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