AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Good morning. I thought I might say a few words about how the report is prepared just so that we have that background, and then I'd be happy to take questions.
As the Secretary mentioned, the report has been a legislative requirement on the Executive Branch going back to the late 1970s. The origins of this were that Congress, in making decisions on security assistance, initially, said we've we find ourselves giving security assistance to countries that sometimes have pretty unsavory records, and we would like to know what the factual situation is before we make those judgments. So they imposed on the Executive the requirement that each year we prepare a report. Initially it was on the situation of human rights in countries that were recipients of security assistance, but then in later years Congress broadened that out so we now do reports on every country that is a member-state of the UN, and as the Secretary mentioned, some territories as well � for example, Hong Kong, while part of China, has a distinct system so we do a separate report on it.
The way the reports are done, there are instructions that are prepared each year during the summer and go out to our embassies abroad. What they change sometimes a bit year to year when we find that things weren't too clear in a previous year or something, and we will rectify them, but they've been pretty consistently the same over the years.
And what those instructions seek to do is basically ask a series of questions: Were there reports of extrajudicial killings in the country of your assignment or not? Were there credible reports of torture or not? If so, how much type of thing. So we're asking exactly the same questions for every country. There is not one set of questions for the United Kingdom and a different set for North Korea or something. It's exactly the same questionnaire.
What differs amongst the reports is the answers, and our people in the field strive to gather facts. One thing the Secretary has been very strong on as we went through the editing process this year is let's keep it to the facts, ma'am, and not draw conclusions but try to always get back to what are the facts we know about this and can we repeat those and let the facts speak for themselves.
So that's the way it's done. In process terms, the report is prepared at the embassy or consulate with a couple of exceptions. Where we don't have an embassy or consulate, like North Korea or Iran, it gets prepared in the regional bureau here by the desk officers. But in all the rest of the cases, it's done by the human rights officer at post, it's reviewed up the chain in the embassy, the first draft gets sent in to Washington. Then we have a staff of editors in DRL who go through and are comparing what we're seeing there to other reporting on the subject. We look at international human rights organizations and what they're saying. And this is often just to test our people. You can go back and say, well, you said this but we see that Amnesty International says that; what is the explanation for the discrepancy? And we try to sharpen the focus in that way.
Eventually we make edits. It goes back out to the embassy again for a second go-around of review and editing. And then they send their final version in, we do a final edit on it, and then if there are any discrepancies we work those out with the regional assistant secretary concerned and get the final version done.
So that's the process for every country in the world. Again, it's � there's not a different process for friends and foes. It's all the same. And what we're trying to do is to just get as clear and as factual a report as we possibly can.
One final comment on that is obviously, we can't document every abuse that's occurred in a place because sometimes, unfortunately, they're so widespread that you just wouldn't have enough pages to write them. So what we try to do is have a description of the trend in that country and then give an example. So if it says there were credible reports of torture, we try to quantify that a bit � was it one isolated incident or was it widespread and systematic � but then we'll give an example. But it's just that, an example. The fact that some other case isn't mentioned in the report doesn't mean it was less important. It's just that we're using one as an illustration of the behavior that unfortunately is sometimes replicated en masse.
With that, I think I'll stop and go to your questions.
MR PALLADINO: Want to do questions? You have any questions?
MR PALLADINO: Start with Bloomberg.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, I'm wondering what signal you think it sends that in the preamble to the report, the Secretary just says flat-out that the administration's policy is to engage with other countries regardless of their human rights record?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah. And that has been the policy and often is a � I mean, what we're saying there is we will engage. Sometimes we're engaging for the purpose of trying to get them to change their human rights practices, sometimes it's because we're trying to get them to stop threatening their neighbors. But I think the reason that that's in the preface is to make it clear that our engaging with them does not mean we are approving of or accepting of their behavior. We're saying we're engaging with them despite their behavior sometimes and trying to use our engagement to make improvements in that. So that's the sense, I think, that he was conveying there.
MR PALLADINO: Associated Press.
QUESTION: Thanks. Last year in this report, there was a little bit of a kerfuffle over whether or not the Palestinian Territories or the West Bank would be called occupied, and Golan. And the Golan was, in last year's report, referred to as Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, but this year it says Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Does that signal any kind of a change in the administration's position as it relates to the Golan?
And then the second thing is that: Are governments asked to respond to the � what's identified in these reports? Do you accept foreign governments' comments on what this is? And I say this again in relation to Israel because it makes a point of � and it's the only, that I can find, one where it says we have sought input from the Government of Israel on this. Are any other countries given the same opportunity?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah. In sequence, on the descriptor of what kind of territory in Israel as we tried to shift last year � and this, by the way, is not a human rights issue. It's a legal status issue and so the decisions on that get made by the regional bureau, by the Legal Adviser's Office, and we follow their lead. But I think the � what they were trying to signal there is our � what we're trying to do is report on the human rights situation in those territories, and so you're trying to � you're just trying to find a way of describing the place that you're reporting on.
And occupied territory has a legal meaning to it. I think what they tried to do was shift more to just a geographic description. So we said Israel, Golan, West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, and it's a complicated report because there are sometimes multiple authorities who have authority over people in particular parts of that territory. So it's a very complicated one to write, but the � my understanding from the policy bureaus on this is that there's no change in our outlook or our policy vis-a-vis the territories and the need for a negotiated settlement there.
On the --
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: reference to the input, that is something that we � and I think it's back in the annex � that we do try. We don't ask the governments to comment on a draft of the report. The report isn't shown � I mean, you � Congress sees it the morning of, you guys see it an hour or two later than Congress and you have a jump on the rest of the world in that respect. But during the year, if our embassies are doing their job, they're out trying to gather data on human rights, they're taking up concerns that they see and so on, so they are getting input from the government. And in a lot of cases where you're looking at things where you want data or there's an allegation that this was an extrajudicial killing, you go to the government of concern and say, okay, and what's your story on this and they'll say no, it was a shooting in self-defense by the police or something. If there's a dispute like that, then we try to report it.
Now, in the case of the Israel report, I think it was felt that because of the different sources of information we get and that sometimes each of them will accuse the other of being biased, that we just made it explicit in that report. But it's explicit in the reports overall, so the practice isn't any different. The form is a little bit different.
QUESTION: A quick clarification on this point, sir, if I may. If I --
MR PALLADINO: Let's call on folks, Said. Okay? Now we're going to call on folks.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry. Can I � just because � okay.
MR PALLADINO: I'm going to call on you. Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sure, thank you. Thank you very much.
MR PALLADINO: You're welcome.
QUESTION: I'm sorry for the interruption. I just wanted to follow on Matt. Very quickly so we can understand, you no longer consider the West Bank to be occupied in these reports?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: No. I said that our policy on the status of the territories had not changed. That is my understanding of our current thing. We just � we decided not to use the term in the reports because it's not a human rights term and it was distracting.
QUESTION: And on Gaza � and on the violence on the Gaza fence, you're citing the Israeli Defense Force, the settlers, and so on. Did you talk to anyone in Gaza about this? Did you gather information or do you have any mechanism to gather information on what's going on in Gaza?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: We talked to nongovernmental organizations; we talked to the Palestinian Authority. We don't talk to Hamas, I must say, so we don't try to reflect their point of view. We rely on media. There is � we basically try to vacuum it. It's the same kind of job you all do as reporters. We're trying to look at all credible or potentially credible sources of information, suck them in, match them against each other, and see if � if there's a consistent story there, great, and if there's a divergence, we try to explain the divergence. We don't try to judge that one version is accurate and the other one isn't. We're using � essentially applying the same standards to different sources of information.
MR PALLADINO: Let's go to Washington Post.
QUESTION: In the section on Saudi Arabia, you describe the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, but there is no mention in that section on � in the Khashoggi section on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who many believe may have directed the killing. And so I wanted to � even though he's mentioned in passing later on in a separate section, in corruption, he's not mentioned in the Khashoggi section. So I wanted to ask you why that � why you didn't mention him and if you think you were pulling any punches.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Well, I think, with respect to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the U.S. has been very clear. This was a horrendous, horrific act that the people responsible, regardless of their level, should be held to account, should be brought to justice. The � as a result of diplomatic contacts, the Saudi Government, I think as is reflected in the report � the king has said that that is their policy, to bring � to do a proper investigation and bring to account those who are responsible for the killing. That investigation is still underway. We can all have our suspicions or our speculation as to where it may lead, but our effort has been to have where it comes out be fact-driven rather than opinion-driven. But we also are committed to getting all the facts, and we � we're going to hold the Government of Saudi Arabia to its promise that they will do a thorough investigation and find all the facts.
I think as the report reflects, they have begun an investigation. They've indicted some people. They have more people under suspicion, under investigation, but it's not a complete, by any means, investigation at this point. So we're � we're sort of in the middle of that movie, and hopefully as it plays out we'll get a clearer set of facts as to who was and who was not responsible, and act accordingly.
Where we have had strong factual information, videotapes or others, we have � or statements by the governments concerned, we've already taken measures in terms of imposing visa restrictions and sanctions on some of the people that are prime suspects in the case. But that doesn't mean there are not others, it just means the investigation and the facts haven't taken us there yet.
MR PALLADINO: Press Trust of India.
QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to you about your � what is your assessment about human rights situation in China, where hundreds and thousands of people of religious minorities have been put behind bars?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah, I think as the Secretary just mentioned, it's in a � they're in a league of their own. I mean, for me, you haven't seen things like this since the 1930s of rounding up � I mean, in our � some estimations are in the millions of people � and then putting them into camps and trying � and torturing them, abusing them, and trying to basically erase their culture and their religion and so on from their DNA. It's just remarkably awful.
We have tried to � over the year we've been trying to push this information out, trying to gain wider international attention to the problem. I would say we've had maybe some success in that respect in that initially the Chinese Government was denying that there were any camps or that anything was going on. Now they're saying, well, there are camps, but they're some kind of labor training camps and that it's all very voluntary and so on. That does not match the facts that we and others are seeing, but at least I think we're starting to make them realize that there's a lot of international scrutiny on this and none of it is good from their standpoint. It's really � it's one of the most serious human rights problems in the world today.
MR PALLADINO: CBS.
QUESTION: Thank you. You said earlier when � during the editing process, the Secretary said to you, let's just keep this to the facts, and you talked about how it's written, and then it goes up, and of course like anything we do as well it gets � it goes through an editing process. So to Carol's question, I'm curious if at any point during this process there was a version of the Saudi section that included some evaluation or mention of the culpability of the crown prince in the Khashoggi killing.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: No. Well, I won't go into � I don't want to get into that for every report, but we have not � and not only in the report, but I think in any other format � tried to draw our own conclusions as to who was and who wasn't responsible. We � there are two governments that have jurisdiction, criminal jurisdiction over the case: the Turkish Government and the Saudi Government. And we are pushing for a genuine, transparent, thorough, factual investigation. And until we see that, trying to speculate about how might or might not have been involved is just not productive. So that's where we've been.
MR PALLADINO: The New York Times.
QUESTION: Thanks, everyone, for doing this. One more question on the Saudis, and then one additional one. In the Saudi case, clearly the United States has gained a good deal of intelligence information that you've read about in the Times, Post, elsewhere that suggest what the evidentiary base is for their conclusion that with medium to high confidence that the crown prince was directly involved. I'm wondering if you have made sure that that information has been shared with the Saudi investigators to make it a little bit more difficult for Saudi Arabia to brush aside the complicity of the crown prince in this.
And then I just wanted to ask you about North Korea, because in previous reports you had referred to egregious human rights violations. I missed that word here, but maybe you replaced it with something else.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: On the last first. I think the way � the format we've been using the last year or two in the summary up front is that where � we try to say for each country significant human � or human rights issues included. And then what basically we're trying to do, we have a template there. If it's torture or if it's extrajudicial killing and some other � criminal libel, some other serious things, they go in that section. There are other human rights violations that we don't put in there, because every country you can come up with a ton of them. But we're trying to say let's � in the executive summary, let's try to hit the worst forms and see if those were present or not in the country.
Where egregious has come in is there are happily some countries where none of those things are present, so we say there were no reports of egregious human rights violations. But I don't know that we've said � that we've characterized North Korea as � I mean, implicitly it is egregious because it has a litany of all the different things that they do that are fitting into that paragraph. And then you asked about --
QUESTION: On the intelligence information. Have you shared --
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah, and I just don't know what our law enforcement people have done with their counterparts in the other countries. So I'd have to refer you to --
QUESTION: Has that data been shared with you in the preparation of this report? In other words, did you receive the CIA assessment in either classified or unclassified form that would �
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: I'm not going to go into intelligence.
QUESTION: Okay, so what we should report is the State Department is not saying whether or not it reviewed the intelligence report about � that came to the conclusion that the crown prince --
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: We � when we do these reports � let me generalize this � when we do these reports, we seek all relevant sources of information, including U.S. intelligence information. And --
QUESTION: And you will not say whether in the Saudi case --
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: But I'm not going to say what that was in any particular case because I can't comment on intelligence.
QUESTION: I didn't ask you what it was. I was asking you if you received it in the Saudi case.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: I'm not going to even say with respect to particular countries, whether it's Saudi or anybody else. So it's not a � I mean, I'm not giving you an answer about Saudi; I'm giving you a general answer that I'm not going to say this, but I can say that we � I mean, we routinely review intelligence information as part of our daily job when we're doing the reports. We look at classified reporting, State Department reporting. We look at classified reporting from other agencies, because that's part of the panoply of information that we try to boil down and come up with a coherent report.
MR PALLADINO: Al Hurra. Michel.
QUESTION: If you need to rank the countries, who are the worst countries and who are the best?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: That's something we don't do. I know this is � some of our legislative frameworks require us to put people in tiers and that kind of thing. I think one of the strengths of the Human Rights Report over the years is we don't do that. So people aren't � there's no incentive to shade your reporting to try to avoid being in one tier or to be ranked in some way or another. We just try to report the facts on each country as best we can assess them and let the reader draw the conclusion.
Now when I was just mentioning that executive summary paragraph, one of the reasons that we have tried to get it more into a template format there is so that the reader can look at that. And I think if you go through the reports, if you see a country that says there were no reports of egregious human rights violations, that's probably in the pretty good category even though when you read the body there may be some issues, but at least they're not these really serious ones. But then if you look at another one, and they've got extrajudicial killing, they've got torture, they've got rape as a weapon of war, killing journalists, closing down independent media � bang, bang, bang, all of those things, you'd say, well, that probably fits in the worst category or pretty close to it. But we try to make it so that the reader can draw that conclusion, but we don't draw those conclusions ourselves.
MR PALLADINO: Let's go CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you. Going off of that, Mr. Ambassador, in the Iran section you say that their human rights record remained extremely poor. That seems to be editorializing much more than in other instances where you just lay out the human rights violations. Why that use of kind of editorial language? And a second quick question: Why not comment on reproductive rights again in this report?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Okay, on the � that actually, we � may be a holdover from past things. We used to have remained extremely poor, and I think we've tried to get away from that, and frankly I don't know why we missed it in that case.
QUESTION: So it has nothing to do with the fact that Iran seems to be the boogeyman of this administration?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah, well, it's a true statement. I mean, it has not changed, but we try not to generally put that characterization in anymore. There was a time that we did 20 years ago and we don't do it anymore.
On reproductive rights, actually, I thought I might get asked about that, so I came this year with � let me walk through this just so we all have the same background and terminology. Last year, I had to ad-lib it and do it from memory, but I went back and got my quotes. The term reproductive rights comes from the 1994 Cairo Declaration on Population and Development that was then reaffirmed in the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action. So that's where this term comes from. These were outcome documents of two big conferences that were consensus-driven. In other words, the outcomes document needed the consensus of all of the states that were present, which include the Vatican, for example.
So in trying to form that consensus � the head of our delegation in Cairo was then Vice President Gore, and in a speech at the National Press Club right before the conference, he said, The United States would never assert that a woman's right to choose an abortion should be internationally guaranteed. We believe that decisions about the extent to which abortion is acceptable should be the province of each government. And he further said that the same principle should apply to contraceptives. Nations have the right to make them legal, but the United Nations is not seeking to establish a basic right to their availability. And then at the conference himself � he said, Let's take a false issue off the table. The United States does not seek to establish a new international right to abortion. We do not believe abortion should be encouraged as a method of family planning. We also believe that policy making in this matter should be the province of each government.
So that's what the U.S. position was going in. The text of the Cairo Declaration says, Women who have unwanted pregnancies should have access to reliable information and compassionate counseling. Any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level, according to national legislative process. In circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe.
Now, so that's the international � the background on where that term comes from in international practice. The term reproductive rights was first introduced into the Human Rights Report's instructions, not in the report itself, in 2009. And that instruction read, Reproductive Rights: this includes the basic right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. So that was what we were being asked to report on. There was no mention of abortion.
In the 2011 report, subheadings were included in the section on women, because they were � the section was long, so we put subheadings in � and reproductive rights was one of them, covering the information that I just mentioned. In 2016, the instructions expanded and did include a mention of abortion, but only in this context. Emergency health � we're supposed to report on emergency health care, including services for management and � of complications arising from abortion regardless of whether abortion is legally permitted.
So the upshot here is the United States did not seek and did not obtain international consensus that there is a human right to abortion. When the term was used in the Human Rights Report context, it was not defined as including any right to abortion, and that was the position of the United States Government under successive administrations, including the previous administration, that there was no internationally recognized right to abortion. Instead, the position has always been it's up to each sovereign state to make a policy decision on whether to allow or prohibit abortion or have restrictions on it, and that was the position enunciated by Vice President Gore and it remains the position to this day.
The reason we stopped using the term in the reports was that some advocates had begun to claim that, notwithstanding the history I've just given you, that the term reproductive rights did include the right to abortion. And so rather than using a term that now has two completely divergent meanings to it, we decided to go back and use the U.S. statutory standard that we report on coercive population practices such as forced and coerced abortion and involuntary sterilization. So that is why we got away from using that term. It's just become a term that people are ascribing their own meanings to and we don't like to --
QUESTION: But is there any evaluation of access to kind of women's health practices in your evaluation of human rights?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah, in � on that, we did for some years carry things like maternal mortality rate, availability of contraceptive information, and so on. And at one time that probably was very useful because you couldn't access it other ways, but we figured out � I mean, what we said in the instructions was go look at these websites that � there's one group that is sponsored by USAID; it's called demographic health � I've forgotten the name. It's DHS, but it doesn't mean Department of Homeland Security. And then there's a World Health Organization website. So rather than trying to summarize what was in those, we've just put those � links to those data sets into the annex of the report so people can look it up on their own.
And by the way, we've done the same thing on other sections. We used to summarize in the Human Rights Report what the contents of the International Religious Freedom Report were. We would summarize the Trafficking In Persons Report. Now, thanks to the wonders of Vice President Gore's internet, we are able to just put hyperlinks in so people can go find those things on their own, and that's --
QUESTION: That's an interesting reference because � (laughter) � you held him up to be the standard-bearer of what the U.S. position is on abortion, now you --
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: All right.
MR PALLADINO: (Inaudible.) Let's go � red tie right there, (inaudible).
QUESTION: Yeah. I would like to have a review about the situation in Latin America, especially Venezuela, and also I would like to have this opportunity to talk about Venezuela. One of the biggest challenges are to get the humanitarian aid into the country. What if Nicolas Maduro approved that U.S. aid can go into the country? What would be the U.S. response about that? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah. Well, I think that has � and I would refer you � I think my friend, Special Representative Abrams, was here yesterday commenting on all of this. But our position has been that they should let the aid into the country. What we have not been willing to do is to turn aid over to the Maduro government because we've seen what happens with the so-called CLAP program they have that's supposed to feed people. By most estimates, 70 percent of the funding of that gets stolen by officials in the government, so it's not an efficient way, and it only goes to people that they favor politically.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Venezuela human rights?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Human rights situation in Venezuela is terrible. I think it's well documented in this report, and of course it's only � this report goes through the end of last year, and it's gotten only worse since then. So � but I think I'll leave � we had a very good briefing on this yesterday, so I'll leave you to � refer you back to that.
MR PALLADINO: ABC.
QUESTION: In the report, on the section on Myanmar, it mentions the vast majority of such abuses continued with impunity. Would you agree that that could be perhaps in part because the United States still has not designated the violence against the Rohingya as a genocide, and because the sanctions against Myanmar have been limited to two military units and only a handful of senior officers?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah, look, the sanctions that had been on Burma previously were taken off because of the election of the Aung San Suu Kyi government and so on. So you don't want to go back and penalize the elected civilian government for the behavior of the military. So I think what we tried to do this time was to be a little more targeted in the sanctions, but it's not limited to that. You're correct, there's five generals that have had financial sanctions put on them, two divisions of the Burmese army � I think it's the 33rd and 99th, if I recall correctly � who make a specialty of the kinds of atrocities that were being committed in Rakhine State.
But in addition to that, we have revoked the visas of large quantities of people. We cut off what little bit of mil-mil cooperation was beginning to occur. There � this has had really serious consequences for the relationship and we're not done yet. We're not satisfied with their response. I mean, yes, at this point the active phase of the atrocities are at least in a lull, but they're still � there are a lot of Rohingya � 700,000 or so are left in Burma. So we're trying to navigate how do we get humanitarian relief to them, to the people who had to flee, and how do we persuade the government to let people come back in a voluntary way where they would be safe. Right now you've got the same commanders in place, and I think people rightly conclude they wouldn't be safe from another assault like what they got. But we keep working the problem.
I think what you've seen, too, is we have been one of the ones to put major effort into exposing the problem. We did a study that our bureau financed that did a very good job of polling people in a scientific method in the refugee camps and figuring out just what had happened to them and what were the trends and practices there. But we've also been very supportive of the effort, for example, the UN made, the independent fact-finding mission that they had there, and I think what we've said is our conclusions and theirs coincide very much.
So this business of making a designation, it's a messaging management tool. It's not a � it has no legal effect. And what we were trying � I mean, the usual reason you say something like that is you're trying to call attention to it. Our feeling is we've called plenty of attention. What we're trying to do now is to get people to take action and put more pressure on. We're very heartened by the fact that there is a movement stirring within Burma right now to go back in and relook at the constitution and hopefully downgrade the political power of the military and upgrade that of the civilian elected government. Because in the end, it's going to be that that's going to make a change on the ground, is you've got to get where they � where the military doesn't feel that it has complete charter to be able to rampage around and do whatever it wants, and it needs to be accountable civilian political leaders who have control over it.
So that's where our policy is aiming. That's what we're trying to achieve, and we've mentioned some of the tools we're using.
MR PALLADINO: Final question. Right back there, please.
QUESTION: On North Korea. Is North Korea making progress as they engaged in talks with the United States?
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: No. We haven't noticed any progress on human rights, so we keep � that's why we're calling out their practices and we keep pushing on this. I mean, what we have done over the years is � I think the U.S. has been in the forefront of trying to expose what North Korea is doing and bring international attention to it. Also trying to help those who are trying to get information back into North Korea so that people there start to realize what the standard in the rest of the world is and how the rest of the world views their country. But it's still one of the worst human rights situations in the world. It has not improved, and that's going to be part of our effort for some time to come, I'm afraid, is how do you try to convince a regime like that to change its behavior.
MR PALLADINO: Great. Ambassador Kozak, thank you very much for being with us today.
AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Okay, thank you.
Source: U.S. State Department