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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about the release of the 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices at the State Department in Washington, March 30, 2021.
© 2021 AP/AFP Pool/Mandel Ngan
Today, the US State Department released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights. While this year’s edition once again lacks reporting on key reproductive rights around the world, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that addendums will be added to address the previous deletion of these sections and that the State Department would work to ensure these issues are included in future iterations at the outset.
Under the Trump administration, the State Department had cut most mentions of key human rights abuses that disproportionately impact women and girls from its reports, in particular country analyses of maternal mortality and unmet contraceptive needs.
The omissions in subsequent years paralleled harmful policies aimed at restricting reproductive rights globally, showcasing a deliberate attempt by the administration to exclude reporting on these rights. Human Rights Watch and other human rights and reproductive rights organizations sharply criticized these efforts. The severity of these policies, from the Global Gag Rule to defunding the United Nations Population Fund and setting up a commission to reexamine internationally recognized human rights law and norms, should energize the Biden administration to rectify the US approach to sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Blinken asserted today that “Human rights are…co-equal; there is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others.” It is a welcome rebuke of the Trump administration’s approach to human rights. But reproductive rights could still be excluded in government reporting if another administration decided to pursue anti-choice policies. Congressional action is sorely needed to ensure future administrations won’t be able to exclude specific human rights discussions on political whims. Congress should reintroduce and pass the Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act, which would require the State Department to report on violations of reproductive rights globally.
In the meantime, Blinken has work to do to make his words reality. The State Department should meet with civil society organizations working on women’s rights and gender justice, particularly on sexual and reproductive health and rights, to develop clear and actionable instructions for documenting and reporting on women’s rights and gender justice in the next report. The Biden administration should not only restore the reporting that was excised during the Donald Trump presidency but take this opportunity to improve reporting on human rights across the board.