights, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Malaysia.

This political alignment undermines efforts to protect the rights of women and LGBTI populations that have become the global precedent for several years now. And for the second year in a row, you can see it reflected in the administration’s own human rights reports.

Sins of omission continue

Last November, we compared the language on women and LGBTI populations in the first iteration of the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (commonly referred to as the human rights reports) to come out of the Trump administration in 2017 with the final reports that were produced under the Obama administration.

We found that Trump officials were systematically removing language from sections of the reports that focus on women and members of the LGBTI community. With the release of the 2018 reports—the second iteration to come out of this administration—we wanted to know if this trend had continued.

This is what we found in our updated Sins of Omission report:

  • Overall mentions of women’s rights and issues in the 2018 reports have increased by 5 percent relative to 2017 but are still 29 percent lower from the last year of the Obama administration.
  • Overall mentions of LGBTI rights and issues in the 2018 reports are up 14 percent relative to 2017 but are still down 10 percent from the last year of the Obama administration.
  • The “Reproductive Rights” section of each country report has not been reinstated, and the “Coercion in Population Control” sections remain.

Cause for serious concern

Although the re-introduction of about half of the language on LGBTI rights and issues is somewhat promising, the Trump administration isn’t about to change course.

The expansion of the administration’s efforts to omit language on the rights of women and LGBTI populations—particularly language around women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights—to global documents is cause for serious concern.

Women and members of the LGBTI community still continue to face many barriers and rights violations around the globe. Ignoring this fact in official reporting and agreements doesn’t just send a signal that these populations don’t matter. It will roll back the progress we’ve made in upholding human rights over the last few decades.

Download our updated Sins of Omission report.

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