The U.S. Department of State recently released its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012. The annual reports cover nearly every country besides the United States and address various human rights topics, such as freedom of speech and press, arbitrary arrest or detention, and workers’ rights. Drawing on a variety of resources, including U.S. consular staff and civil society reports, the country reports provide a wealth of information both in terms of details on selected victims and human rights violations, as well as an overview of each country.
The publication of the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices is mandated by the U.S. Congress through the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. However, beyond the original goal to inform U.S. policy makers, the reports have also come to serve other purposes over the years. For example, Immigration Judges in the U.S. consider the reports authoritative in establishing the relevant conditions in an asylum seeker’s country of origin and they have therefore become a critical reference for asylum attorneys. And, because the reports draw on firsthand accounts and independent sources, human rights advocates also rely on the reports for an accurate account of a country’s human rights practices.
Adding to the reports’ accessibility and utility, the Build a Report function for the online 2011 and 2012 reports allows all users to select the topics and countries in which they are most interested, then immediately generate a custom human rights report based on their selections. This function greatly facilitates cross-country comparisons on a particular aspect of human rights, such as discrimination against women, or a comparison for a particular country from one year to the next.
The U.S. State Department also releases several related reports each year that can assist advocates in researching specific areas of human rights. These additional annual reports include the International Religious Freedom Report, Trafficking in Persons Report, and the Advancing Freedom and Democracy Report. Throughout the year, the U.S. State Department also publishes its human rights related actions online at humanrights.gov.