Pompeo condemns China, other foreign foes in announcing human rights report

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo


By CAROL MORELLO | The Washington Post | Published: March 12, 2020

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday called China's detention of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities the "stain of the century" as he condemned four major U.S. adversaries in introducing the State Department's annual human rights report.

Pompeo referred to China, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba as examples of "dark places where rights like the ones I described are infringed upon." Three of the four are the subject of extensive U.S. sanctions, and the United States is locked in a trade battle with China.

The annual report to Congress, a fixture for 44 years, is filled with facts and criticisms of allies and adversaries alike. Some human rights advocates said that by highlighting only abuses committed by foes of the United States, Pompeo was politicizing the report.

"They are committing human rights abuses, true," said Tarah Demant, an executive at Amnesty International USA. "But I don't remember the Obama or Bush administration using this opportunity to make political attacks at their perceived political adversaries. That does not help improve the human rights situation on the ground in China and Iran, where Amnesty International has real human rights concerns."

Robert Destro, the State Department's assistant secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, whose office compiled the report, disputed the accusation that human rights violations were being cherry-picked for political reasons.

"Any fair-minded person who reads these reports will see that they're pretty hard-hitting across the board," he said. "And so we're no more or less hard-hitting with respect to those countries than we are to other countries that are flagged here for having problems."

Pompeo frequently has criticized all four governments in strong terms, doing so again Wednesday.

He slammed Beijing for its high-tech surveillance of dissidents and for "imprisoning religious minorities in internment camps, part of its historic antipathy to religious believers."

He blasted Tehran for using violence against anti-government protesters, citing one whom government security personnel shot and then arrested his family. He had harsh words for the "illegitimate" regime of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela for the extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary detentions mentioned in the report.

And he lambasted Cuba for its thousands of political prisoners, including José Daniel Ferrer, a human rights activist who is to be sentenced this week on what Pompeo called spurious charges against citizens "whose only crimes are to criticize the policies that have held that island back for 61 long years."

"We pray for a day when Cubans, Venezuelans, Chinese, Iranians and all peoples can speak and assemble freely without fear of their own governments," he added.

The section of the report on Saudi Arabia noted "significant" human rights issues in the kingdom, including executions for nonviolent offenses, forced disappearances and torture of prisoners and detainees.

The report included two brief mentions of Jamal Khashoggi, the contributing columnist for The Washington Post who was killed in 2018 in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

"In several cases the government did not punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, contributing to an environment of impunity," the report said, citing the Khashoggi case.

Asked why the report did not mention Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who U.S. intelligence concluded played a role in the killing, Destro said, "We don't mention high-profile cases unless they're emblematic of a country's approach to cases like this case.

"We have taken significant actions against people in Saudi Arabia. We've imposed visa restrictions and financial sanctions. So the question of accountability is that we're looking at all the facts, we're continuing to look at all the facts. That investigation, as I understand it, is ongoing, and if more facts come to light about who's responsible for what, we'll make comments at that point."