On April 12, 2022, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor released the 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices covering internationally recognized individual, civil, political, and worker rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The abstract of the report notes a general continued democratic backsliding and incipient authoritarianism that pose a threat to human rights and democracy, specifically citing Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Highlighted nations which have been found to unjustly imprison, torture, and even murder political opponents and activists include Russia, China, North Korea, Nicaragua, and Syria. The report also documents similar abuses being carried out against peaceful protestors in Burma, Belarus, Cuba, Hong Kong, and Sudan.
More worrying is the increasing trend of transnational repression, the practice of reaching across borders to harass intimidate, or murder dissidents. One poignant example is when Belarussian government officials attempted to divert Ryannair Flight 4978 to Minsk by fabricating a bomb threat in order for Belarusian security services to arrest a dissident journalist.
Human rights watchdog Freedom House released a report in February 2021 finding that transnational repression is becoming a “normal” phenomenon. Since 2014, the project compiled 608 direct physical cases of transnational repression in which 31 origin states are conducting transnational repression in 79 host countries. The spectrum of transnational repression spans digital death threats and spying to kidnapping and murder of individual dissidents or their loved ones. The report notes that most cases of transnational repression involve the cooperation of host country governments and that the normative cost of using transnational repression has gone down.
Complementing the release of the report, Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a press briefing on concerning global trends in Human Rights. He begins his remarks by condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its concomitant human rights abuses, “We see what this receding tide is leaving in its wake- the bodies, hands bound, left on streets; the theaters, apartment buildings reduced to rubble with civilians inside. We hear it in the testimonies of women and girls who’ve been raped and the besieged civilians starving and freezing to death.”
After rhetorically affirming the universality of human rights, Blinken emphasizes the increasing trend of political repression which has both broadened and intensified. According to the report, more than million political prisoners are being held in over 65 countries including victims in Cuba, Russia, Ethiopia, and Egypt. Blinken mentioned examples of transnational repression in cases such as Iranian intelligence agents attempting to kidnap an Iranian American journalist from her home in Brooklyn and the Assad regime threatening Syrians cooperating with German courts in prosecuting former officials for alleged atrocities.
International Criminal Law and International Human Rights Law
International criminal law and international human rights law are distinct from one another, but related in several important ways. According to the International Law Commission’s (ILC) Report on Fragmentation, international human rights law aims to “protect the interests of individuals,” while international criminal law “gives legal expression to the fight against impunity.” These two aims often intersect in their goals and usage, for example, abuses of individual human rights may constitute a crime against humanity under international law.
In order to fight against impunity for violating individual rights, a body of law has been directed toward codifying the relationship between the two fields. Article 21 Subsection 3 of the Rome Statute states that “the application and interpretation of law pursuant to this article must be consistent with internationally recognized human rights.” Therefore, it is not uncommon for international criminal courts and tribunals to reference human rights law jurisprudence in order to establish a broad consensus on the definitions of different crimes against humanity.
The frequent cross-referencing between the two fields means that escaping accountability through forum shopping becomes unrealistic. For example in Almonacid-Arellano et al. v. Chile, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) cited the ICTY’s decision in Prosecutor v. Tadic to conclude that “a single act of murder committed as part of a widespread or systemic attack against civilians is sufficient for the configuration of a crime against humanity.” The IACtHR’s use of this precedent allowed the American Commission on Human Rights (ACHR) to examine the case lodged by petitioners against Chile for the murder of Mr. Almonacid Arellano on its merits.
Potential Utility of the Country Reports
Lawyers can use the country reports sometimes to argue that an asylum applicant’s claims are justified by conditions in the home country. An attorney arguing a case before the Commission for the Control of Interpol Files may also reference the country reports to show the challenges of obtaining a fair trial, especially if the applicant is a minority against whom discrimination is common.
 Justice Department, Belarusian Government Officials Charged with Aircraft Piracy for Diverting Ryanair Flight 4978 to Arrest Dissident Journalist in May 2021, Department of Justice, January 20, 2022.
 Nate Shenkkan and Isabel Linzer, Out of Site, Not out of Reach: The Global Scale and Scope of Transnational Repression, Freedom House, February 2021.
 US Department of State, Secretary Antony J. Blinken on the Release of the 2021 County Reports on Human Rights Practices, State Department, April 12, 2022. https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-on-the-release-of-the-2021-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/
 Emily Tsui, Arenas of Interaction: The Relationship between International Criminal Law and International Human Rights Law, JIC, March 17, 2021.
 Rome Statute, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, ICC, July 17, 1998
 HRLibrary, Luis Alfredo Almonacid rellano et al. v. Chile, Case 12.057, Report No. 44/02, Inter-Am. C.H.R., Doc. 5 Rev. 1 at 208 (2002)., University of Minnesota Human Rights Library, October 9, 2002.