State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert on Thursday said LGBTI-specific issues will remain in its annual human rights report.
“Nothing has been stripped with regards to LGBT rights at all,” Nauert told reporters during a press briefing.
Politico on Tuesday cited five current and former State Department officials who said one of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s top aides “ordered pared down” a section of the report that documents discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity and race. Politico also reported the directive calls for the removal of references to “societal views on family planning” that includes women’s access to abortion and contraception.
“This year, we are changing some of the terms that are being used in the report, but not our commitment to women’s rights, women’s health or to human rights whatsoever,” said Nauert. “Make no mistake: Human rights is a top priority here. This is something that the secretary finds to be incredibly important, and it’s a value that my State Department colleagues value here as well.”
Congress requires the State Department to release the report each year.
The most recent report, which the State Department released last March, notes discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity were commonplace throughout many parts of the world in 2016.
The report notes several prominent LGBTI rights advocates — including René Martínez of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and Hande Kader of Istanbul — were killed in 2016. It also points out the so-called Islamic State executed men in Iraq and Syria who had been accused of committing sodomy.
The 2017 report has not been published.
“It’s not complete just yet,” Nauert told reporters. “The secretary has not signed off on the human rights report at this point, so I’m not going to have a ton of information that I’m able to provide until the secretary gets a final report and then signs off on a final report.”
Tillerson last summer in a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed concern about the ongoing anti-gay crackdown in Chechnya. The State Department in 2017 also criticized the arrests of LGBT people in Azerbaijan and Egypt.
The U.S. late last year sanctioned Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and Ayub Kataev of the Chechen Internal Affairs Ministry under the 2012 Magnitsky Act that freezes the assets of Russian citizens who commit human rights abuses and bans them from entering the U.S. The White House in 2017 also sanctioned former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, a 2016 law that expands the Magnitsky Act.
Yahya in 2015 signed a law that sought to impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality.” The former Gambian president, who stepped down in January 2016 after he lost his re-election bid, also threatened gay men and used homophobic slurs to describe them.
Nauert last October in a statement she released on Intersex Awareness Day said the U.S. “stands in solidarity with intersex persons and their advocates around the world.” Nauert in the same month also promoted Spirit Day, which a campaign that seeks to combat bullying.
The U.S., France and Brazil last fall blocked Russian and Egyptian efforts to remove a gay-inclusive reference to discrimination from an Olympics resolution the U.N. General Assembly later approved unanimously.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Scott Busby is currently carrying out the “role and responsibilities” of the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTI rights abroad. The State Department and U.S. diplomats have continued to support these issues overseas since President Trump took office.
Human Rights Campaign Global Director Ty Cobb on Thursday in a statement on the Politico article specifically noted Chechnya, Egypt and the ongoing anti-LGBTI crackdown in Indonesia. Cobb also said it is “unconscionable that Trump-Pence political appointees are ordering State Department officials to roll back language on anti-LGBTQ discrimination and women’s rights in the annual human rights report.”
“This shameful move is yet another indication of Secretary Tillerson’s dangerously negligent indifference toward LGBTQ people around the globe,” said Cobb. “Make no mistake, this November at the polls, the fair-minded people of the United States will hold this administration accountable.”