Lobbying for human rights, in a universalist spirit that holds all countries to the same standards and avoids singling out any particular group or country for attention, is not something that comes naturally to the Trump administration. Civil-liberty advocates were disappointed back in March, when Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, failed to turn up in person to present his department’s annual survey of human rights all over the world. But they were pleased to observe that he did make a personal appearance this week to deliver another encyclopedic document: an annual survey of freedom of religion and belief, taking in more than 190 countries and territories.
Mr Tillerson’s strongest words were reserved not for any recognised government but for an ultra-militant movement, the so-called Islamic State (IS). Both in the report he unveiled and his own remarks, he stated that it was “clearly responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims in areas it controlled”. The terrorist faction was also deemed responsible for “crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing” (that is, misdeeds which do not fit the term “genocide”) against fellow Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other groups.