Secretary of State Rex Tillerson skipped the State Department's annual unveiling of its human rights report on Friday, The Washington Post reported.
The former ExxonMobil CEO decided to forego the annual presentation, opting instead for a short written introduction to the report. The move caused concern among human rights advocates, the Post reported, who are interpreting his absence as a sign of Tillerson's lack of commitment to human rights issues.
In skipping the presentation, Tillerson broke years of precedent only deviated from on rare occasions. And no senior State Department officials made the usual on-camera remarks about the report. Instead, a senior official spoke to journalists by phone on the condition of anonymity, according to the Post.
“The report speaks for itself,” the administration official said. “We’re very, very proud of it. The facts should really be the story here.”
During his January confirmation hearings to become secretary of State, Tillerson told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he believed in the importance of human rights, but said it would not be the sole guiding factor for U.S. foreign policy.
“It is unreasonable to expect that every foreign policy endeavor will be driven by human rights considerations alone, especially when the security of the American people is at stake,” he said during a Jan. 11 hearing.
But he also told the committee that he would work to promote human rights around the world in his capacity as secretary of State.
“Should I be confirmed as secretary of State, I would be charged with promoting American values on the world stage, and that means standing for universal human rights and fighting for the dignity of every person,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Gen. Milley faces his toughest day yet on Capitol Hill The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio MORE (R-Fla.) took to Twitter to urge the State Department to reevaluate the decision not to have its secretary at the unveiling.
"For 1st time in a long time @StateDept #humanrights report will not be presented by Secretary of State. I hope they reconsider," he tweeted.
Human Rights First, a human rights-focused nonprofit group, condemned Tillerson’s decision to skip the presentation, calling it “yet another troubling indication that the Trump administration intends to abandon U.S. leadership on human rights and universal values.”
"Such a decision sends an unmistakable signal to human rights defenders that the United States may no longer have their back, a message that won’t be lost on abusive governments,” the group’s Senior Vice President for Policy Rob Berschinski said in a statement.
Tillerson has been largely removed from many of the tasks typical of secretaries of State, such as joining the president in meetings with foreign leaders. For example, Tillerson wasn’t included in a meeting between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month.