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October 31, 2017

ABA urges State Department to continue to prioritize human rights and the rule of law

ABA President Hilarie Bass urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month to ensure that any reforms at the State Department “reinforce and strengthen the role that core values play in U.S diplomacy and development assistance.”

Bass said the ABA recognizes the need for reorganizing the department to bring greater efficiencies and effectiveness to its work, but the association is concerned by reports that the reforms might result in a downgrading of the core American values of democracy, human rights, justice and the rule of law.

“Advancing democratic governance, respect for human rights, accountability for atrocity crimes, and respect for the rule of law fosters more peaceful and successful societies in ways that serve U.S. commercial and security interests alike,” she said. “These efforts help counter violence and extremism that threaten our security; they foster stable environments in which U.S. investment and trade can thrive.”

Bass said the ABA appreciates Tillerson’s recent decision to maintain the role of the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice, an action in line with policy adopted by the ABA in August that urges Congress and the State Department to ensure that the United States’ commitment to criminal accountability for mass atrocities is not diminished.

The ambassador-at-large’s office oversees State Department activities coordinating U.S. government positions relating to the international and hybrid courts currently prosecuting persons responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The office also works closely with other governments, international institutions, and nongovernmental organizations to establish and assist international and domestic commissions of inquiry, fact-finding missions, and tribunals to investigate, document and prosecute atrocities in every region of the world.

“The department’s efforts to advance human rights and the rule of law – from combating trafficking in persons to supporting international criminal justice, from advancing women’s rights to combating corruption – make the world safer, more stable, and more prosperous, and help cement American leadership in the world,” Bass concluded.  

Responding to Bass in an Oct. 3 letter, Tillerson said he shared her desire to support the efforts of strengthening democracy, human rights and governance. As part of the State Department’s redesign process, he said the department and the U.S. Agency for International Development “are working to align our diplomatic and foreign assistance efforts to advance a free, peaceful, and prosperous world.”