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December 22, 2016

What’s the best way to get extensive, credible information about human rights?

The U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices are “by far the most-read U.S. government document abroad,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Michael Kozak, who works in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) — the office which compiles them annually.

The reports are required by U.S. law so officials in Congress and the administration have a full appreciation of human rights conditions in countries as they consider matters such as providing security and development assistance, trade deals and other bilateral ties. Human rights officers in U.S. embassies keep in contact with local civil society organizations to help compile the data.

Shadow figures and barbed wire

Kozak said officials from other countries also consult the reports. For example, if someone seeks to enter a country claiming status as a refugee, “their immigration officers, as are ours, are looking at the report and … [checking if] the country conditions this person is describing are backed up by what’s in the report,” he said.

Steven Feldstein, a deputy assistant secretary for DRL who monitors African countries, said the reports are also useful for individuals seeking information either about the situation in a particular country or about specific issues such as freedom of speech, prison conditions or LGBTI rights in a variety of places. Using the “Build a Report” function, people can get the specific data they need without having to plow through the full document, which totals tens of thousands of pages.

Because the reports reflect the consensus of the U.S. government, they also provide a high level of credibility that helps a human rights activist or journalist who is making inquiries about human rights concerns.

“That not only takes away the onus and burden from that journalist, but it also forces a conversation that governments have a hard time ducking away from,” Feldstein said.

What issues are you most concerned with? Are human rights improving or declining in your country? Use the online reports as a research tool to study the trends.