Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is coming under fire by Sen. Marco Rubio and others for breaking with tradition and staying away from the upcoming public release of the State Department’s annual Human Rights Report.
Some activists and former officials fear it’s just another sign that President Donald Trump’s administration intends to downplay human rights issues while also sidelining the State Department in general.
The report, a widely respected document cataloging human rights advances and abuses in nations across the world, is expected to be released Friday. Numerous U.S. diplomats are involved in preparing the document, which is frequently referenced by researchers and read carefully by other governments.
Sarah Margon, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, noted that the Trump administration also has proposed slashing the foreign aid budget and is trying to impose a temporary ban on refugees entering America, both actions that have rattled the human rights community.
The administration also is considering quitting the U.N. Human Rights Council, which is often alleged to be biased against Israel, but which activists consider an important forum. And Trump has been vocal about his desire to have better relations with strongmen leading countries such as Egypt and Russia.
Rubio’s slam is particularly notable because he was on the fence about voting to confirm Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil. The senator, who lost to Trump in the GOP primary race for president, was especially unhappy after Tillerson declined to call Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal over his actions in Syria and elsewhere. He ultimately chose to support Tillerson.
Tillerson has almost entirely avoided reporters so far and, compared to many of his predecessors, kept a very low profile. That has led to questions about how much clout Tillerson really has in the Trump administration, which has proposed drastic cuts to the State Department’s budget. The department appears to have been cut out of much of the administration’s decision-making process.