US DEPARTMENT OF STATE (USDOS)
Source description last updated 19 October 2011.
Governments and international community; US Congress; general public.
Several of the USDOS’ Bureaus publish information relevant for COI research. Most notably, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor publishes both the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and the International Religious Freedom Report. According to its website, the Bureau is “dedicated to the U.S. mission of spreading democracy and respect for human rights globally” (USDOS Website, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/about/, accessed on 2 June 2008).
The human rights reports were introduced in 1976 as a means for Congress to monitor recipients of US aid. Both the number of countries and the scope of reporting have expanded since then, and the country reports aim to provide a basis for promoting human rights issues in US foreign policy as well as to justify US policy with regard to certain countries (Steven C. Poe, et al.: How are These Pictures Different? A Quantitative Comparison of the US State Department and Amnesty International Human Rights Reports, 1976–1995, Human Rights Quarterly, 23 (2001), p. 654).
The International Religious Freedom Act, passed by the US Congress in 1998, established the Office of International Religious Freedom and mandated the publication of the annual reports on religious freedom to "condemn violations of religious freedom, and to promote, and to assist other governments in the promotion of, the fundamental right to freedom of religion" (USDOS: International Religious Freedom Report 2007 – Introduction, 14 September 2007, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2007/90079.htm, accessed on 2 June 2008).
The annual Trafficking in Persons Report is published by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons since the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. This office aims to provide tools to combat human trafficking and to assist in the coordination of anti-trafficking efforts both worldwide and domestically (USDOS Website, http://www.state.gov/g/tip/, accessed on 2 June 2008).
The Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism was created in 1972 and has since then undergone several changes in name and reporting channels. The office publishes the annual Country Reports on Terrorism (which were, up to 2003, published under the name of Patterns of Global Terrorism) (USDOS Website, http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/, accessed on 2 June 2008).
The USDOS’ Bureau of Consular Affairs provides travel information, including country profiles. The Bureau of Consular Affairs’ mission is to “to protect the lives and interests of American citizens overseas and to strengthen U.S. border security” (USDOS Website, http://travel.state.gov/about/about_304.html, accessed on 2 June 2008).
The Bureau of Public Affairs publishes country Background Notes received by the USDOS’ regional bureaus. The Bureau’s mandate is “to help Americans understand the importance of foreign affairs” (USDOS Website, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/, accessed on 2 June 2008).
Scope of reporting:
Geographical focus: All countries (and some territories) worldwide (except the United States).
Thematic focus: Civil and political rights, prison conditions and right to a fair trial, religious freedom, women, trafficking, and terrorism. According to Human Rights First the reports do “fail to catalogue human rights violations committed or facilitated by a country outside its borders” (Human Rights First Website, http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/media/hrd/2008/alert/37, accessed on 2 June 2008).
Reports are based on information from US representations, regional bureaus, and presences worldwide, as well as international and local human rights organisations. Embassies prepare initial draft reports, which are then reviewed by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, using sources including reports provided by US and other human rights groups, foreign government officials, representatives from the United Nations and other international and regional organisations and institutions and academic and media experts. Embassies’ sources include government officials, jurists, the military, journalists, human rights monitors, academics and labour activists. (Steven C. Poe, et al.: How are These Pictures Different? A Quantitative Comparison of the US State Department and Amnesty International Human Rights Reports, 1976–1995, Human Rights Quarterly, 23 (2001), p. 650–677; see also the Overview chapter in the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices; for the 2007 report see http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2007/100463.htm).
The information provided is rarely sourced.
Several reports/publications contain information on methodology in Overview or Introduction chapters.
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Released each February/March for the previous year.
International Religious Freedom Report: Released every autumn for the current year.
Trafficking in Persons Report: Released every spring for the previous year.
Background Notes and Country Specific Information: No fixed publication cycle. They contain information on all the countries with which the US has relations. They include facts (including key statistical data) on the country’s land, people, history, government, political conditions, economy and its relations with other countries and the United States.
Regular browsing of website advisable.
Navigation of website:
Information relevant for COI research can be found under:
http://www.state.gov - Issues & Press - Major Publications - Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, International Religious Freedom Report, Background Notes and Trafficking in Persons.
http://travel.state.gov: Website of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, contains consular and travel information, including country profiles available at Country Specific Information on the top navigation bar.
Human Rights First (formerly Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights): Critique Series: Review of the U.S. Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (available for purchase for the years 1984-1996, partly out of print)
http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/pubs/pubs.asp (accessed on 2 June 2008)
For brief information on Human Rights Reports’ labor section, as well as on the reports’ drafting process, see p.52-54 of the following publication: Committee on Monitoring International Labor Standards, National Research Council, 2004
http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10937&page=52 (accessed on 2 June 2008)
For an analysis of metaphors used in the Trafficking in Persons Reports, see: Stenvoll, Dag: Metaphors in the US Trafficking in Persons Report, 2009
http://ssrn.com/abstract=1449649 (accessed 19 November 2009)