“A set of universal values and aspirations” drives the struggle for human dignity, Secretary of State John Kerry said in the preface to the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, covering the 2014 calendar year.

The reports compile facts on imprisoned pro-democracy activists and journalists, persecuted religious minorities and civil society leaders, and women and girls who are being denied their right to an education or otherwise abused. They also report on human trafficking, Internet freedom, and the rights of disabled and LGBTI persons.

Kerry told reporters June 25 that access to knowledge and openness to change are essential to improving human rights conditions around the world.

Kerry said countries that do not have good human rights practices cannot fulfill their potential. (© AP Images)

“No country can fulfill its potential if its people are held back, or more so if they are beaten down by repression,” he said.

The secretary said that “when human rights is the issue, every country including the United States has room to improve.”

He encouraged leaders to examine human rights practices in their countries and alter what is happening, rather than deny unpleasant facts. In the end, “the truth wins out,” Kerry said.

The reports note three trends in global human rights conditions:

  • Nonstate actors such as Daesh, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, Jabhat al-Nusra and others are perpetrating brutal atrocities against innocent noncombatants.
  • Technology, including new media, is increasingly being used to help civil society groups become better connected and informed to combat human rights violations. But authoritarian governments are also using technology to help carry out abuses and crack down on the freedom of expression.
  • The prevalence of corruption and its use to cement power in the hands of authoritarian rulers has a correlation with human rights abuses and repressive governance.

Who monitors the U.S. human rights record?

The State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Michael Kozak, said some critics of the annual report note that it does not include a section on the United States. “We are not a credible rapporteur on ourselves, but at the same time we think it’s very healthy to be subjected to this kind of scrutiny,” he said.

In fact, the United States already is, Kozak said. U.N. institutions such as the Human Rights Council, the Universal Periodic Review process, reviews of country obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the conventions against torture and to eliminate racial discrimination regularly review human rights in the United States.

“We get interrogated by those committees just like other countries,” he said, and the U.S. does its best to respond to all of their questions and critiques and to demonstrate that their recommendations have been considered and addressed.