Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

August 15, 2012

After watching Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s interview about the State Department’s release of their Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010, I had to blog about this important annual publication.

Image: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presents latest Annual Human Rights Report (Read her remarks here.). Source:  State Department

In its 35th year for 2010, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices are Congressionally mandated reports produced by the U.S. Department of State that provide encyclopedic detail on human rights conditions in each of the 194 countries that are members of the United Nations.

The 2010 version available from GPO is a two-volume set that provides an overview of the human rights situation around the world as a means to raise awareness of human rights conditions, in particular as these conditions affect the well-being of women, children, racial and religious minorities, trafficking victims, members of indigenous groups and ethnic communities, persons with disabilities, sexual minorities, refugees, and members of other vulnerable groups.  Grouped by region, the country reports detail the situation in each member nation, and the set also provides an introduction and preface describing overall trends as well as detailed appendices.

What are Human Rights?

With the end of World War II, and the creation of the United Nations, the international community vowed to never allow atrocities like those experienced during the war to happen again. World leaders decided to complement the UN Charter with a road map to guarantee the rights of every individual everywhere, with the resulting document becoming The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 Image: In 1950, on the second anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, students at the UN International Nursery School in New York viewed a poster of the historic document. Source: United Nations

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proposed 64 years ago next month and adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948. This defines the following universal human rights across all members of the United Nations:

Image: Universal human rights. Source: Jayara9re

The Best and the Worst List

The Country Reports also serve as a progress report in relation to previous years by outlining which countries are improving and which are backsliding as far as human rights are concerned. The 2010 reports praise Colombia, Guinea, and Indonesia for their marked improvements shown that year, and notes Ukraine for backsliding. Check the book for details on each country’s status.

Image: Human rights protestor in Syria holds sign in English aimed to worldwide audiences and media. Source: My San Antonio blog.

Three Trends Affecting Human Rights

The 2010 report discusses three important trends from the year including:

1)      Persecution of Vulnerable Groups: the continuing rise of violence, persecution, and official and societal discrimination of members of vulnerable groups, often racial, religious, or ethnic minorities or disempowered majorities;

2)      Repression of Civil Society and Growth of Advocacy Groups: the repression of civil society in different countries and the explosive growth of non-governmental advocacy organizations focused on a wide range of democracy and human rights issues and causes; and

3)      Rise of Web and Mobile Technology: “the dramatic growth of the Internet, mobile phones, and other connective technologies that allow instantaneous communications to billions of people across the globe.”

Further information on all three of these trends is more fully documented in the Introduction to this year’s report, as well as in specific country reports.

Persecution of “Vulnerable Groups”

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010 outlined the negative trend of the continuing escalation of violence, persecution, and official and societal discrimination of members of vulnerable groups, often racial, religious, or ethnic minorities or disempowered majorities.

In many countries this pattern of discrimination extended to women; children; persons with disabilities; indigenous; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons; and members of other vulnerable groups who lacked the political power to defend their own interests.

The report also notes that “often members of these groups were denied economic opportunity or the ability to abide by their social or cultural traditions or practices or were restricted in their ability to speak freely, to assemble peacefully, or to form associations or organizations.”

For example, the report notes that there is increasing exploitation of laborers and threats against workers for attempting to unionize in many countries, as well as increasing violence against members of the LGBT community.

Image: LGBT Human rights protestors in Honduras hold sign saying “Nuestros derechos también son humanos.” (“Our rights are also human.”). Source:  Ultima Hora (Honduras)

Civil societies rebel against repression: The rise of the “Arab Spring”

By the end of 2010 which is when this report finishes, the issues relating to repression of civil society were giving rise to the so-called “Arab Spring.” Maria Otero, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs at the U.S. State Department, noted that this report captured these conditions in Egypt and Iran that were leading to protests, and “some of the areas we are seeing changing in the Middle East as demonstrating the inability in those of societies of civil societies to express themselves as one of the problems that emerged.”

Tools of rebellion: The Internet, social media and mobile technology

One of the more interesting trends that added fuel to these rebellions was a key theme in the 2010 report, namely “the explosive way in which the Internet, mobile phones, and other types of types of technologies have emerged in order for different groups to be able to use them to promote democracy and to promote human rights.”

Image: Protestor holds sign that points out the importance of social media today to civil protests and movements. Source:  Linney Group

Smartphone-based social media such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs played a critical role in extending the reach of opposition messages, which was validated by the University of Washington’s Project on Information Technology and Political Islam which assembled and analyzed data from more than 3 million tweets, gigabytes of YouTube content and thousands of blog posts about Tunisia and Egypt prior to the crisis in each country.

Image: Protester in Egypt holds up home-made sign at a protest rally that mentions both Facebook and the Egyptian uprising organizers’ Twitter hashtag #jan25. Inspired by the successful Tunisian Arab Spring revolution hashtag, #sidibouzid, the Egyptian hashtag #jan25 stands for January 25, 2011, the date the organizers launched the Egyptian civil uprising in Tahir Square. Photo by Essam Sharaf.

Who should read this?

Maria Otero says the State Department team sees this report as a “way of providing credible thoughtful, analytical information to all of those people around the world, whether it is non-governmental organizations, universities, other governments who are specifically looking at this issue.”

But in addition to serving scholars, reporters and analysts looking at the past, Otero says the State Department uses these reports as a source of information for present and future U.S. policy making, and sees them as a way activists and policy developers in this and other countries can help their own governments identify and decrease whatever abuses may exist, while at the same time increasing their own capacity to protect and to address the issues of human rights in their own countries.

It shows that there’s nothing wrong with reading about rights!

HOW CAN YOU OBTAIN a copy of the two-volume set of Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010?

  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

To find more U.S. government reports and publications about human rights reports,browse our online bookstore and search on “human rights”.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


The U.S. military storms to the rescue in foreign disaster relief

March 5, 2012

Last year, the United States suffered a record number of devastating weather and climate disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and floods, causing the President to issue a record 99 “major disaster declarations” during 2011.

Image: Natural disaster word collage Source: JimKimmartin.com

(And just this week, as I write this post, we are faced with the news about a line of dozens of deadly tornadoes that hit the Midwest, striking Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Kansas, with particular devastation to the towns of Harrisburg, IL and Henryville, IN.  See the end of this article for a links to terrific Federal disaster preparedness and response publications for citizens and professionals.)

However, the U.S. unfortunately had a lot of company as the entire world endured one of the worst years ever for catastrophic natural disasters.

Record Number of Catastrophic Natural Disasters Worldwide

2011 was the costliest year on record in terms of global property damage, with more than a third of a trillion dollars in damages worldwide, according to Munich Re, a multinational that insures insurance companies. The single worst and costliest natural disaster of the year was Japan’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear disaster.

But some of the other worst disasters in the world in 2011 included: floods and landslides in Thailand, Guatemala, El Salvador, Pakistan and Brazil; earthquakes in New Zealand and Turkey; severe spring storms and tornadoes in the USA; Hurricane Irene in the USA; Cyclone Yasi and flooding in Australia; drought in the USA and Somalia; wildfires in the USA and Canada; and the violent winter storm Joachim that swept across western Europe in December.

Image: The world’s natural disasters of 2011. Source: “2011 was costliest year in world disasters” USA Today, January 4, 2012.

Fortunately, while the total number of disasters was about average, the loss of life was below average. Still, many lives were lost around the world, including 15,840 fatalities reported in Japan’s disaster alone.

DoD to the Rescue 

To help local governments around the world respond to these disasters, the United States Government often comes to the rescue with supplies, personnel and logistical support. But sometimes civilian agency response is not sufficient. In these cases, the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development may ask for support from the U.S. military.

Image: The crew of a U.S. Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) unloads food and supplies at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 15, 2010. Source: Defense.gov

U.S. Government and Department of Defense (DoD) joint task forces may also coordinate with International Organizations such as the United Nations and International Red Cross and Red Crescent and other Intergovernmental Organizations (IGO) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO).

In total, the U.S. Government on average responds to approximately 70 to 80 natural disasters worldwide annually, but the Department of Defense (DoD) only lends support to 10-15 percent of these disaster responses.

The DoD describes their foreign disaster relief assistance as follows:

“DoD disaster assistance can range from a single aircraft delivering relief supplies, to a fullscale deployment of a brigade-size or larger task force. Though the overall percentage of disasters requiring DoD support is relatively small, these disasters tend to be crises of the largest magnitude and/or the greatest complexity.”

Some of the past disaster response efforts with which the U.S. military has assisted include the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia; 2005 earthquake and 2010 flooding in Pakistan;  and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Handy Handbook for All Those Who Give a Hand

To assist their personnel who are engaged in foreign disaster relief operations, the Department of Defense prepared a handbook which “offers an overarching guide and reference for military responders in foreign disaster relief operations,” particularly for Joint Task Force (JTF) Commanders and below.

INTENDED FOR ANYONE INVOLVED IN US FOREIGN DISASTER RELIEF OPERATIONS: Fortunately, DoD also released an unclassified version that can be used not only by the military, but also by anyone involved in U.S. foreign disaster response operations, including U.S. Government agencies, international organizations, Intergovernmental Organizations (IGO) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO).

CONTENTS: This public version of the “Department of Defense Support to Foreign Disaster Relief Handbook” (ISBN:  9780160888632) is divided into 4 major sections:

  • Section I: Introduction: Provides the background, legal authorities and guidance for performing foreign disaster relief (FDR) operations. Includes info on the U.S. Government’s FDR response processes, international and humanitarian guidelines and principles.
  • Section II: Operational Context and Planning Factors.
  • Details the types of missions that DoD units may participate in and the roles of Joint Task Force members. Also provides a five-phase FDR operation and metrics of success, and how to protect responders. Of particular interest in Chapter 6 are the characteristics of natural disasters, including hazards expected from different disaster types, and in Chapter 7, guidelines for talking to the media.
  • Section III: Supported and Supporting Organizations
    • This section provides a broad overview of functional commands and the cross-cutting organizations roles and missions, including Geographic Combatant Commands (GCC) and typical DOD tactical FDR units. Even shows photos to help identify different U.S. military transportation vehicles that could be used.

  • Section IV: Appendices: A number of extremely useful appendices are included that come in handy for anyone involved in Foreign Disaster Relief.
    • Appendix A presents the legal aspects of FDR operations, such as the list of laws and guidance documents allowing DoD participation in humanitarian relief efforts overseas. For example, the principal authority for DOD to conduct foreign disaster relief is the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (Public Law 87-195) (See p. 15 of this compilation of Legislation on Foreign Relations) which “provides the legal guidance for U.S. Government engagement with friendly nations.
    • Appendix B provides the DoD guidelines for interaction with NGOs in a permissive environment. More importantly, it provides excellent color charts showing how civil and military operation centers interact and differ. The page below is an example of how interaction between various civil and military operations in an operations center.

    • Appendix C provides sample formats that are useful to staff who support FDR operations, including excellent example worksheets and sample reports.
    • Appendix D provides a list of useful FDR agency and resources websites.
    • Appendix E provides a list of training courses, both from the Department of Defense and other U.S. agencies like the State Department and the Peace Corps.
    • Appendix F lists references useful in planning and executing FDR missions.
    • Appendix G is a list of acronyms used in this handbook, a must-have for dealing with the military especially, but includes acronyms for international organizations as well. For example, did you know that “OCONUS” means “Outside the continental United States” and “SPINS” means “Special Instructions”?

EASY-TO-READ, PORTABLE FORMAT: Throughout the Handbook are color flowcharts, organizational charts, checklists, notes and warnings, making this easier to read than one would expect from a military handbook.  And because of its rugged spiral bound format and smaller size, I found this handbook particularly easy to hold in one hand while writing with another, since it could lying totally flat and fold back on itself.  Considering that online versions are not convenient in disaster areas, I can see why this is a must-pack item in any U.S. foreign disaster responder’s emergency bag.

Overall, the Department of Defense Support to Foreign Disaster Relief (Handbook for JTF Commanders and Below) provides a fascinating and useful insight into how to respond to natural disasters wherever they may happen around the globe.

HOW CAN I OBTAIN THIS “Department of Defense Support to Foreign Disaster Relief Handbook “?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.
  • Find some of the information online.

OTHER DISASTER RELIEF PUBLICATIONS FROM THE U.S. GOVERNMENT:

  • Field Operations Guide for Disaster Assessment and Response by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), print edition available from GPO.  This handbook comes at the topic from the U.S. civilian agency perspective, helping members of a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) get quickly oriented while on site at a disaster.
  • National Interoperability Field Operations Guide Version 1.4 Provides a waterproof, pocket-sized guide that contains radio regulations, tables of radio channels, and technical reference information, and is a must-have tool for establishing or repairing emergency communications in a disaster area.
  • U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance Reference Guide from the United States Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (online version only). Included are basic fact sheets for 19 funding accounts, each containing citations of important underlying laws, itemizing primary activities (such as Bilateral Economic Assistance, Humanitarian Assistance, Multilateral Economic Assistance, Military Assistance and Law Enforcement Assistance), outlining recent funding history, and describing important statutory restrictions.
  • Legislation on Foreign Relations is a list of U.S. laws governing all aspects of foreign relations, including disaster relief, compiled by both Congressional committees: U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
  • Are You Ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness. This FREE online guide provides a step-by-step approach to disaster preparedness by walking the reader through how to get informed about local emergency plans, how to identify hazards that affect their local area and how to develop and maintain an emergency communications plan and disaster supplies kit. It is produced by Ready.gov, a national public service advertising campaign designed to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to emergencies including natural and man-made disasters.
  • FREE Tornado Safety Guide from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) Ready.gov website has important tips on what to do before, during and after a tornado.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


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