US President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Exxon Mobil Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state, an important opportunity to raise key human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday. Media reports suggest Trump will nominate former UN ambassador John Bolton to be deputy secretary.
As Exxon Mobil CEO, Tillerson oversaw lucrative business operations in partnership with abusive and corrupt oil-rich governments such as Equatorial Guinea and Angola. According to HRW, under Tillerson, the company has been hostile to US laws requiring greater financial transparency in such countries and stronger human rights standards for companies – laws that the State Department has supported. Bolton has a long record of hostility to international human rights laws, norms, and standards.
“President-elect Trump has repeatedly proposed policies that would violate basic human rights,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “Tillerson should clarify how, if nominated and confirmed, he will uphold the United States’ international human rights obligations, in particular by vigorously committing to a foreign policy agenda that promotes respect for rights abroad through greater transparency and anti-corruption measures.”
“As a recess-appointed US ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration, John Bolton seemed to spend more time and energy criticizing the individuals and institutions protecting human rights, rather than the human rights violators themselves,” Margon said. “Bolton’s clear hostility to international human rights law demands he explain how, if nominated and confirmed, he intends to avoid repeating the disastrous human rights policies of the Bush years.”
The Senate, which must confirm the nominees, should use nomination hearings to question Tillerson and Bolton about key human rights issues including torture, the Geneva Conventions, and refugee policy, Human Rights Watch said. Senators should also question the nominees about past Trump statements that he will collaborate closely with rights-abusing leaders like President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and about how he will ensure that the US continues to raise critical human rights concerns committed by their governments.
“Senators should vigorously question Tillerson and Bolton on how they will use their posts, if confirmed, to ensure that the US government abides by international law,” Margon said. “The American public is entitled to know whether the Trump administration intends to engage in torture or otherwise violate the Geneva Conventions.”
Tillerson and Bolton should also be questioned about Trump’s proposals on refugee policy, including his plans to bar refugee resettlement from countries like Syria as well as to deport or “incarcerate” two million or “even three million” non-citizens who have had contact with the US criminal justice system. In practice, these plans would worsen the world’s already overburdened refugee and migrant crisis and entail massive violations of due process rights and other abuses, including separating children from their parents.
The Trump team announced on November 23 that Governor Nikki Haley would be nominated as US ambassador to the United Nations. Haley, as governor of South Carolina, stated in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry in the wake of last year’s Paris attacks that she opposed resettling Syrian refugees in her state due to concerns about the ability of US authorities to adequately vet them. However, she later criticized Trump for proposing a ban on Muslim travelers to the US, describing it as unconstitutional. Some Syrian refugees have been resettled in South Carolina.