How the US sees human rights in the UK

11 April 2011 by

The US State department has released its 35th annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices relating to over 190 countries. This includes a report on the United Kingdom, which can be access here and here (pdf).

The reports are mandated by US statute and require that the Secretary of State shall transmit to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, “a full and complete report regarding the status of internationally recognized human rights”, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UK Foreign Office has also recently published its own report into human rights around the world, which only deals with “countries of concern”, and as such doesn’t mention the US once in 355 pages .

Secretary of State Clinton introduced the US reports, saying:


The struggle for human rights begins by telling the truth over and over again. And this report represents a year of sustained truth-telling by one of the largest organizations documenting human rights conditions in the world, the United States State Department.

She also announced the launch of a new website, humanrights.gov, which will “offer one-stop shopping for information about global human rights from across the United States Government“. The site looks interesting and provides a regularly updated news feed which can also be accessed by RSS. A Q&A on the human rights reports can be found here.

As to the UK report, it is interested to see how we are perceived from a human rights perspective across the Atlantic. The opening paragraphs provide a summary of the findings:

There were some reports of police misconduct and that police, military personnel, and employees of government contractors occasionally abused detainees and other persons. There were also reports of overcrowded prisons and inadequate prison infrastructure. Societal problems included discrimination against religious minorities and mistreatment of women, children, ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, and persons with disabilities. Trafficking of persons was also reported.

On a quick reading, it is interesting that the prisoner voting issue is not mentioned, although many of the other 2010 human rights issues are. We will cover the report in more detail in the coming days.

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11 comments


  1. ObiterJ says:

    An interesting post on this matter is to be found on the Opinio Juris website:

    http://opiniojuris.org/2011/04/11/state-department-releases-2010-human-rights-report/

  2. Steve says:

    I just briefly looked at the introduction of the reports and it says –

    ‘…The U.S. government compiles the human rights report because we believe it is imperative for countries, including our own, to ensure that respect for human rights is an integral component of foreign policy. We provide these reports as a form of comprehensive review and analysis…The reports do not cover human rights in the United States, although this Administration has made a commitment to take a close and critical look at our own performance on these issues even as we cast a spotlight on the practices of other countries…’

    Well thats ok then!

  3. Bagpuss says:

    Steve, you are correct, there is no report on the USA’s own Human Rights record. It would be fascinating to see one.

    I agree with Tim that just because the USA’s own record is worse than ours, that we should not look to addressing the issues raised – the report appears to be fairly accurate, even though it does beg the question as to whether, and when, the USA will subject it’s own actions and record to similar scrutiny.

  4. Steve says:

    I have had a quick look on the list of countries. Am I right in thinking that the US is not listed thus have not compiled a report on their own Human Rights compliance?

  5. ObiterJ says:

    UN Rapporteur has criticised the USA – a VERY rare move indeed !!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/11/bradley-manning-juan-mendez-torture

  6. Tim says:

    I suppose I had better add that I think we need to beware of tu quoque arguments; just because the US can be said to be just as appalling as the UK doesn’t let either party off the hook – both need to clean up their human rights record.

  7. Spot on, ObiterJ!

  8. Kristen says:

    As an American attorney, I would have to agree with Matthew Taylor and ObiterJ. This is so hypocritical I had to laugh. Unless of course, in the report or otherwise, Sec. Clinton also owned up to our own uncontrollable problems with: police and gov’t corruption (doubtful), prison overcrowding (doubtful), racism (highly doubtful), sexism (maybe), bigotry (doubtful), and human trafficking (and… still doubtful).

  9. ObiterJ says:

    This is an interesting report and you have done well to highlight that these reports are issued.

    Appearances are important. Whilst accepting that this report is a requirement of US Federal Law the appearance is of a critical report issued by a nation which ought to look to its own practices before commenting about others. In short, an appearance of hypocrisy.

    Here are just three examples of U.S. practice which ought to have brought greater shame upon America than appears to be the case:

    1. The continued adherence to the Death Penalty in many of the individual States. I have discussed some examples of this on my subsidiary blog “Watching the Law”
    http://watchingthelaw.blogspot.com/

    2. The continued existence of Guantanamo Bay and Military Commissions

    3. The treatment of Bradley Manning – (allegedly supplier of information to Wikileaks). On this, the US government is now being openly criticised by many American lawyers:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/10/bradley-manning-legal-scholars-letter

    As for the UK’s Report about others, a similar charge of hypocrisy could be laid. Far too many unanswered questions remain both about the actions of the UK in the past:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/08/torture-killing-kenya-britain-mau-mau

    and at present – e.g. allegations of recent complicity in torture; the obsession with national security and the growth of evidence being presented in secret; the prisoner voting issue etc.

    These reports are interesting, and perhaps important but somehow I cannot escape the taste of humbug.

  10. This

    Societal problems included discrimination against religious minorities and mistreatment of women, children, ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, and persons with disabilities. Trafficking of persons was also reported.

    made me laugh. It would be fascinating to see what a similarly based report about the US would say. The comment on prison overcrowding is similarly undermined by the reality in the US. It was also darkly amusing to see this comment from the US government:

    The national minimum wage…did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family; however, government benefits, including complete free universal access to the National Health Service, filled the gap.

  11. Tim says:

    In response to the US, two words will do: Bradley Manning.

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