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Sign reads: "Women's rights are human rights."

 "By omitting reproductive rights from its annual Human Rights Reports, the administration is further signaling that it does not recognize women's rights as human rights," said Rep. Nita Lowey, (D-N.Y.). (Photo: Marc Nozell/flickr/cc)

Hundreds of Lawmakers and Organizations Demand State Dept. Stop Excluding Women's Rights From Human Rights Reports

Nearly 100 civil society organizations, 129 members of Congress sent letters to Secretary of State Pompeo this week

Andrea Germanos

Trump's State Department this week is facing backlash and calls to reverse course on its decision to omit from its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices the entire reproductive rights section and to weaken its reporting on gender-based violence—a decision critics said amounted to showing that women and girls' "rights don't matter" to the current administration.  

With their eyes on preventing the upcoming 2018 reports from containing the same "highly problematic" omissions as the 2017 ones, nearly 100 civil society organizations (pdf) and 129 members of Congress (pdf) sent letters to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding the inclusion of information on denials of these fundamental human rights, including lack of access to contraception, unsafe abortion, and violence in accessing healthcare services.

"The U.S. cannot turn its back on the countless women around the world who are deprived of basic reproductive rights," said Rep. Nita Lowey, (D-N.Y.) the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. "And yet, that's exactly what the State Department is doing. By omitting reproductive rights from its annual Human Rights Reports, the administration is further signaling that it does not recognize women's rights as human rights. I urge the administration to reverse its decision and to maintain U.S. leadership on behalf of the world's women.”

"Governments do not get to pick and choose whose rights will be respected," added Center for Reproductive Rights president and CEO Nancy Northup. "Access to reproductive healthcare has been recognized as a protected human right impacting women's right to life, health, equality, non-discrimination, and freedom from cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. The deletion of the reproductive rights section from the State Department's annual Human Rights Reports is an unacceptable regression in the United States' commitment to women and girls' rights globally."

The letter from the civil society groups, including Human Rights Watch, the International AIDS Society, and Refugees International, said the 2017 reported signaled "a dangerous backslide in the United States' commitment to women's rights abroad." It added:

The government's failure to report on these rights violations conveys a callous disregard for their impact on women and girls. Furthermore, it calls into question the administration's commitment to established human rights norms that recognize government obligations to end such violations.

Given what is a clear "benchmark" for compiling such reports, the letter from the lawmakers demands answers within a 30-day period to questions regarding "the department's reasoning and justification behind the decision" and "which officials ultimately made the decision." It also asks: "Does the department plan to remove, or have officers been instructed to remove, reporting on women's rights, the rights of LGBTI individuals, or any other previously included subsection from the 2018 Human Rights Reports or related submissions?"

Signatory Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), for her part, said she was "appalled" by the shift of Trump's State Department in its yearly assessment of global human rights, and said it "sends a clear message: the Trump Administration does not value the health and rights of women and girls around the world." She noted, "Government and private sector agencies rely on this information to prevent human rights abuses and inform funding decisions on family planning and other programs."

"I urge Secretary Pompeo to stand up for women's rights across the globe and reverse this counterproductive decision," she added.

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