“We are Unable to Confirm…”

An Exercise in Burying our Heads in the Sand: The State Department and Oppressive Governments Everywhere

By Gregory Treat – Jubilee Campaign Staffer, Government Relations Coordinator, Special Projects, Manager of Jubilee Facebook Page and This Blog

Working for Jubilee Campaign gives me the honor and privilege of working on cases and improving human rights from all over the world. In the course of that effort, I work with some absolutely great people throughout the U.S. Government including the U. S. Department of State.

However, sometimes the sheer self-serving moral cowardice masquerading as pragmatism that infests our government agencies sickens me.  Specifically, over the past weeks I have been exposed to a consistent pattern in the State Department that offends me on both an intellectual and moral level.

Let us take two human rights issues: forced abortion and sterilization imposed on women and families in China and forced conversions and marriages afflicting Coptic Christian girls in Egypt.

On July 21, I attended a briefing on China’s forced abortion and sterilization practices. I want to send a big thank you to those of you who prayed for that briefing; it went very well. The briefing clearly presented documentation and eyewitness accounts that China performs forced abortions and sterilization as a part of their One-Child policy.

Unfortunately the China Profile of Asylum Claims and Country Conditions, released by the U.S. Department of State downplayed any claims of forced abortion or sterilization in China, labeling them ‘alleged’ or ‘unconfirmed.’ Characterizing the ongoing practice of forced abortion and sterilization in this manner hamstrings advocacy efforts to end this human rights abuse or help the victims.

This report influences the U.S. government to such an extent that under current U.S. policy the courts refuse to give asylum to some Chinese couples who have violated the one-child policy. After all, according to the China Profile released by the U.S. Department of State, the People’s Republic of China no longer practices forced abortion and sterilization. This will surprise Chinese human rights advocates such as Chen Guangcheng who served a four-year prison sentence and is still under house arrest for protesting this ongoing practice.

A second example of the use of the word ‘alleged’ to describe ongoing human rights abuses occurs in relation to Egypt’s Coptic Christians.  The Coptic Christian community in Egypt suffers widespread and virulent persecution at every turn. Perhaps the most grievous form of this persecution targets young Coptic girls. Coptic girls are lured away from the protection of their families, kidnapped, drugged, and raped. Broken by this brutality, the girls submit to ‘marriage’ and ‘conversion’ that no civilized society would recognize as voluntary. Human trafficking for sexual purposes communicates the reality.

Concerned NGOs and independent investigations have documented literally hundreds of such cases. Experts estimate that this practice claims thousands of Coptic women every year. Despite this readily available evidence, which NGOs often directly submit to the U.S. Department of State, the Country Report on Human Rights Practices, the International Religious Freedom Report and the Annual Report on Trafficking in Persons describe documented and reliable evidence as mere ‘allegations’ that are ‘disputed.’

Enormous amounts of evidence verify the existence of these human rights abuses. Hundreds of witnesses have told their stories in every venue. Congressional hearings, sworn testimony in court, news interviews, and Youtube videos all tell the same story. Yet the U.S. Department of State insists on evaluating these human rights violations in China and in Egypt in a manner that is intellectually absurd.

I attended a Helsinki Commission Hearing “Minorities at Risk: Coptic Christians in Egypt” on July 22, 2011. At that hearing, Michelle Clark, a recognized expert on human trafficking communicated the question very well. “Under normal human rights circumstances, such reporting eliminates the use of the word allegation. I’m just wondering why the word allegation persists now that we have been able to document such reports.”

I think that many of those who are informed about  human rights abuses are asking the same question. I know I am.