Source description last updated: 11 November 2020 (Addendum 6 April 2021: See also the blog post on the most recent human rights reports. This source description will soon be updated.)

In brief: The US Department of State (USDOS) is the US federal executive department responsible for the foreign affairs of the United States.

Coverage on

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Report on International Religious Freedom, Country Reports on Terrorism, Trafficking in Persons Report, Background Notes (all of them are Periodical Reports)

Covered weekly on for countries of priorities A–E (all available countries)


As the USDOS website indicates, the department’s mission is to conduct US foreign policy “through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance by advancing the interests of the American people, their safety and economic prosperity”. It seeks to “promote and demonstrate democratic values and advance a free, peaceful, and prosperous world” “[o]n behalf of the American people”. (USDOS website: About the U.S. Department of State, undated)

The Department’s main policy areas encompass global fields such as human rights, human trafficking and countering terrorism as well as issues relating to specific countries such as China (e.g. “Human Rights Abuses in Xinjiang”), Iran (“Iran: A Dangerous Regime”) and Venezuela (“Venezuela: A Democratic Crisis”) (USDOS website: Policy Issues, undated).

As required by statutory law, the USDOS publishes the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the International Religious Freedom Report and the Country Reports on Terrorism, which are submitted annually to the US Congress as required by statute law (Website des USDOS: 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 11 March 2020)USDOS website: International Religious Freedom Reports, undatedUSDOS website: Country Reports on Terrorism, undated). Other reports aside from those written for Congress include the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which ranks states based on their efforts to combat human trafficking (USDOS: Trafficking in Persons Report, undated).


US federal budget (USDOS: Agency Fiscal Report; Fiscal Year 2019, January 2020, p. 8)

Scope of reporting:

Geographic focus: Africa (Sub-Sahara), East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, Near East (northern Africa, Middle East), South and Central Asia, Western Hemisphere (Latin America, the Caribbean, Canada)

Thematic focus: human rights (integrity of the person, civil liberties, political participation, corruption, government attitudes towards investigations into alleged human rights abuses, discrimination, societal abuses, trafficking in persons, workers’ rights); religious freedom (religious demography, government respect for religious freedom, societal respect for religious freedom); terrorism and terrorist groups; trafficking in persons


The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices are drafted by reviewing information from sources including “U.S. and foreign government officials; victims of alleged human rights abuses; academic and congressional studies; and reports from the press, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with human rights.”

As for the drafting procedure of these reports, the initial drafts of each country report are prepared by the relevant US diplomatic missions based on annual guidance provided by the USDOS “in July for submission of updated texts in September and October. The Department updates these texts by year’s end. Multiple concerned bureaus and offices in the Department of State provide contributions, and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor prepares a final draft of each Country Report.”

As the USDOS website notes, the Department places emphasis on achieving “a high standard of consistency in the reports despite the multiplicity of sources and the diversity of countries”. The reports “select a few illustrative examples of alleged abuses and follow up in most instances only on the previous year’s high-profile unresolved cases”.

In recent years, the reports no longer addressed issues where no specific abuse was reported during the relevant year. Moreover, the USDOS explains that changes were made to “sharpen the focus on reports of violations and abuses of internationally recognized human rights” including extrajudicial killings, torture and the worst forms of restrictions of civic freedoms while on the other hand, reporting on societal conditions (including discrimination) has been scaled down (USDOS website: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2019; Appendix A: Notes on Preparation of the Country Reports and Explanatory Material, 11 March 2020). As reported in a February 2018 article of the US newspaper Politico citing sources within the USDOS, officials responsible for drafting the country report series covering the year 2017 have been ordered to “strip[...] passages that describe societal views on family planning” while the broader section on “racial, ethnic and sexual discrimination has also been ordered pared down” (Politico: State Department report will trim language on women's rights, discrimination, 21 February 2018). A November 2018 report by Oxfam, which was updated in April 2019, notes that the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2017, covering the first year of the Trump administration (2017), contained 32% fewer mentions of search terms relating to women’s rights and issues (including references to domestic abuse or sexual harassment) than the Country Reports covering the year 2016 and 29% less than those covering 2015. Amongst others, the Oxfam suggests that reporting on women’s rights issues was especially cut back for countries which produced large numbers of asylum-seekers to the US. The same Oxfam report also noted an overall decrease in reporting on LGBTI rights and issues over the 2016 report (Oxfam: Sins of Omission, last updated in April 2019, pp. 4–6). As Oxfam indicates, reporting on LGBTI issues, and to a lesser extent, women’s rights issues, increased in the Country Reports covering the year 2018, although these topics remained de-emphasised compared to the Country Reports on 2016 (Oxfam: Sins of Omission, last updated in April 2019, p. 12). In October 2020, the UK-based Asylum Research Centre (ARC) published a detailed comparative analysis of changes to the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices covering events in 2017, 2018 and 2019 (the first three years of the Trump administration) from the country report series covering events of 2016 (the final year of the Obama administration) with a focus on structure, language, improvements in human rights and omissions. A summary of findings of the ARC analysis, which looked into the Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Sudan country reports, can be accessed here:

As for the preparation of the International Religious Freedom Report, the USDOS explains that initial drafts of country chapters are drafted by US embassies based on “information from government officials, religious groups, nongovernmental organizations, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, media, and others. The [USDOS] Office of International Religious Freedom, based in Washington, collaborates in collecting and analyzing additional information, drawing on its consultations with foreign government officials, domestic and foreign religious groups, domestic and foreign nongovernmental organizations, multilateral and other international and regional organizations, journalists, academic experts, community leaders, and other relevant U.S. government institutions.” It is stated that “[t]o the extent possible, the reports use multiple sources to increase comprehensiveness and reduce potential for bias.” (USDOS website: 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom; Overview and Acknowledgements; Why and How the Reports are Prepared, 10 June 2020)

According to the USDOS, its Trafficking in Persons Report is prepared “using information from U.S. embassies, government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, research trips” as well as information submitted to the USDOS by email. Research conducted by US diplomatic missions and domestic agencies includes meetings with “government officials, local and international NGO representatives, officials of international organizations, journalists, academics, and survivors” (USDOS website: 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report; Methodology, June 2020). An August 2015 Reuters report provides a critical evaluation of the preparation of country ratings for the Trafficking in Persons Report 2015:

Language of publication:


Further reading / links:

ARC: Comparative Analysis; U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (2016–2019) – Summary, October 2020

Standard: Menschenrechtsbericht der USA prangert vor allem China und Iran an, 14 March 2019

Tarah Demant (Amnesty International USA): A Critique of the US Department of State 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 8 May 2018 (published on

USDOS: Department of State Organization Chart, undated


All links accessed 11 November 2020.