The former ExxonMobil CEO faced his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, prompting a statement from Amnesty alleging that Tillerson's "commitment to human rights ... is in serious question."
During the nine-hour-long hearing, Tillerson hesitated to acknowledge violations of human rights by Syria, the Philippines, Russia and Saudi Arabia when questioned by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"After a day of questioning, Tillerson’s commitment to human rights in the U.S. and abroad is in serious question," Amnesty International USA Executive Director Margaret Huang said in a statement Wednesday. "While he confirmed that U.S. foreign policy should include the prioritization of human rights, he refused to acknowledge human rights abuses by known and long-recognized violators."
Huang suggested Tillerson would not be tough on human rights violations as secretary of state.
"It is extremely concerning that a nominee for secretary of state would claim that governments in countries like Syria and the Philippines with clear patterns of documented violations are not considered human rights abusers," Huang continued. "His rhetoric suggests that under his leadership, the State Department would not pressure human rights violators even in the face of overwhelming evidence."
Why is Amnesty so concerned?
During Tillerson's tenure as an ExxonMobil top executive, the company made deals with Russia as well as Iran, Sudan and Syria, the only three countries on the Department of State's state sponsors of terrorism list. ExxonMobil failed to disclose the last three, prompting an inquiry by the SEC.
Tillerson also received the Order of Friendship from Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of the country's highest honors.
California Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff, a ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, publicly denounced President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of Tillerson to head the Department of State.
"How will [a] friend of Putin and recipient of one of [the] Kremlin's highest honors fight to maintain sanctions on Russia," the Congressman asked in a Dec. 13 tweet.
When asked if Russia committed war crimes by bombing Syrian citizens in Aleppo, Tillerson said he would need "more information" to make such an allegation — a tactic he repeatedly used to avoid holding the aforementioned countries and their leaders accountable.
"Those are very, very serious charges to make, and I would want to have much more information before reaching a conclusion," he said, according to CNN.
"Well, people who speak up for freedom in regimes that are oppressive are often a threat, and these things happen to them," Tillerson added. "In terms of assigning specific responsibilities, I would have to have more information."
Thus far, Tillerson's hearing indicates that concerns over his potential conflicts of interest might well be tenable.
"If confirmed, Rex Tillerson will hold a position that affects the human rights of millions of people both inside and outside the United States," Huang concluded in her Amnesty International memo. "He must use tomorrow’s hearing to clarify today’s troubling statements."