February 23, 2018

March 3, 2017


Last year, on March 3, 2017, the U.S. State Department issued its first human rights report since President Donald Trump took office on January 20, 2017. It was also the first report of its kind produced under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The report underscored that human rights in Russia continued to be “significantly and negatively” affected by Moscow’s “purported annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and its support for Moscow-backed fighters in eastern Ukraine.

An annual examination of human rights practices of nearly 200 countries, the report had particularly harsh words for Russia. This was in contrast to Mr. Trump’s largely conciliatory rhetoric toward Moscow and his reluctance to speak publicly about human rights concerns, either in Russia or elsewhere in the world.

The Russia section of the report focused on how Moscow continued to train, equip and supply its “pro-Russian forces” in eastern Ukraine and that “numerous fighters” from Russia had joined the “separatists.”

“Credible observers attributed thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as widespread abuses, to Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region, and to Russian occupation authorities in Crimea,” the report said, citing politically motivated arrests, detentions and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia.

In Ukraine, the report focused on the most significant human rights abuses related to the conflict and “occupation” in the separatist-controlled parts of the eastern Donbas region. “Russian-backed separatists in Donbas engaged in abductions, torture and unlawful detention, employed child soldiers, stifled dissent and restricted humanitarian aid,” the report explained. The report also noted that abuses by Ukrainian government forces were of a lesser extent.

Problems within Ukraine’s judicial system, as cited by the report, were impairing human rights in Ukraine. “The government generally failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity,” the report said. Watchdog groups and the United Nations saw “significant deficiencies” when it came to investigations into human rights abuses committed by government security forces.

The report did not include comparisons or rankings of the countries within the report, and Trump administration officials said the report was not a policy statement.

Breaking with tradition, Secretary Tillerson was not present during the unveiling of the report in Washington, earning criticism from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). A senior administration official said the report was signed by Mr. Tillerson, which spoke for itself, and that Mr. Tillerson had clearly expressed his concerns for human rights during his confirmation hearings.

Source: “U.S.: Russia’s activities in Ukraine impair human rights at home,” (RFE/RL), The Ukrainian Weekly, March 12, 2017.