Letter to Secretary Tillerson on the State Department’s Annual Human Rights Report

On February 26, 2018, Refugees International joined with 170 other organizations in sending a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raising concern about the State Department’s annual Human Rights Report.  In particular, the organizations expressed alarm that the report no longer highlights the full range of abuses and human rights violations experienced by women, girls, LGBTQI people, and other marginalized peoples around the world.  The full text of the letter is below.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Tillerson,

We are writing to you as human rights, health, and development organizations to raise our deep concern about news that the State Department’s annual Human Rights Report will no longer highlight the full range of abuses and human rights violations experienced most especially by women, girls, LGBTQI people, and other marginalized peoples around the world. According to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, officials “will sharpen the focus of the report on abuses of internationally recognized human rights and the most egregious issues.”

According to media reports, this means removing or dramatically changing the way the U.S. Government reports on women’s and girls’ enjoyment of their rights to health, life, freedom from violence, and a host of other rights, including most especially those related to sexual and reproductive health.

As organizations committed to gender equality and women’s human rights, we see in our work how violations of these internationally-recognized human rights are often among the most frequent and egregious abuses women and girls experience. Gender discrimination is a pernicious societal harm that impacts women’s realization of their human rights in extensive and often irrevocable ways. International human rights authorities have clearly established governments’ human rights obligations in the many ways such discrimination is manifest—from violence against women, to maternal mortality, to restrictions on women’s access to comprehensive reproductive and sexual health. Willful failure to include reporting on these rights violations is a callous disregard both of the abuses experienced by women and girls and of established human rights norms that recognize the government obligations to end them.

As the State Department’s Human Rights Reports have historically shown, human rights are indivisible and universal. Threats to women’s human rights cannot be stricken from the report without sending a broader message to abusive governments that the United States will not hold them to account for such violations. When women’s rights are limited, so are broader pathways to empowerment—economic, social, political, or otherwise. 

Erasing content that Foreign Service Officers have worked for months to craft based on their expertise and the contributions of civil society and experts around the world undermines efforts of the United States and, more importantly, human rights defenders in their own countries to promote human rights. Although your spokesperson defends this move as an effort to foster efficiency and decrease duplication from other organizations’ reports, you miss the critical point of having the U.S. Government publish them within the context of an extensive human rights analysis. Editing out the breadth of abuses typically covered by this report weakens its usefulness to put governments on notice to address abuses within their borders, and it may embolden them to regress in the promotion of women’s rights.

The power of this report has been putting the full force of the U.S. Government behind the full human rights agenda, and standing in solidarity with rights-based individuals, organizations, and movements everywhere. Publishing this report without all human rights represented jeopardizes this. It will become an incomplete and inaccurate document that is silent on many of the human rights abuses the United States has previously championed to end. 

We call on you to uphold the credibility of this important human rights tool—that so many of our colleagues around the world use to hold governments to account. The rights of all people of all genders to enjoy the full spectrum of rights, without discrimination or government interference cannot be in dispute within your department. Your leadership is needed to immediately intervene and reverse course on this decision.


  1. 9to5, National Association of Working Women
  2. Active Projectile Ltd

  3. Advancing Girls’ Education in Africa

  4. Advocates for Youth

  5. Alliance for Peacebuilding
  6. American Atheists
  7. American Jewish World Service (AJWS)

  8. American Psychological Association

  9. Amnesty International USA


  11. Athlete Ally

  12. Aube Nouvelle pour la Femme et le Développment

  13. AVAC
  14. Bangladesh Model Youth Parliament
  15. Barnabas Charity Outreach
  16. Better World Campaign
  17. Beyond Beijing Committee
  19. CARE USA
  20. Catholics for Choice
  21. Center for Biological Diversity
  22. Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)
  23. Center for Reproductive Rights
  24.  CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers
  25. CERPA(Centre d’Echanges et de Ressources pour la Promotion des Actions Communautaires)
  26. ChildFund International
  27. CHOICE for Youth & Sexuality
  28. Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights
  29. Council for Global Equality
  30. EngenderHealth
  31. Equality California
  32. Equality Now
  33. F’INE Pasifika Aotearoa
  34. Family Equality Council
  35. FORGE, Inc
  36. Freedom House
  37. Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
  38. Friends of UNFPA
  39. Fundacion para Estudio e Investigacion de la Mujer – FEIM-
  40. Futures Without Violence
  41. Gender Equality Initiative, Elliott School, GW
  42. GESTOS- HIV, Communication and Gender
  43. Girl Rising
  44. GirlForward
  45. Global Fund for Children
  46. Global Fund for Women
  47. Global Health Justice Partnership, Yale University
  48. Global Justice Institute, Metropolitan Community Churches
  49. Global Network of Black People working in HIV
  50. Global Progressive Hub
  51. Global Rights for Women
  52. Global Women’s Institute
  53. Global Women’s Institute at the George Washington University
  54. GreeneWorks
  55. Haus of Khameleon
  56. Heartland Alliance International
  57. HIAS
  58. Housing Works, Inc.
  59. Human Rights Campaign
  60. Human Rights Watch
  61. Ibis Reproductive Health
  62. Inclusive Security
  63. International Action Network for Gender Equity & Law (IANGEL)
  64. International AIDS Society
  65. International Center for Research on Women
  66. International Fellowship of Reconciliation
  67. International Rescue Committee
  68. International Women’s Development Agency
  69. International Women’s Health Coalition
  70. International Women’s Rights Action Watch
  71. International Youth Foundation
  72. International-Curricula Educators Association
  73. IntraHealth International
  74. Ipas
  75. Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health
  76. JAGO NARI (Fighting For Women Empowerment)
  77. John Snow, Inc. (JSI)
  78. Kazakhstan Feminist Initiative “Feminita”
  79. Khalili Consulting
  80. Landesa (Rural Development Institute)
  81. Latinoamerican and Caribbean Afrodescendent Women Network
  82. Los Angeles LGBT Center
  83. MADRE
  84. Marie Stopes International
  85. Mercy Corps
  86. Milaan Foundation
  87. NARAL Pro-Choice America
  88. NASTAD
  89. National Abortion Federation
  90. National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
  91. National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)
  92. National Black Justice Coalition
  93. National Center for Transgender Equality
  94. National Council of Jewish Women
  95. National Employment Lawyers Association
  96. National Network to End Domestic Violence
  97. National Organization for Women
  98. National Partnership for Women & Families
  99. National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
  100. National Women’s Health Network
  101. National Women’s Law Center
  104. OutRight Action International
  105. OutServe-SLDN
  106. PAI
  108. PaRiter
  109. Pathfinder International
  110. Peace X Peace
  111. People For the American Way
  112. Plan International USA
  113. Planned Parenthood Federation of America
  114. Population Connection Action Fund
  115. Population Council
  116. Population Institute
  117. Pride at Work
  118. Promundo-US
  119. PSI
  120. Rainbow Pride Foundation
  121. Refugees International
  122. Regional Centre for international development cooperation
  123. ReSista
  124. Saferworld
  125. Save the Children
  126. Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)
  127. Shadhika
  128. Sierra Club
  129. Simavi
  130. Smash Strategies
  131. Support Group and Resource Center on Sexuality Studies
  132. Tahirih Justice Center
  133. The Coalition for Children Affected by AIDS
  134. The Employee Rights Advocacy Institute for Law & Policy
  135. The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF)
  136. The HUBB bk
  137. The Hunger Project
  138. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  139. The Lesbian and Gay Association of Liberia (LEGAL)
  140. The United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
  141. The Voices and Faces Project
  142. Tonga Leitis Association
  143. TONGA LEITIS Association
  144. Too Young To Wed
  145. U.S. National Committee for UN Women
  146. Union for Reform Judaism
  147. United Methodist Church
  148. United Nations Association-USA
  149. Universal Access Project
  150. University of Pennsylvania
  151. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
  152. V-Day and One Billion Rising
  153. Vision Spring Initiatives
  154. Vital Voices Global Partnership
  155. What Works Association
  156. Witness to Mass Incarceration
  157. Women Action for Gender Equality (WAGE)
  158. Women Employed
  159. Women Enabled International
  160. Women for Afghan Women
  161. Women for Peace
  162. Women for Women International
  163. Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS)
  164. omen Thrive Alliance
  165. Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO)
  166. Women’s Refugee Commission
  167. Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, Moravian College
  168. 1Woodhull Freedom Foundation
  169. World Education
  170. YWCA USA
  171. Zonta International