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.
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."
2006: released March 6, 2007. Themes similar to those found in 2005.
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."
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."
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."
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.
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."
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.