Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is under fire from diplomats, human rights groups and a GOP senator - for not honoring the long tradition of personally unveiling the State Department’s annual Human Rights Report.
Former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice criticized Tillerson in a tweet Friday, pointing out that defending human rights abroad is a key part of of U.S. foreign policy.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who chairs a Foreign Relations subcommittee, also expressed dismay.
Human rights groups and diplomats are asking whether this is a sign that the Trump administration will carry out a transactional style of diplomacy that does not emphasize defense of human rights as an American priority. Tom Malinowski, who served as assistant secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the Obama Administration, also tweeted about “MIA Tillerson.”
“Where is Tillerson? Unlike other secretaries of state, he’s hiding rather than release annual rights report today,” Kenneth Roth, the President of Human Rights Watch, posted on twitter.
Kenneth Roth, the president of Human Rights Watch, wondered whether there might be another reason Tillerson was opting out.
A senior aide to Tillerson refuted the intimation that Tillerson doesn’t care about human rights. “When history looks back they will find somebody who was far more aggressive in keeping other countries accountable for their actions than the previous administration,” the aide said. The aide did not offer evidence of this, however. Instead, he described it as a statement about the future. In terms of holding countries accountable for their human rights records, there have been reports that the U.S. may drop off the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Since taking office last month, Tillerson has been largely silent. His absence from White House meetings with key foreign leaders and the recent budget proposal to slice foreign aid by 30 percent or more has raised questions about the degree of influence Tillerson has within the Trump administration. Senior aides insist that the former Exxon Mobil CEO speaks frequently by phone with the president and has simply adopted a careful, deliberate approach to the job.
Next week the State Department will resume some briefings – though not daily ones - starting Mar. 6. The last briefing was Jan. 19, the last full day of the Obama administration. According to the Associated Press, that hiatus is believed to be the longest since the department began holding news briefings in the 1950s.