By Dave Clark, AFP
WASHINGTON — Low-profile U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came under attack on Friday for failing to appear in public to launch his own department’s annual human rights report. President Donald Trump’s chief diplomat, who has all but dropped from public view since taking office a month ago, penned a brief preface to the survey of the rights record of 199 countries. But there was no event or news conference to mark its launch, and the State Department provided only an anonymous “senior administration official” to respond to reporters’ questions. “Every Sec State since at least Warren Christopher personally released the human rights reports,” declared Tom Malinowski, who was assistant secretary for human rights under the previous U.S. administration.
Missing in Action? In a Tweet, Malinowksi dubbed Tillerson “MIA” — missing in action — and warned that this was “bad for him and for the country.” International watchdog Human Rights Watch linked Tillerson’s no-show to what it fears is a broader decision by Trump’s administration to downplay America’s leadership role on the issue.
“Trump’s anti-Muslim refugee policy and hinted cuts to foreign aid have heightened concerns that the U.S. won’t be a vocal player on human rights issues abroad,” HRW Washington director Sarah Margon said.
Tillerson’s absence, she added “reinforces the message to governments, rights activists, and at-risk minorities that the State Department might also be silent on repression, abuse, and exploitation.” Even before the report — a large database of country reports on the State Department site — was released, a senior lawmaker from Trump’s own Republican party had expressed concern about the launch. “For first time in a long time @StateDept #humanrights report will not be presented by Secretary of State. I hope they reconsider,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the foreign relations committee.