Former ExxonMobil executive Rex Tillerson testifies during his confirmation hearing for secretary of state before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill on January 11, 2017.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty
Former ExxonMobil executive Rex Tillerson testifies during his confirmation hearing for secretary of state before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill on January 11, 2017.
Now playing
01:19
Tillerson and Rubio spar on human rights
Now playing
01:26
Sarah Sanders: I was kicked out of restaurant
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks on migrant children being separated from parents at the southern border during a White House daily news briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House June 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. Nielsen joined White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders at the daily news briefing to answer questions from members of the White House Press Corps.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks on migrant children being separated from parents at the southern border during a White House daily news briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House June 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. Nielsen joined White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders at the daily news briefing to answer questions from members of the White House Press Corps.
Now playing
01:18
Protesters confront Secy. Nielsen at restaurant
Richard Grenell, nominee to be US ambassador to Germany, testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 27, 2017. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Richard Grenell, nominee to be US ambassador to Germany, testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 27, 2017. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
00:42
US envoy remarks to Brietbart provoke backlash
KANAB, UT - MAY 10: U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke talks to reporters before departing Kanab Airport on May 10, 2017 in Kanab, Utah. Zinke has been in the state of Utah since Sunday talking with state and local officials and touring the Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, to help determine their future status under the Trump Administration. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
George Frey/Getty Images
KANAB, UT - MAY 10: U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke talks to reporters before departing Kanab Airport on May 10, 2017 in Kanab, Utah. Zinke has been in the state of Utah since Sunday talking with state and local officials and touring the Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, to help determine their future status under the Trump Administration. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:41
Zinke claims to be geologist, again
CNN
Now playing
02:39
All the Trump officials who threatened to quit
CIA nominee Gina Haspel is sworn in during a confirmation hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, May 9, 2018 in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon/AP
CIA nominee Gina Haspel is sworn in during a confirmation hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, May 9, 2018 in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)
Now playing
02:33
Haspel balks on morality of torture program
Getty Images
Now playing
02:26
Trump's Cabinet faces travel scrutiny
david jolly
CNN
david jolly
Now playing
00:46
Ex-lawmaker rips Trump's 'first-rate grifters'
US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson speaks to employees on his first day at the Department of Housing and Urban Development March 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson speaks to employees on his first day at the Department of Housing and Urban Development March 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:58
Complaint filed over Carson's office expenses
david jolly
CNN
david jolly
Now playing
00:58
Jolly: No accountability in this administration
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivers a speech billed as "A Vision for American Energy Dominance" at the Heritage Foundation on September 29, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivers a speech billed as "A Vision for American Energy Dominance" at the Heritage Foundation on September 29, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
03:11
Interior secretary's trips may have violated law
Now playing
00:46
Trump: I'm not undercutting Tillerson
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Now playing
03:10
Bannon out as White House chief strategist
petersen nominee 02
Senate TV
petersen nominee 02
Now playing
02:25
Trump nominee can't answer basic law questions
Assistant to the US President Donald Trump Anthony Scaramucci takes part in a meeting on the theme "Monetary Policy: Where Will Things Land?" on the opening day of the World Economic Forum, on January 17, 2017 in Davos.
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
Assistant to the US President Donald Trump Anthony Scaramucci takes part in a meeting on the theme "Monetary Policy: Where Will Things Land?" on the opening day of the World Economic Forum, on January 17, 2017 in Davos.
Now playing
02:34
Scaramucci: Priebus a 'paranoid schizophrenic'

Story highlights

Sen. Marco Rubio blasted Tillerson's decision not to attend the report's release

The traditional press conference on the report was also scrapped

Washington CNN —  

The State Department released its annual report on the state of human rights across the globe Friday with markedly less fanfare than in previous years.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson chose not to hold the traditional press conference that has accompanied the release of the report for decades across both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican member of the Foreign Relations Committee who was initially critical of Tillerson’s nomination as secretary of state before ultimately voting to confirm him, blasted the move.

“For 1st time in a long time @StateDept #humanrights report will not be presented by Secretary of State,” Rubio tweeted Thursday evening. “I hope they reconsider.”

Tillerson did write a brief preface to the report, in which he stated, “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.”

RELATED: Tillerson finds it’s hard for a CEO to become a secretary

The State Department has released the congressionally mandated report on countries’ human rights practices since the mid-1970s. For decades, the release has been accompanied by an on-camera press briefing from senior officials within the department, as well as introductory remarks by the secretary of state.

When the secretaries haven’t been present, as happened twice under President George W. Bush, their absence has coincided with trips abroad.

Tillerson, for his part, was in Washington Friday for a meeting with his Indian counterpart at the State Department.

In a conference call with reporters Friday morning, a senior administration official who did not want to be named publicly refuted the suggestion by critics that Tillerson’s absence reflects a change in the United States’ commitment to promoting human rights.

“The report speaks for itself,” the official said. “We’re very, very proud of it. The facts should really be the story here.”

The official also quoted Tillerson’s statement in his confirmation hearing that the administration’s approach to human rights “begins by acknowledging that American leadership requires moral clarity.”

“We do not face an either-or choice on defending global human rights – our values or our interests – when it comes to human rights and humanitarian assistance,” he said at the time.

RELATED: State Department silent while other countries shape the message

During that hearing, Tillerson was questioned about his stance on human rights issues at length by lawmakers, including Rubio, who clashed with Tillerson over the latter’s cautious answers about human rights abuses in Russia, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.

Asked whether extrajudicial killings in the Philippines represent human rights violations, Tillerson answered, “If confirmed … it’s an area that I’d want to understand in greater detail in terms of the facts on the ground.”

Tillerson told Rubio: “I’m not disputing anything you’re saying because I know you have access to information that I do not have.”

Rubio responded, “This is from The Los Angeles Times.”

The government of the Philippines was taken to task in Friday’s report, cited for “killings allegedly undertaken by vigilantes, security forces and insurgents” as well as corruption and allegations of torture by security forces.

It wasn’t the only ally to face criticism.

In Turkey, the report pointed to “inconsistent access to due process” and “government interference with freedom of expression” as significant human rights problems.

Tillerson’s decision not to speak publicly about the report, and the State Department’s decision not to hold an on-the-record press conference, was criticized Friday by human rights groups.

Rob Berschinski of Human Rights First and a former deputy assistant secretary for human rights said in a statement that Tillerson’s decision “is yet another troubling indication that the Trump administration intends to abandon US 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,” he added.

According to former State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley, the more subdued rollout is likely the result of a combination of factors, including the fact that Tillerson is still adapting to his new position.

“It’s a matter of not having a full team in place, it’s a matter of timing, and it’s also a matter of hitting him when he’s still getting comfortable as the secretary of state, and everything that comes along with that,” said Crowley.

But he acknowledged the administration could also be signaling a change in policy when it comes to promoting human rights abroad.

“Certainly by some of President Trump’s rhetoric both in the campaign and as president, he does not see the role of his administration as telling other countries how to function, or certainly not to intervene to remake countries,” said Crowley. “He’s made clear that he’s not going to be in the nation-building business and whether this is a reflection of that, I think we’ll have to wait and see.”