US brands China and Russia 'forces of instability'

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, seen here in March 2019, has vowed to press Russia on election interference if confirmed as ambassador to Moscow

The United States branded strategic rivals China and Russia "forces of instability" on Friday, grouping them with Iran and North Korea as countries whose rights abuses amount to a global threat. The charge was made by acting secretary of state John Sullivan as he launched Washington's annual global human rights report, which this year is focused on destabilizing abuses by state actors. Human rights groups were quick to criticize the report, saying President Donald Trump's Republican administration had stripped the document of reporting on assaults on sexual and reproductive rights to focus on state-driven abuses. But Sullivan insisted the report must focus on threats to US and international security. "The 2017 US National Security Strategy recognizes that corrupt and weak governance threatens global stability and US interests. Some governments are unable to maintain security and meet the basic needs of their people, while others are simply unwilling," Sullivan wrote, in the report's preface. "States that restrict freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly; that allow and commit violence against members of religious, ethnic, and other minority groups; or that undermine the fundamental dignity of persons are morally reprehensible and undermine our interests," he wrote. "The governments of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, for example, violate the human rights of those within their borders on a daily basis and are forces of instability as a result." Global watchdog Human Rights Watch was unconvinced. "This year's US State Department human rights report guts the analysis of sexual and reproductive rights, reflecting the Trump administration's hostility toward these issues," the group's Washington director Andrea Prasow told AFP. "In doing so, the administration is undermining a document that has long been relied upon by the Congress, foreign governments and activists alike to assess human rights conditions around the world. "This is unfortunately only one facet of the administration's efforts to downplay human rights as an element of US foreign policy." Last year's "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" was prepared from research conducted by US embassies around the world under the previous US administration of president Barack Obama. Trump's first secretary of state Rex Tillerson was much criticized for refusing to publicly present the document himself, as his predecessors had traditionally done. Tillerson has since been sacked -- despite championing Trump's "America First" agenda and warning that sometimes America's interests trump its values when dealing with foreign powers. His nominated successor, CIA director and foreign policy hawk Mike Pompeo, has yet to be confirmed in office by the Senate.