Why Is Kerry Disguising Oman's Wretched Human Rights Record?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the media during a news conference at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York, December 18. Reuters

This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations site.

A story revealed by Reuters describes the severe damage Secretary of State Kerry has now done to U.S. human rights policy.

Here is the gist of the story:

As the United States negotiated this year's nuclear pact with Iran, the State Department quietly agreed to spare the Gulf sultanate of Oman from an embarrassing public rebuke over its human rights record, rewarding a close Arab ally that helped broker the historic deal.

In a highly unusual intervention, the department's hierarchy overruled its own staff's assessments of Oman's deteriorating record on forced labor and human trafficking and inflated its ranking in a congressionally mandated report, U.S. officials told Reuters. The move, which followed protests by Oman, suggests the Obama administration placed diplomatic priorities over human rights to pacify an important Middle East partner.

This is not really a story about Iran, or Oman. It is story of how Kerry interfered in what is supposed to be, and almost always is, a fair and conscientious process.

The damage is immense, and not only to the process by which the State Department makes judgments about the human rights situation around the world–as Congress requires it do by law. The damage is not only to our country's efforts to stop "trafficking in persons" and the terrible abuses that accompany that activity. These efforts have resulted in real achievements in many countries, and Kerry should be ashamed to interfere with them.

Worse yet, what Kerry has done is to tell all human rights abusers that our process is or can be fixed– if he cares enough to interfere. So, of course, it is logical that henceforth countries will be increasingly angry at our human rights criticism, because they will no longer believe it is done out of conscience and cannot be changed by political pressure.

The pressures to undermine the process will grow, within the State Department and in foreign capitals. The Department does numerous congressionally-required human rights reports, on religious freedom, trafficking in persons, women's rights and more. And all of them are now damaged because the independence and fairness of the judgments being made has been undermined.

Any secretary of state has a mixed legacy, I suppose, but this action by Kerry will be a key part of his legacy and rightly so. After his predecessors spent decades creating a fair and independent process for human rights evaluations, he has undone a considerable part of their work.

And why? For world peace? To end a war and save many lives? No, for Oman.

It's a sad story.

This piece was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations. Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.