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Tillerson mum as State Department reports rights abuses

The US State Department has documented grave global threats to free speech and assembly. Donald Trump's secretary of state has been criticized for skipping the release of his department's annual rights report.

In his confirmation hearing, Rex Tillerson said he wanted to see facts before criticizing countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Philippines, but, presumably presented with those in the State Department's annual global rights report on Friday, the new US secretary of state continued to refrain from comment. It is the novice administration's latest break with diplomatic tradition.

"The report speaks for itself," an unidentified State Department official told reporters, responding to a question about why Tillerson did not unveil it on Friday.

Sarah Margon, Washington director of Human Rights watch, said Tillerson's absence "reinforces the message to governments, rights activists and at-risk minorities that the State Department might also be silent on repression, abuse and exploitation."

The State Department has budgeted $50.1 billion (47 billion euros) for 2017 - about 1 percent of federal spending. Trump, who put a narrow set of domestic interests at the forefront of his campaign, wants cuts across the nondefense portions of the total US budget in order to offset a proposed $54 billion increase in military spending.

'Authoritarian political system'

Global State Department officials documented growing pressure on media and internet activists for the report, which examines rights conditions in 199 countries and was largely compiled under Barack Obama. The comprehensive report does not single out countries or compare them compare with another, but provides an individual assessment of each examined nation. The US supplies weapons and funding to many of the countries criticized every year.

The report casts a dark light on Russia, which Trump administration figures have close ties to. According to the State Department, the nation has made conditions worse across neighboring Ukraine and in Crimea, which Russia poached in 2014. The State Department criticized restricted speech and official discrimination within Russia proper, documenting an "authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin."

The State Department rapped ally Saudi Arabia for "pervasive gender discrimination," described violations in China, and accused Iran of arbitrarily detaining, torturing and killing people. In the Philippines, the State Department reports, extrajudicial homicides increased "sharply" in recent months: Police and vigilantes "killed more than 6,000 suspected drug dealers and users" since July.

Watch video 00:24

Tillerson: 'Ready to work with Russia when it benefits US'

mkg/bw (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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