WASHINGTON – In response to dramatic increases in attacks on human rights defenders around the world, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senior Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) today introduced the Global Voices of Freedom Act, new legislation to improve the U.S. government’s ability to support human rights defenders and to help prevent, mitigate, and respond to retaliatory attacks against those who stand up to against the backsliding of democracy and for basic human dignity.
Although the United States has long played a leading role in supporting human rights defenders, the Global Voices of Freedom Act seeks to harness all elements of American diplomatic power to update and increase support at United States embassies, consulates, and foreign missions in order to meet the needs of the growing number of human rights defenders at risk. The legislation also calls on the Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations to protect human rights defenders at the UN and other multilateral bodies as a matter of U.S. policy, and mandates that the treatment of human rights defenders be included in the State Department’s annual country reports on human rights practices to better inform and influence policymaking.
“In the enduring quest to build a better world based on respecting the rights of every person, the United States should and does support those brave women and men who speak up for their rights and the rights of their compatriots – we often call them human rights defenders,” said Senator Cardin. “At a time when the forces of authoritarianism are on the ascendance in the world, this legislation would oblige the administration to elevate our focus on supporting human rights defenders and develop a broad strategy to empower them.”
“Often, human rights defenders are the only ones in their country willing to fight for the protection of human rights, combat corruption, or speak truth to power, despite the grave risks they face for doing so, with hundreds of human rights defenders each year murdered and thousands more subjected to torture, enforced disappearance, sexual violence, hate crimes, detention, digital surveillance, and forced exile. In this fight, they deserve nothing less than the United States’ unwavering support,” Chairman Menendez said. “Today’s introduction signals the United States’ recognition of human rights defenders’ direct role in advancing fundamental freedoms, and as we work to stem the tide of growing authoritarianism, I look forward to securing our legislation’s passage by the full Senate.”
“As democracies across the globe are under threat amid a troubling rise in authoritarianism, U.S. leadership is necessary to support pro-democracy movements from Myanmar to Belarus to Venezuela. It is imperative that the United States support the brave individuals who are putting their lives at risk to fight for democracy and fundamental freedoms. The Global Voices of Freedom Act will support human rights defenders by bolstering those pro-democracy movements with financial, technical and logistical support as they combat autocracy around the world,” said Senator Shaheen.
“As authoritarianism rises around the world, so does the threat of violence against human rights defenders,” said Senator Coons. “Every year, hundreds of brave human rights advocates are tortured, murdered, or otherwise silenced for their work. As co-chair of the Senate Human Rights Caucus, I’m proud to support this effort to fortify U.S. government protections for human rights advocates, including from the transnational repression and violence they so unjustly face.”
“If the United States wants to be a leader on defending democracy around the world, we have to do more to support the people who are on the frontlines in the fight for basic human rights. This legislation would strengthen support for human rights defenders and ensure we aren’t just paying lip service to our democratic values,” said Senator Murphy.
Find a copy of the legislation HERE.