oversight

Human Rights: State Department Followed an Extensive Process to Prepare Annual Country Reports

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-05-31.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548




    May 31, 2012


    The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
    Secretary of State

    Dear Madam Secretary:


    Subject: Human Rights: State Department Followed an Extensive Process to Prepare
    Annual Country Reports


    Human rights are a central concern of U.S. foreign policy. Each year, in response to
    congressional mandates, 1 the Department of State (State) issues its Country Reports
    on Human Rights Practices, an important source of information on human rights
    worldwide. The country reports—collectively known as the Human Rights Report
    (HRR)—cover internationally recognized civil, political, and worker rights as set forth in
    the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State’s 2010 HRR included country reports
    covering the status of human rights in more than 190 countries and spanning more than
    7,000 pages. 2 The 2010 report noted that State attempted to make the country reports
    as comprehensive, objective, and uniform as possible in both scope and quality of
    coverage.


    Regarding State’s procedures for preparing the country reports, particularly the worker
    rights section, we examined (1) State’s process for making the country reports as
    comprehensive, objective, and uniform as possible, and (2) the extent to which State
    followed its process in preparing the worker rights section of the 2010 country reports.
    All U.S. free trade agreements signed since 2000 include provisions related to worker
    rights. Moreover, as we have previously reported, enforcement of labor laws continued
    to be a challenge in some countries with which the United States has free trade
    agreements. 3 State defines comprehensive as omitting no information of significant

    1
      Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, Pub. L. No. 87-195, §§ 116(d) and 502B (codified as amended at 22 U.S.C. §§
    2151n and 2304, respectively).
    2
      We refer to State’s 2010 country reports as the 194 individual country reports State published in April 2011 covering
    the human rights conditions in each country during 2010. We use the term HRR to refer to these country reports in
    addition to the introduction and appendixes issued concurrently.
    3
      GAO, International Trade: Four Free Trade Agreements GAO Reviewed Have Resulted in Commercial Benefits, but
    Challenges on Labor and Environment Remain, GAO-09-439 (Washington, D.C.: July 10, 2009).


                                                                                    GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
value; objective as including information impartially, regardless of whether a country is
an ally or adversary; and uniform, as reporting similar types of information across
country reports.


To examine State’s process for preparing the country reports, we reviewed relevant
laws and State guidance. We met with State officials, including staff from the Bureau of
Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) who lead the process for preparing the
HRR; we also met with other State personnel, including Foreign Service officers, who
prepare, edit, and review the reports. In addition, we met with Department of Labor
(Labor) officials who review the worker rights section of the country reports. To examine
the extent to which State followed its process in preparing the worker rights section of
the 2010 country reports, we reviewed that section in the reports for 25 countries: 20
countries with which the United States has signed free trade agreements; 4 4 countries
with which the United States is currently negotiating trade agreements; 5 and 1 country,
Russia, which the World Trade Organization recently approved for accession. 6 We
assessed comprehensiveness and objectivity by identifying the types of sources that
State cited in the worker rights section of the 25 country reports, in accordance with its
instructions. We assessed uniformity by determining whether the worker rights sections
in these 25 reports consistently used the criteria in State’s instructions. Further, we met
with select State officials who prepared, edited, and reviewed these sections. We also
interviewed officials from Labor, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR),
the International Labor Organization, 7 human rights nongovernmental organizations
(NGO), and labor organizations, to obtain their views on the country reports’
comprehensiveness and objectivity. In addition, we contacted nine business groups to
obtain their views on the worker rights section of the country reports. Only one of these
groups agreed to meet with us; representatives of the other eight groups did not
respond, said they did not follow labor issues, or did not have the time to meet with us.
See enclosure I for additional information about our scope and methodology.


We conducted this audit from September 2011 to May 2012 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we
plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a
reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We
believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and
conclusions based on our audit objectives.
4
  The United States has signed free trade agreements with Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica,
Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Oman,
Panama, Peru, Singapore, and South Korea. All free trade agreements signed since 2000 include provisions related
to worker rights.
5
  The United States is currently negotiating free trade agreements with Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam
as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Other countries that are part of the Trans- Pacific Partnership Agreement,
and with which the United States already has trade agreements are Australia, Chile, Peru, and Singapore.
6
  Individual country references and examples in this report are included for illustrative purposes only and are not
intended as commentary on human rights in those countries. In addition, the results of our analysis are not
generalizable to the other 169 country reports included in the 2010 HRR.
7
  The International Labor Organization is a United Nations agency whose mission is to bring together representatives
from governments, employers, and workers to jointly shape policies and programs promoting decent work for all.


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Summary
State has an extensive process designed to make the country reports on human rights
as comprehensive, objective, and uniform as possible. This process includes annually
issuing detailed instructions, consulting and assessing information from multiple
sources, and collaboratively and iteratively drafting and reviewing the reports. State
issues instructions for preparing the country reports each year, outlining a consistent
structure and describing, for example, the topics that should be included in each
subsection. The instructions also, among other things, indicate that the country reports
should build on the previous year’s reports and specify guidelines for new and updated
content. In addition, the instructions state that staff preparing the country reports are to
use and assess multiple sources, including host governments, local and international
human NGOs, labor unions, and host country media as well as classified information.
State officials told us that they also obtain information from business leaders and
industry groups, although there is no legal requirement to do so. In general, according
to State officials, Foreign Service officers—often on their first or second tour of duty—
prepare first drafts of the country reports with the assistance of other embassy
personnel, and at some embassies, officers with expertise in labor-related issues draft
the report sections on worker rights. 8 DRL editors and subject matter experts lead the
editing and reviewing of the draft reports, aiming to ensure that the reports are as
comprehensive, objective, and uniform as possible; accurately reflect the status of
human rights in each country; and treat issues consistently among countries. During this
process, DRL obtains and addresses comments from reviewers within DRL as well as
from other State bureaus and offices and from Labor.


State generally followed its process for making the country reports comprehensive,
objective, and uniform by obtaining expert reviews, consulting a variety of sources, and
using a consistent structure in the worker rights section of the 25 country reports we
analyzed. In addition to submitting the worker rights sections of each country report for
general reviews as outlined in its production instructions, State submitted the sections to
DRL’s Office of International Labor Affairs and Labor’s Bureau of International Labor
Affairs. To make these sections as comprehensive and objective as possible, State
cited or attributed information to a variety of sources—including governments, UN
entities, labor groups, and human rights groups—consistent with its instructions. We
found that all the worker rights sections of the 25 country reports we reviewed cited or
attributed information to such sources. Our analysis showed that State also cited
information from businesses or regarding business specific activities in 9 of the 25
reports (36 percent) we reviewed. To make the worker rights sections as uniform as
possible, our analysis also showed that the worker rights section of all 25 county reports
followed a consistent structure, addressing the required elements of the worker rights
section as outlined in State’s instructions. Officials at Labor, USTR, the International
Labor Organization, labor groups, and human rights organizations told us that they
viewed the country reports as accurate and objective and that they had not identified
significant errors or problems with reported information. Many of these officials said that
8
 In this report, “embassies” includes all locations where State maintains Foreign Service personnel, such as
embassies, consulates, and other Foreign Service posts.


Page 3                                                                         GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
they would prefer more in-depth coverage of labor issues but that they have other
sources of information. 9 They also recognized that worker rights are not State’s sole
focus and that State must consider the length of the country reports in determining how
much detail to include.


In commenting on a draft of this report, State noted that we accurately captured the
complex process by which it prepared the 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights.


Background
State has issued the HRR since 1977 in response to the amended Foreign Assistance
Act of 1961, which required State to report annually on the observance of, and respect
for, internationally recognized human rights in countries that receive U.S. assistance or
are United Nations (UN) members. 10 The Trade Act of 1974 11 added a mandate that
required the President to report on the status of worker rights for each beneficiary
developing country under the Generalized System of Preferences. 12 State has included
a section on worker rights in the country reports since 1984.


The annual HRR consists of individual country reports covering the status of key
internationally recognized civil, political, and worker rights as set forth in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. 13
Generally, the country reports do not assess trends14 in human rights, compare
countries, or place them in any order other than alphabetically by region. In each
country report, State addresses the following topics:
    1. Respect for the integrity of the person
    2. Respect for civil liberties
    3. Respect for political rights
    4. Official corruption and government transparency
    5. Governmental attitude regarding international and nongovernmental
       investigations of alleged violations of human rights


9
 For example, Labor, in consultation with USTR and State, produces labor rights reports about countries with which
the President is negotiating trade agreements, as required under the Trade Act of 2002. Additionally, Labor reports
annually on the worst forms of child labor, focusing on the efforts of certain U.S. trade preference beneficiary
developing countries to implement commitments to eliminate the worst forms of child labor through their legislation,
enforcement efforts, policies, and social programs.
10
   22 U.S.C. §§ 2151n and 2304. By law the HRR is due on February 25 of each year. According to State, it has
informed the congressional committees to whom it reports of the difficulty of meeting the statutory deadline.
11
   Trade Act of 1974, Pub. L. No. 93-618, § 504 (codified as amended at 19 U.S.C. § 2464).
12
   The Generalized System of Preferences is a program designed to promote economic development in developing
countries by providing duty-free entry of their goods into the United States. As part of the program, the President is
required to report on worker rights in beneficiary countries.
13
   State bases its assessments of worker rights on internationally recognized worker rights as defined by the UN
International Labor Union’s Declaration of Fundamental Principles.
14
   State includes some trend analysis for those countries where abuses are especially serious in the HRR introduction.


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     6. Discrimination, societal abuses, and trafficking in persons
     7. Worker rights, such as the right to organize and bargain collectively


Preparation of the HRR involves a significant commitment of State time and resources
and results in a lengthy product. 15 DRL oversees annual HRR production, including
preparation of the country reports. The bureau includes regional and thematic offices
with specific subject matter expertise. Examples of regional offices are Western
Hemisphere Affairs and East Asia and Pacific, and thematic offices include the offices of
International Labor Affairs and International Religious Freedom. Additionally, DRL
leverages State’s network of overseas Foreign Service personnel who collect
information on human rights practices, investigate incidents, and produce the initial draft
country reports on human rights abuses in each country. These tasks are generally
undertaken by embassy human rights reporting officers, although they may receive
assistance from other members of the embassy staff with specific subject matter
expertise, such as labor officers.


The 2010 HRR included 194 individual country reports, an introduction, and appendixes
and comprised more than 7,000 pages. The individual 2010 country reports varied in
size from 9 pages for the Republic of San Marino to 145 pages for China. 16 To make the
information widely available, State publishes the HRR on its website and translates
country reports into more than 50 languages, as mandated by law. 17


State Has Designed an Extensive Process to Meet Its Goal of Making the Country
Reports as Comprehensive, Objective, and Uniform as Possible
To address its goal of making the country reports on human rights as comprehensive,
objective, and uniform as possible, State has an extensive production process that
includes annual issuance of detailed instructions, consultation with multiple sources,
and collaborative and iterative drafting and reviews.


State Issues Detailed Instructions and Offers Training for Preparation of Country
Reports
State provides annually updated, detailed instructions for preparing the country reports.
These instructions, which State generally issues in August each year, include guidelines
for drafting the reports, an introduction to the process for producing the country reports,
an outline of significant changes from the previous year’s instructions, and reporting
practices. The instructions also outline a consistent structure for each country report,

15
  State’s Office of Inspector General found that the HRR is among the most resource-intensive of the 310
congressionally mandated reports for which State is responsible. See U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector
General, Inspection of Department-Required and Congressionally Mandated Reports: Assessment of Resource
Implications, report number ISP-I-11-11 (Washington, D.C.: 2010).
16
  The China report includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet.
17
  22 U.S.C. § 8222.


Page 5                                                                        GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
specifying subheadings and content for each of seven sections and their subsections.
State officials explained that these instructions are a key tool that State uses to make
the country reports uniform.


State’s instructions for preparing the 2010 country reports indicated that the starting
point for the current year’s country reports are the previous year’s published country
reports. The instructions stated that, whenever possible, embassy staff should update
the 2009 country reports using examples from 2010 and should redraft sections as
needed to reflect any major political developments or serious human rights abuses. In
addition, the instructions provided guidance on identifying abusers and any subsequent
punishment, citing sources, narrating the order and chronology of events, and
determining what should and should not be included. For example, the instructions
stated that government promises, intentions, draft legislation, and proposed government
regulations should not be included prior to enactment or implementation. Further, the
instructions included guidance for discussing human rights law versus human rights
practices, noting that sections dealing with respect for specific rights must first describe
rights provided by constitution or law, followed by actual practices. Foreign Service
officers familiar with the instructions acknowledged that, per the instructions, only facts,
not editorial remarks, should be included in the country reports.


State offers training broadly addressing human rights as well as training addressing
labor rights, 18 including some training focused on the country reports. For example, the
Foreign Service Institute offers several courses covering human rights issues, some of
which include a reporting component, and DRL and some bureaus provide training on
reviewing the country reports. Foreign Service officers working on the country reports
are not required to take State’s human rights or labor rights training, with the exception
of the Foreign Service orientation course, and not all of the embassy staff drafting the
country reports have taken relevant training. Embassy officials told us that in the
absence of training, several factors had helped them in preparing the reports. These
factors included using State’s detailed instructions, beginning the drafting process with
the previous year’s country report, and receiving assistance from colleagues and
supervisors with prior experience on the country reports. (See enclosure II for additional
information about training for staff working on country reports.)


State Consults Multiple Sources in Preparing and Reviewing Country Reports
In preparing and reviewing the country reports, State personnel are to use information
from multiple sources. State’s instructions for the 2010 country reports noted that
personnel drafting the country reports are to include information from sources such as
local and international NGOs, UN human rights bodies, and important regional
institutions. According to Foreign Service officers preparing the reports and State
officers reviewing the reports, the sources they consult include host governments,


18
     In this report, “worker rights” and “labor rights” are used synonymously.


Page 6                                                                           GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
international and local human rights NGOs, labor unions, and host country media. 19
Some Foreign Service officers involved in drafting 2010 country reports told us that they
meet with host government officials, NGO representatives, labor advocates and union
members, business leaders, and individual citizens and foreign workers in the host
country to gather information on human rights abuses. In addition, those preparing and
reviewing the reports use the Internet to locate foreign government sources of
information or data and to corroborate information about events reported in other
sources. Further, embassy officials and country report editors in Washington, D.C., may
draw on classified information to verify facts or may include such information in a
summary or otherwise unclassified manner.


The 2010 country report instructions indicated that State personnel drafting the reports
are to evaluate the credibility of sources, particularly NGOs, since the quality of NGO
information may vary. 20 State officials told us that assessing multiple sources is a
means of enhancing the comprehensiveness and objectivity of the country reports.
According to State officials, the difficulties of producing the country reports include
evaluating the credibility of human rights abuse allegations, as some governments and
opposition groups differ about whether abuses occurred or, if they occurred, how to
categorize them. These officials said that the Foreign Service officers preparing the
reports may discuss, for example, whether an incident involving the killing of a union
leader should be included in a country report as a violation of human rights or worker
rights. In addition, assessing multiple sources allows report drafters to validate factual
information or, if information varies between sources in a significant way, to incorporate
contrasting data points or definitions. For example, the 2010 country report on Colombia
included Colombia government estimates of 2010 trade unionist killings as well as
estimates by a local labor rights NGO. The government reported that 34 trade unionists
were killed, whereas the local labor rights NGO reported that 51 trade unionists were
killed. The report noted that the estimates differed because of different definitions of
trade union membership: the government’s definition included only one category of
union membership, while the NGO’s definition included multiple categories.

State Collaborates Internally and Externally in Preparing and Reviewing Country
Reports
DRL leads a collaborative and iterative process for preparing, editing, and reviewing the
country reports, involving Foreign Service officers and other embassy personnel,
numerous other State staff and officials, Labor officials, and the National Security
Council Staff in Washington, D.C. (See fig. 1.)


19
   The Foreign Assistance Act directs that for the purposes of compiling data and making assessments for the
purposes of the human rights report, U.S. “diplomatic mission personnel shall consult with human rights organizations
and other appropriate nongovernmental organizations.” 22 U.S.C. § 2151n.
20
   In addition to State’s annual instructions for country report preparation, other internal State guidance documents
describe steps for drafting and reviewing the reports. For example, according to a DRL document provided to some
Foreign Service Institute students, “Guiding Principles and Practical Tips for Human Rights Investigations,” staff
investigating alleged human rights abuses “should verify information mainly by checking their consistency with
independent sources” and ”objectively consider all the facts.”


Page 7                                                                        GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
Figure 1: State’s Process for Preparing and Reviewing the Country Reports on Human Rights




a
  DRL may also consult nongovernmental organizations in revising country report preparation instructions.
b
  Staff in DRL’s International Labor Affairs Office are the primary DRL editors for Section 7 on Worker Rights.
c
  Legislation mandates that the report be issued no later than February 25th each year; however, according to State, it
has informed both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of the difficulty
of meeting the statutory deadline.
d
  DRL has numerous offices, including the Offices of International Labor Affairs and International Religious Freedom.
e
  According to State officials, selected country reports receive additional review by the Secretary of State and National
Security Council staff based on the extent of human rights concerns, bilateral relations, and the likelihood of intense
public scrutiny.
f
  Labor reviews the portions of instructions and country reports related to worker rights.




Page 8                                                                                GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
     •   Embassies draft country reports. Foreign Service officers assigned to the human
         rights portfolio of responsibilities at embassies generally produce the initial report
         drafts, according to State officials. The assigned staff are often first or second
         tour officers who use the annual country report preparation instructions and may
         receive assistance from other embassy personnel, including their colleagues and
         supervisors. In addition, some embassies employ dedicated labor officers, whose
         role is to focus on labor-related programs and issues and to draft the worker
         rights sections of country reports. 21 Last, according to State officials, some
         Foreign Service nationals help research and prepare country reports, although
         the level of participation of Foreign Service nationals varies widely from embassy
         to embassy. 22


     •   DRL edits and reviews country reports. DRL leads and coordinates an iterative
         process for editing and internally reviewing the draft country reports. DRL editors
         and subject matter experts edit and review drafts to help ensure that the reports
         (1) comply with production instructions—for example, including all sections and
         subsections, addressing changes from the previous year, adhering to grammar
         and style practices, and properly attributing sources—and (2) accurately and
         objectively reflect the status of human rights in each country. During their draft
         reviews, DRL staff update some information in the reports and request additional
         information from the embassy about certain reported topics or cases. According
         to State officials, in addition to ensuring adherence to instructions and accurate
         reporting, DRL editors endeavor to ensure that the reports present relevant and
         useful information and treat issues consistently across countries. They are also
         charged with removing any judgmental or evaluative statements from the draft
         reports, which are intended to report facts without praise or criticism that may
         express a certain point of view.


     •   Departments of State and Labor and National Security Council Staff review
         country reports. After DRL editors complete their reviews of the country report
         embassy drafts, they solicit and address comments from other subject matter
         experts within and outside State. Within State, numerous bureaus and offices
         review the draft reports, with State’s regional bureaus playing an important role in
         reviewing several report versions for countries in their regions and approving the
         final report language. For example, at State’s Bureau of East Asia and Pacific
         Affairs, the Vietnam desk reviews the Vietnam country report. State’s bureaus
         and offices review country report sections and content relevant to their areas of
         expertise; for example, State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues reviews country



21
   State has 40 dedicated labor officer positions at various embassies around the world. Some embassies that do not
have dedicated labor officers may employ labor reporting officers, who often have broader portfolios that include
reporting on labor issues.
22
   Foreign Service nationals, sometimes referred to as locally employed staff, include both citizens of the host country
and citizens of other countries.


Page 9                                                                           GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
          report content on women’s rights. 23 In addition, experts from Labor’s International
          Labor Affairs Bureau review the worker rights sections of all country reports. DRL
          staff work closely with relevant embassy and regional bureau personnel to
          incorporate stakeholder suggestions through multiple—generally three but
          possibly more—versions of the draft country reports. According to State officials,
          if reviewers identify errors or dispute draft contents during the review process,
          DRL works with the embassy to revise the report and resolve any disagreements.
          Once the embassy and the relevant regional bureau agree on country report
          content, and as the report is being finalized, DRL submits selected country
          reports for additional reviews by high-level officials. For example, the Secretary’s
          Office reviews selected country reports that are likely to receive intense public
          scrutiny by report users. According to State officials, the National Security
          Council Staff also review selected country reports. State officials noted that the
          reviews by subject matter experts are an important means of ensuring that the
          country reports are as comprehensive and objective as possible, since these
          individuals have access to potentially different sources of information and
          relevant expertise. State officials also noted that the multiple layers of review and
          content vetting help ensure that the country reports rarely exclude significant
          events and make the likelihood of a substantial factual error very low.


     •    State releases country reports on its website and responds to feedback from
          individuals and host countries. DRL publishes the final HRR, including the
          country reports, on State and embassy websites, and State holds a press
          conference announcing the HRR’s release. 24 Following the HRR’s online
          publication, DRL may receive comments from the public, including foreign
          governments and individuals. For example, according to State officials, other
          governments sometimes express concerns or critiques to the embassy regarding
          the tone or contents of the published reports, and DRL works with the relevant
          U.S. embassy to evaluate such claims. State officials noted, and representatives
          of U.S. and international human rights organizations confirmed, that other
          governments commonly criticize the U.S. government for not publishing a report
          on its own human rights practices. 25 State officials said that when they become
          aware of an error in an online published country report, they immediately correct
          it. State officials told us, for example, that after a published country report
          described a journalist as having been killed, the journalist contacted State to say
          that he was alive; State verified his identity and then revised the report to say that
          he had been injured. However, State officials said that they rarely revise

23
   In addition to State’s regional bureaus, DRL solicits reviews and comments on the draft country reports from subject
matter experts in State’s functional bureaus such as the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, the Bureau
of Intelligence and Research, and the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.
24
   The HRR can also be accessed from DRL’s website, accessed April 26, 2012, http://www.humanrights.gov/.
25
   In 2010, the U.S. government issued its first report about its own human rights practices in response to a UN
requirement. The Report of the United States of America Submitted to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human
Rights in Conjunction with the Universal Periodic Review is available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/upr/, accessed May
16, 2012. Additionally, the U.S. government complies with obligations to report to the UN concerning the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/c16069.htm, accessed
April 25, 2012.


Page 10                                                                               GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
          published country reports. 26 In addition, State officials said that because they
          issue the country reports in electronic form only, they do not issue an erratum
          when they correct an error in a published report, and they do not keep a record of
          these corrections. According to State officials, because so many people around
          the world read the country reports, State will not risk its credibility by knowingly
          publishing inaccurate reports.


State Generally Followed Its Process for Preparing the Worker Rights Sections of
the 2010 Country Reports
State generally followed its process by obtaining expert reviews, consulting a variety of
sources, and following a consistent structure in the worker rights section of the 25
country reports we analyzed. 27


State Obtained Expert Reviews and Consulted Various Sources for 2010 Worker Rights
Sections
State followed its process by obtaining multiple reviews of the draft country reports,
including reviews by subject matter experts, to ensure comprehensive coverage of
important issues and objective presentation of each report topic. In addition, our
analysis of the 25 worker rights sections showed that State consulted a variety of
sources.
     •    Expert reviews. Officials at DRL’s Office of International Labor Affairs told us that,
          as worker rights subject matter experts, they reviewed the embassy draft of each
          worker rights section to help ensure that the reports included comprehensive
          coverage of key worker rights issues in each country and accurately and
          objectively discussed worker rights laws and practice. Beginning with the 2010
          country reports, these officials functioned as the primary editors for the worker
          rights sections. In addition, State officials from the other bureaus that review the
          reports had the opportunity to comment on the worker rights section. For
          example, DRL officials noted that comments from State’s Office to Monitor and
          Combat Trafficking in Persons are often particularly valuable for preparing
          relevant topics in the worker rights section such as child labor. Labor’s Bureau of
          International Labor Affairs also reviewed the reports. Reviewing officials whom
          we spoke with indicated that their reviews were intended to help ensure that the
          worker rights sections omit no significant information, include significant events,
          and present information objectively. Labor officials said that they reviewed the
          reports to make sure that they addressed salient issues or events in topics such
          as child labor, export processing zones, conditions of work, and occupational
          safety and health. These officials indicated that individuals with country and
          subject matter expertise also review reports to make sure that the reports capture
          key labor developments and events. Additionally, officials from Labor’s Office of

26
   State could not quantify the number of revisions it has made to 2010 country reports, because it does not document
this information.
27
   For more information regarding this analysis, see enclosure I.


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          Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking noted that their review is
          intended to make sure that information included in the country reports is
          consistent with their own internal information. Other Labor officials said that they
          sometimes provide comments with updated data if information included in the
          worker rights section are outdated relative to Labor’s information. State did not
          provide examples of suggested edits for the 2010 country reports.


     •    Various information sources. We found that the 25 worker rights sections we
          reviewed cited or attributed information to a variety of sources, including
          governments, UN entities, labor and human rights groups, NGOs, and industry.
          In particular, we found that 24 of 25 reports specifically attributed information to
          both government and nongovernment sources. 28 For example, our analysis of
          the worker rights section for the Dominican Republic identified citations for
          information from the host government, including its labor ministry; national and
          local labor groups; international organizations; NGOs; business groups; and
          several anonymous sources. 29 In addition, nine reports specifically noted
          information from businesses or regarding specific business activities. For
          example, the worker rights section of the 2010 country report for Costa Rica
          noted that “there were reports that agricultural workers, particularly migrant
          laborers in the pineapple industry, worked in unsafe conditions,” but also that the
          Chamber of Pineapple Producers and Exporters disagreed with the reports. In
          another instance, the worker rights section of the 2010 country report for
          Colombia noted that child labor remained a problem in the production of several
          types of goods, including emeralds. The Colombia worker rights section also
          indicated that the Colombian National Emerald Federation signed an agreement
          with international partners including the U.S. Agency for International
          Development to, among other things, prevent child labor in emerald mines. 30
          State officials who contributed to 2010 country reports told us that they consulted
          with, and weighed information from, various sources, such as NGOs, host
          governments, business groups such as chambers of commerce, local and
          international media, and individual workers in preparing the worker rights
          sections.


Officials at Labor, USTR, the International Labor Organization, and NGOs told us that
the country reports worker rights sections did not leave out significant information. In
addition, officials and individuals we spoke with from Labor and USTR, labor
organizations, the International Labor Organization, and human rights NGOs said that
they viewed the country reports as accurate and objective and that they had not

28
   The worker rights section of the 2010 country report for Singapore did not directly attribute information to the
government of Singapore.
29
   Anonymous citations may include individuals who remain unnamed because of safety concerns as well as
unclassified summaries of classified information.
30
   Our analysis identifies the smallest possible number of sources from which State gathered information because
country reports do not include a citation for every sentence. For example, State does not provide citations if doing so
could put the source at risk of retribution. See enclosure I for more information regarding our analysis.


Page 12                                                                                GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
identified significant errors or problems with reported information. 31 However, many
officials said that they require more in-depth coverage of labor issues for their purposes
and noted that other sources of more comprehensive and detailed information are
available. For example, a USTR official explained that although staff in his office find
the country reports helpful as providing a broad summary of human rights conditions in
a country, they work directly with embassy labor officers to acquire more detailed, up-to-
date information for use in trade negotiations or trade agreement monitoring. Officials
we spoke with who use the country reports also recognized that worker rights are not
the sole focus of the country reports and that State must consider report length in
determining how much detail to include.


State Used a Consistent Structure for 2010 Worker Rights Sections
We found that the worker rights section of all 25 country reports we reviewed followed
the structure specified in the 2010 preparation instructions, which described in detail the
information that worker rights section of each 2010 country report should include. For
example, the sections each addressed these required five elements: the right of
association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, prohibition of forced or
compulsory labor, prohibition of child labor and minimum age for employment, and
acceptable conditions of work. 32 In addition, per State’s instructions, the worker rights
subsections in all but the report for Singapore began with a discussion of worker rights
provided by the country’s constitution or laws. The report for Singapore did not discuss
laws regarding the right to bargain or organize collectively.


Agency Comments
We provided State with a copy of this draft report for review. State provided written
comments, which are reprinted in enclosure III. State noted that we accurately captured
the complex process by which it prepared the 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights.
Additionally, Labor, State, and USTR provided technical comments on a draft of this
report, which we incorporated, as appropriate.


We are sending copies of this report to the appropriate congressional committees, the
Secretary of Labor, and the U.S. Trade Representative. The report will also be available
at no charge on our website at http://www.gao.gov.


31
   We interviewed representatives from labor organizations—the American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial
Organizations and the International Trade Union Confederation—and human rights NGOs—Human Rights First,
Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House.
32
   State bases its assessments of worker rights on internationally recognized worker rights as statutorily defined by the
1984 Generalized System of Preferences Renewal Act. State’s guidance on preparing the worker rights section
summarizes the act as follows: “[The Act] states that internationally recognized worker rights include: ‘(a) the right of
association; (b) the right to organize and bargain collectively; (c) a prohibition on the use of any form of forced or
compulsory labor; (d) a minimum age for the employment of children; and (e) acceptable conditions of work with
respect to minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health.’ All five aspects of worker rights are
discussed in each country report under the section heading ‘Worker Rights’.”


Page 13                                                                           GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
If you have any questions about this report, please contact me at (202) 512-9601 or
melitot@gao.gov. Contact points for our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public
Affairs may be found on the last page of this report. GAO staff who made major
contributions to this report are listed in enclosure IV.


Sincerely yours,




Thomas Melito
Director, International Affairs and Trade



Enclosures - 4




Page 14                                                        GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
Enclosure I: Scope and Methodology


To examine the Department of State’s (State) process for preparing its Country Reports
on Human Rights Practices, we reviewed relevant laws and department procedures and
instructional documents. We also met with State officials who issue annual instructions
for preparing the reports, including staff from State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human
Rights, and Labor (DRL). In addition, we interviewed Foreign Service officers—human
rights reporting officers and, in some instances, officers responsible for reporting on
labor issues—who prepared the 2010 reports for Colombia, Jordan, Russia, and
Vietnam, from the U.S. embassies in those countries. We selected these countries
because, respectively, Colombia is a new U.S. free-trade partner, whose agreement
was signed in October 2011; Jordan was the first country with which the United States
signed a free trade agreement that included labor rights provisions; Vietnam is currently
negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States, in the context of the Trans-
Pacific Partnership; and Russia has been approved for accession to the World Trade
Organization. Additionally, we interviewed the DRL officials who served as editors and
reviewers of the reports for those countries, including officials at DRL’s Office of
International Labor Affairs and State’s regional bureaus. We also interviewed officials at
the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, which assists in instruction
preparation and report reviewing, as well as the Bureau of Economics and Business
Affairs, which reviews the country reports. We met with Department of Labor officials
who have input into the annual instructions and who review the worker rights sections of
the country reports. In addition, one of our staff attended a weeklong State-DRL course,
“Promoting Human Rights and Democracy,” at State’s Foreign Service Institute, which
included instructions on preparing the HRR.


To determine the extent to which State followed its process in preparing the worker
rights section of the 2010 country reports, we reviewed that section in 25 country
reports. These reports included the 20 countries with which the United States has
signed free trade agreements; 4 countries with which the United States is currently
negotiating trade agreements; and 1 country, Russia, which the World Trade
Organization approved recently for accession. We selected these 25 countries because
they represent the universe of countries with which the United States has existing, new,
and potential free trade agreements, since all free trade agreements signed by the U.S.
since 2000 have include provisions related to worker rights. The results of our analysis
are not generalizable to the other 169 country reports included in the 2010 HRR. In
addition, we met with State officials who prepared, edited, and reviewed the country
reports for Colombia, Jordan, Russia, and Vietnam. We also interviewed officials from
the Department of Labor; the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative; the International
Labor Organization; human rights nongovernmental organizations, including Human
Rights First, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House; and labor organizations,
including the American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations and
the International Trade Union Confederation, to obtain their views on the country
reports’ comprehensiveness and objectivity. Further, we contacted nine business
groups, including the U.S. Russian Business Council, the U.S. Association of Southeast


Page 15                                                      GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
Asian Nations Business Council, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce South East Asia
Team, among others, to obtain their views on the worker rights section of the country
reports. One group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Jordan, agreed to meet with us;
representatives of the other eight groups did not respond to our outreach, said that they
did not follow labor issues, or said that they did not have time to meet with us.


To determine the extent to which the worker rights sections of the 25 country reports
adhered to State’s instructions to consult various information sources in preparing the
reports, we compared the types of sources cited in the reports with the types of sources
that the instructions prescribe, such as U.S. and foreign government officials, victims of
human rights abuse, academic and congressional studies, media reports, international
human rights and labor organizations, and nongovernmental organizations concerned
with human rights. To determine the types of sources that State used in its reporting,
two analysts independently reviewed sources cited in the worker rights section of the 25
sample country reports, categorizing 547 citations according to the type of source
organization. The two GAO analysts then discussed and resolved any differences in the
results of their review and source type determinations, and a supervisor reviewed and
approved the final results of the analysis. We undertook this analysis because State
could not provide us with all of the source materials consulted for any 2010 country
reports; State officials indicated that they do not maintain all the supporting records or
documentation used to compile the reports. Our analysis identified the minimum number
of sources State consulted because source attribution is not required for every
statement included in the country reports. For example, drafters are not required to
provide citations for information that they have corroborated with multiple sources.
Additionally, drafters and reviewers may have different writing style preferences.
Therefore, the actual number of sources State consulted is likely to be greater than the
number we identified.


To determine the extent to which country reports are uniform, we analyzed the worker
rights section structure in the 25 country reports against the criteria outlined in State’s
instructions. For this analysis, two GAO analysts independently reviewed the structure
of the worker rights sections in the 25 selected 2010 country reports to verify that the
reports followed these criteria.


We conducted this audit from September 2011 to May 2012 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we
plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a
reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We
believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and
conclusions based on our audit objectives.




Page 16                                                            GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
Enclosure II: Training for Staff Working on Country Reports


State provides several forms of training on human and labor rights, some of it focused
on preparation of the country reports.
     •    State’s Foreign Service Institute offers several courses covering some aspects of
          human rights. First, the Foreign Service orientation, which all Foreign Service
          officers are required to complete, covers some aspects of human rights. 33
          Second, State established a focused human rights course in fiscal year 2011, to
          cover human rights issues previously included in a broader Global Issues course.
          Third, two courses for Foreign Service nationals address human rights content
          including preparation of the country reports. Fourth, the Foreign Service Institute,
          in coordination with State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
          (DRL) and the Department of Labor, offers labor rights training, covering the
          skills and knowledge required to serve as a labor attaché or labor reporting
          officer and focusing on worker rights reporting, major domestic and international
          labor issues, and related topics. 34


     •    Since fiscal year 2004, State, in collaboration with the Department of Labor, has
          provided regional labor rights training for Foreign Service officers and Foreign
          Service nationals, particularly those who may not have had the opportunity to
          attend the Foreign Service Institute labor course. For example, State hosted two
          3-day regional conferences in Cairo, Egypt, and Bangkok, Thailand, in fiscal year
          2010, and one in Miami, Florida, in fiscal year 2011, that included presentations
          from the Departments of Labor and State, Office of the U.S. Trade
          Representative, American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial
          Organizations, and regional labor groups. 35 According to State officials, the
          Foreign Service Institute, in conjunction with DRL, is developing distance
          learning courses for both human and labor rights issues, in an effort to minimize
          the cost associated with traveling for training.


     •    DRL and some bureaus provide training focused on preparation of the country
          reports. DRL provides country report review training to its country report editors
          as well as reviewers working in State’s regional bureaus. In addition, State
          bureaus such as Population, Refugees, and Migration conduct training for staff
          reviewing the country reports. Officials in this bureau also provided training to
          the DRL country report editors regarding reproductive rights and other issues to
          be addressed in the country reports.



33
   New officers also often take a course called “Political-Economic Tradecraft for Foreign Service officers,” which
includes some discussion of human rights.
34
   The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative also participates in the labor rights training as a presenter.
35
   Miami, Florida, serves as a travel hub for posts in State’s Western Hemisphere Affairs bureau.


Page 17                                                                           GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
Staff working on the country reports are not required to take State’s human and labor
rights training, with the exception of the Foreign Service orientation course, and not all
of the embassy staff drafting the country reports have taken relevant training. Embassy
officials told us that in the absence of training, State’s detailed instructions, beginning
the drafting process with the previous year’s country report, and the assistance of
colleagues and supervisors who had previously worked on the country report had
helped them to successfully draft the reports.




Page 18                                                            GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
Enclosure III: Comments from the Department of State




Page 19                                                GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
Page 20   GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
Page 21   GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
Enclosure IV: GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments

Contact

Thomas Melito, (202) 512-9601 or melitot@gao.gov


Staff Acknowledgments

In addition to the contact named above, key contributors to this report were: Cheryl
Goodman, Assistant Director; Julie Hirshen; Kathryn Bolduc; and Sada Aksartova.
Martin de Alteriis, Grace Lui, Reid Lowe, David Hancock, Ann Baker, Etana Finkler, and
Elizabeth Hegedus-Berthold provided technical assistance.




(320874)




Page 22                                                       GAO-12-561R Human Rights Report
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