The State Department released the 2017 human rights report to Congress on Friday, declaring that “our values are our interests when it comes to human rights” in a prefatory note.

“Promoting human rights and democratic governance is a core element of U.S. foreign policy,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s preface said. “These values form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies. Standing up for human rights and democracy is not just a moral imperative but is in the best interests of the United States in making the world more stable and secure.”

That message was softened somewhat by Tillerson’s decision not to unveil the report personally, a break with the practice of past secretaries. A State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity instead briefed reporters on the report’s contents, although much of the conversation focused on Tillerson’s absence.

“[T]he report speaks for itself,” the senior administration official said Friday. “We’re very, very proud of it. The facts should really be the story here . . . the activists globally who find kind of solace, frankly, in the transparency of the information we present says to us that we shouldn’t wait even a day longer to get them out in the hands of policymakers and beyond to use to promote a better outcome for individuals globally.”

The State Department emphasized that the report provides an even-handed survey of human rights in countries around the world. “We include the information we get only when we consider the source and its methodology to be credible,” the senior administration official said. “So that’s what they are. What they are not is an effort by the U.S. Government to judge, nor are they U.S. policy documents. There is no ranking or comparison of countries in the reports. They do not draw legal conclusions.”

Tillerson didn’t give the report, despite urging from Sen. Marco Rubio. “For 1st time in a long time @StateDept #humanrights report will not be presented by Secretary of State,” the Florida Republican tweeted Thursday. “I hope they reconsider.”

Rubio pressed Tillerson during his confirmation hearing about issuing public condemnations of human rights abuses even in countries with delicate relations with the United States. “[Refusal to condemn human rights abuses] demoralizes these people all over the world and it leads people to conclude this — which is damaging and it hurt us during the Cold War — and that is this: America cares about democracy and freedom, as long as it’s not being violated by someone that they need for something else,” Rubio told Tillerson. “That cannot be who we are in the 21st century. We need a secretary of state that will fight for these principles.”

The State Department argued Friday that the 2017 report advances those goals. “I have spoken to activists at home and abroad who are seeking to improve conditions in their society, often at great personal risk to themselves and their families,” the official said. “They draw comfort and solidarity from our efforts in these reports and more broadly to know and to shine a light on the facts on the ground and to capture them accurately for both our policymakers and the public. We, in turn, draw inspiration and resolve from their courage.”

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