News Article

Senate Dems’ human rights bill drop
January 30, 2024


By: Jael Holzman

Senate Democrats are preparing a big human rights package with implications for the global energy sector.

Why it matters: Dems want to offer U.S. diplomatic muscle to assist people in other countries protesting resource extraction … and decarbonization projects.

  • It’s evidence that mainstream Democrats are taking up the movement for “climate justice,” which advocates for social equity in tandem with climate action.
  • That cause — most often championed by progressives — is extremely important to some young voters.

Driving the news: Senate Foreign Relations Chair Ben Cardin is unveiling a proposal Wednesday aimed at boosting U.S. support for “human rights defenders,” per materials shared exclusively with Axios.

  • “Human rights defenders” are defined as individuals at risk of violence or repression from advocating for environmental issues and Indigenous communities. It also would cover other vulnerable groups (including religious minorities and LGBTQ+ people).
  • The bill would also require Foreign Service officers and presidential appointees to receive training on human rights defenders, according to the text of the bill.

Details: It’ll be backed by fellow Senate Foreign Relations Democrats, including Tim Kaine, Jeff Merkley, Chris Van Hollen and Cory Booker.

  • Rep. Jim McGovern is expected to lead a House companion.
  • Cardin also has support on introduction from the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and NGOs Human Rights Watch and Oxfam International.

The other side: Turning this bill into law any time soon will be hard in an environment where funding the government itself is a Sisyphean challenge.

  • The GOP has historically been loath to beef up the State Department workforce or create new avenues for migration into the U.S.

Yes, but: The broader messaging indicates Democrats are now willing to bash climate efforts if they don’t align with human rights priorities.

  • Along with the bill, committee Democrats shouted out Kenyan activist Leonard Mindore, who is fighting efforts to kick native people off their lands for a carbon credit project used by tech giants Meta and Netflix.
  • In an X post Tuesday, committee Democrats said Mindore :is on the frontlines of the fight against #ClimateInjustice.”

What we’re watching: whether this legislation and general policy direction give way to bipartisan consensus on cleaning up “clean energy.”