These reports, mandated by Congress in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Trade Act of 1974, describe the performance of government that receive U.S. foreign assistance and of all United Nations member states, in practicing their international commitments on civil, political, individual, and worker rights, as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN and the Chinese government produce similar reports.
2015: released April 13, 2016, celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the reports and focused on how governments suppress civil society groups, such as through broad counterterrorism or national security laws or burdensome administrative and bureaucratic procedures.
2014: released June 25, 2015, noted three trends: "While our reports continue to focus on the behavior of governments – which bear responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in their territories – the year 2014 will be remembered as much for atrocities committed by non-state actors. The brutality of these actors is one of the notable trends in the 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices....Even as authoritarian governments become more aggressive in cracking down on freedom of expression, including through the use of new media, civil society is emerging as an increasingly powerful actor on the international stage, as people in every country become more connected and better informed. The unique role of technology in combatting as well as carrying out human rights violations is another trend evident in the 2014 human rights reports....In 2014, corruption prevailed in too many societies and too many unrestrained rulers used it to cement their overall grip on power. The growing recognition of the correlation between corruption, human rights abuses, and repressive governance is the third trend noted in these reports."
2013: released February 27, 2014: "The past 12 months have seen notable human rights developments in five key areas:
- a continued crackdown by governments on civil society and the freedoms of association and assembly;
- growing restrictions on free expression and press freedom;
- accountability deficits for security force abuses;
- lack of effective labor rights protections; and
- marginalization of vulnerable groups, in particular:
- religious and ethnic minorities;
- women and children;
- LGBT persons and communities; and
- persons with disabilities"
2012: released April 19, 2013. The introduction notes the following trends: shrinking space for civil society activism; ongoing struggle for democratic change in the Middle East and North Africa; emergent democratic transition in Burma; freedom of expression, including by members of the media, and Internet freedom; marginalization of members of vulnerable groups.
2011: released May 24, 2012. The introduction states: "New connective technologies spread news of citizen activism, and political change, around the world. People continued to find innovative ways to use technology to break down the walls of fear and isolation that undemocratic governments erected to try to keep their populations quiescent...yet repressive regimes also used those same technologies to spy on their own citizens for the purposes of silencing dissent."
2010: released April, 2011. The introduction states: "This report provides encyclopedic detail on human rights conditions in over 190 countries for 2010. Because we are publishing this report three months into the new year, however, our perspectives on many issues are now framed by the dramatic changes sweeping across countries in the Middle East in 2011.
2009: released March 11, 2010. The introduction summarizes three trends: "There still are an alarming number of reports of torture, extrajudicial killings, and other violations of universal human rights...Restrictions on freedom of expression, including on members of the media, are increasing and becoming more severe...A third trend we observed is the continuing and escalating discrimination and persecution of members of vulnerable groups."
2008: released February 25, 2009. The introduction states: "United States foreign policy revolves not only around effective defense, but also robust diplomacy and vigorous support for political and economic development. A vigorous human rights policy reaffirms American values and advances our national interests."
2007: released March 11, 2008. In the introduction, the report acknowledges: "the Department of State remains mindful of both international and domestic criticism of the United States' human rights record. The U.S. government will continue to hear and reply forthrightly to concerns about our own practices, including the actions we have taken to defend our nation from the global threat of terrorism."
2006: released March 6, 2007. Themes similar to those found in 2005.
2005: released March 8, 2006. The introduction highlighted six broad themes: "countries in which power is concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers tend to be the world's most systematic human rights violators; human rights and democracy are closely linked; some of the most serious violations of human rights are committed by governments within the context of internal and/or cross-border armed conflicts; where civil society and independent media are under siege, fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and assembly are undermined; democratic elections by themselves do not ensure that human rights will be respected, but they can put a country on the path to reform and lay the groundwork for institutionalizing human rights protections; and progress on democratic reform and human rights is neither linear nor guaranteed."