State Department

AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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The U.S. Department of State is part of the EXECUTIVE BRANCH of government and is principally responsible for foreign affairs and foreign trade. It advises the president on the formulation and execution of foreign policy. As chief executive, the president has overall responsibility for the foreign policy of the United States. The Department of State's primary objective in the conduct of foreign relations is to promote the long-range security and well-being of the United States. The department determines and analyzes facts relating to U.S. overseas interests, makes recommendations on policy and future action, and takes the necessary steps to carry out established policy. In so doing, the department engages in continuous consultations with the Congress, other U.S. departments and agencies, and foreign governments; negotiates treaties and agreements with foreign nations; speaks for the United States in the UNITED NATIONS and in more than 50 major international organizations in which the United States participates; and represents the United States at more than 800 international conferences annually.

The Department of State, the senior executive department of the U.S. government, was

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established by an act of July 27, 1789, as the Department of Foreign Affairs and was renamed Department of State by an act of September 15, 1789.

Office of the Secretary

The State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

One of the U.S. State Department's most important tasks is to submit to Congress annual reports on the state of HUMAN RIGHTS in countries throughout the world. The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, as the book containing these reports is titled, contains extensive and detailed information that allows Congress and the State Department to make better decisions regarding U.S. policy toward foreign nations.

The State Department has submitted country reports to Congress each year since 1977. In the first year, the reports covered 82 countries, and by 1995 that number had grown to 194.

U.S. embassy staff members in each country write the preliminary report about the country. They obtain information from government and military officials, journalists, academics, and human rights activists. Embassy staff members often put themselves at great risk in collecting human rights information in countries with extensive rights violations. State Department staff members then edit the reports. They attempt to gather still more evidence from international human rights groups, international bodies such as the UNITED NATIONS, and other sources.

The country reports are prefaced by an overview of human rights developments around the world, written by the assistant secretary of the Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Division of the State Department. This overview summarizes the international human rights situation, identifies those nations with serious rights violations, and comments on the state of democracy around the world.

Each report begins with basic information regarding the government and economy of a nation, followed by detailed information on the status of human rights in the country.

The 1995 report about Brazil serves as an example of the extensive detail in the country reports. The Brazil report chronicles significant human rights abuses in that country, including killings by police and military death squads, the murder of street children in Rio de Janeiro, and numerous instances of torture. The report also describes the social, political, and legal factors in Brazil that contribute to human rights violations. These include overloaded courts and prisons, corruption of public officials and police, widespread poverty, and ineffective investigation into police and military brutality.

Each report also analyzes the human rights situation for women, racial and ethnic minorities, and workers in the country. The report about Brazil indicates a high incidence of physical abuse of women, while noting that the country has increased the number of special police stations assigned the task of preventing crimes against women. Serious violations against the rights of indigenous peoples are also recorded, including atrocities committed by the military and private parties during land disputes. On the...

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