For Immediate Release: December 10, 2020
Contact: Eric Richardson, Director
Phone: +1 503-442-3919
In honor of International Human Rights Day, UNHR offers the Biden Administration five recommendations to undertake in its first 100 days that will help restore U.S. leadership on human rights internationally:
1. Rejoin the UN Human Rights Council and Restore U.S. leadership in Multilateral Human Rights Institutions
The Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Human Rights Council weakened the international human rights system. The Biden Administration should move quickly to reverse this damage by re-engaging with the Human Rights Council and restoring the U.S.’s role as a core group member and key sponsor of important Human Rights Council resolutions on Internet Freedom, Freedom of Assembly and Association, and the Human Rights Situations in Syria and Sudan, among many others. The Biden Administration should also seek a seat on the Human Rights Council for the term 2022-2024. Finally, the Biden Administration should support the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights politically and financially. We should also thank those U.S. allies who protected the international human rights system during the U.S. withdrawal, including Canada, Mexico, and Australia.
Serious and substantive engagement with UN multilateral mechanisms would also involve the United States ratification of core UN Human Rights Conventions -- such as the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child -- and issuance of a standing invitation for UN Special Procedures Mandate Holders to visit the United States.
2. Integrate Health Diplomacy and Human Rights
The Biden Administration should promptly reverse the Trump Administration’s withdrawal of funding for the World Health Organization. The U.S. can use its renewed funding to press the World Health Organization to address human rights obstacles that prevent access to high-quality and affordable health care services worldwide. This means advocating for increased access to sexual and reproductive rights for women and girls as well as advocating for increased access to health services for racial minorities, youths, and persons living with HIV/AIDS. It also means promoting human rights essential to combating the Covid-19 pandemic, including freedom of information, which is one of the most important tools for combatting the spread of infectious diseases, and non-discrimination in the distribution of vaccines, tests, and personal protective equipment.
3. Expand the Use of Mediation and Atrocity Prevention as Tools for Addressing Conflict Situations
Despite historic U.S. commitments to protect populations at risk of atrocity, U.S. action to prevent atrocities in Rakhine State, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Syria, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is not impressive. Populations continue to be systematically attacked by repressive regimes and security forces. The Biden Administration should establish a coordinated negotiation and mediation unit at the State Department and USAID focused on atrocity prevention, conflict resolution, and stabilization to help fulfill U.S. commitments to protect populations at risk of atrocity. At UNHR we have been at the forefront of negotiation and atrocity prevention efforts and we know that they are underutilized tools in U.S. foreign policy. We are convinced that mediation is consistent with, and can be practiced in a manner supportive of, the U.S.’s human rights goals in conflicts from Venezuela to Afghanistan, from Bangladesh to Libya.
4. Restore the U.S.’s Global Reputation for its Commitment to the Rule of Law
The Trump Administration abrogated international agreements and disregarded the U.S. Constitution, which has caused serious damage to one of the most important sources of U.S. power: our reputation as a country governed by the rule of law. The Biden administration needs to move swiftly to restore the U.S.’s reputation as a country that respects international law and that is governed by law – regardless of whether the force of law benefits the U.S. or is occasionally to our detriment. The caricature of a U.S. president preferring authoritarian leaders to allies and resisting a peaceful transition of power has done much to erode international respect for the U.S. and its credibility to speak on human rights issues. Given this crisis of confidence, the Biden Administration cannot defer progress on rule of law in the name of political and security interests but must address this at the highest levels and as an urgent priority.
5. Incorporate Human Rights in all Aspects of Regional Diplomacy
The Biden Administration must ensure that human rights concerns are raised in every meeting with a visiting foreign minister and in every foreign visit by Biden Administration Cabinet officials. Restoring America’s reputation abroad as well as a commitment to our values demands that every Cabinet official speak to those values, not only those with foreign affairs or justice responsibilities. When a Secretary of Defense speaks about human rights in Egypt and a Secretary of Commerce raises human rights concerns in China, the world will not only recognize that the U.S. is serious about practicing its values, it will also listen. A corollary to this approach is to ensure that all Congressionally mandated positions related to human rights are filled by appointees funded and empowered to carry out the mandate of their positions.