Defending U.S. Foreign Policy Priorities: Questions for Secretary Clinton | Freedom House

Defending U.S. Foreign Policy Priorities: Questions for Secretary Clinton

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to Capitol Hill this week to defend the administration's funding and policy priorities for the next year, which should make for some interesting discussion given the variety of serious issues facing U.S. policymakers. The fiscal year (FY) 2013 State and Foreign Operations Budget, includes the State Department, USAID, and support for international organizations, was released on February 13 as part of the complete budget request, though full details on many programs will not be made public until next month. As Secretary Clinton appears before the House and Senate foreign relations and appropriations committees, Freedom House would like to see a robust exploration of the administration's foreign policy goals, including its plans to support human rights and democratic development.

Global Issues

  • According to Freedom House, declines in the state of global freedom have outpaced advances for six straight years, suggesting that authoritarian governments, responding in part to the perceived threat of Arab Spring–like political upheaval, are determined to continue denying any space for independent political activity, and especially for civil society. How does the proposed budget address this enormous challenge? Are announced cuts to the National Endowment for Democracy indicative of broader decreases for efforts to support human rights and democracy around the world?
  • Given the unprecedented attack on civil society groups in Egypt -- including four American organizations -- and the increasing use of restrictive regulations in countries around the world to suppress the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), what steps are you taking to protect civil society groups operating abroad, particularly those that receive U.S. taxpayer dollars to carry out their work?  Do you support the idea, codified in past appropriations bills, that no foreign government should have control over U.S. democracy and human rights assistance programs?
  • What lessons do you believe other authoritarian governments will draw from the recent crackdown against U.S.-based NGOs in Egypt?
  • Some U.S. technology exports are working directly against the Obama administration's policy of promoting internet freedom.  The U.S. government is supporting efforts to circumvent internet censorship and strengthen the digital security of human rights activists, but U.S. companies are bolstering censorship by repressive regimes and making these activists more vulnerable to online surveillance.  The Global Network Initiative has failed to stem the sales of U.S. censorship and surveillance technologies to some of the world's worst abusers of human rights. What is the Obama administration doing to curb these sales?
  • This administration came into office with a policy of engagement with the world's dictators and authoritarian regimes, but it has been met more with rebuffs than with reciprocation. Relations with Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, and Russia have remained difficult or nonexistent under this policy. Might it be time to rethink the approach toward the world's leading authoritarians?  What steps might be taken to engage with those who support reform in these countries?
  • How has the suspension of funding for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) affected the U.S. government's ability to support international education initiatives, scientific advancement, and other efforts by the only international body devoted to these issues? Has it had repercussions for American employers, researchers, students, and cultural institutions? Does the suspension impair the successful participation of the United States in other UN bodies?
  • According to Freedom House assessments, rising new democracies -- including India, Brazil, and South Africa -- have earned unimpressive marks in the promotion of democratic standards at the international level. Do you have a plan to persuade these and other new democracies to join with the United States in the pursuit of freedom abroad?

Middle East

  • Despite the fact that Egypt has raided the offices of four U.S.-based organizations, prevented American aid workers from leaving the country, and started legal proceedings against 43 NGO workers, including 19 Americans, your FY 2013 request still includes $1.3 billion in aid to Egypt's military and $250 million in other assistance, much of which goes through the Ministry of International Cooperation and Planning. Would you support efforts to ensure that nonmilitary aid to Egypt does not go through the Ministry of International Cooperation and Planning, whose head, Fayza Aboul Naga, has led the attack against U.S. and local civil society groups in the country? Are you prepared to withhold military assistance for Egypt if the situation is not resolved?
  • What are you doing to ensure that the Egyptian government ends its campaign against civil society and allows the free operation not only of American organizations, but also of the 400 Egyptian organizations -- most of them involved in supporting human rights, democracy, and government accountability -- that have been caught up in this investigation?
  • The FY 2013 budget includes a $770 million request for a new Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund. Can you describe how this fund, if established, would allow you to respond to the fluid situation in the Middle East and North Africa region? Who would administer this fund? What types of activities do you expect it to support?
  • Both you and President Obama have taken a strong stance against the Assad regime’s brutal repression and killing of its own people in Syria. However, to date you have not supported providing military assistance to protect Assad’s mostly civilian opponents, who face, according to credible new reports, a daily onslaught of shelling, sniper fire, and other violence. In fact, you stated publicly that the Syrian opposition will “from somewhere, somehow, find the means to defend themselves.” Should the U.S. government declare that all options are on the table? Is there a deciding factor that would lead this administration to agree to provide military support? If not, how do you intend to proceed in the face of continued obstruction by Russia and China at the United Nations?

    Do you intend to impose sanctions on Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or their family members under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Act?
  • The ruling family of Bahrain continues to crack down on protesters who have come to the streets in support of political and social rights since February 2011. The use of torture, extrajudicial arrests, politicized mass layoffs of government and private-sector workers, military detentions and trials of civilians, and other abuses have been widely reported by independent sources, and even by a royally appointed commission of inquiry. How does this administration propose to support reform given the Bahraini government’s current failure to implement the recommendations of the commission? Do you feel that moving forward with an arms sale to Bahrain in the midst of the crackdown would contradict U.S. support for reform and human rights? Are you considering alternative sites for the headquarters of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet?
  • Can you describe the administration’s plans to support the protection of human rights and the movement toward a representative and accountable government in Libya? What is the administration doing to prevent loose arms and autonomous militias from derailing the transition? Has the transitional government demonstrated a commitment to developing a cohesive, peaceful state and accepting international assistance and investment?


  • How will cuts to organizations such as the East-West Center and the Asia Foundation affect this administration’s renewed focus on engagement in Asia? Are these cuts indicative of larger-scale reductions for democracy promotion, rule of law, and protection of human rights in Asia? Will they hurt efforts to increase America’s influence in the region vis-à-vis China?
  • How will the FY 2013 budget seek to support democratization in Burma, a country that has experienced a remarkable opening in the past year?


  • What is being done to ensure that the world’s newest country, South Sudan, is putting in place the systems needed for transparency and accountability with respect to the massive inflow of foreign assistance and oil revenues? Is the United States prepared to use its considerable leverage with the government in Juba to reverse restrictions on civil society, independent media, and political opposition?


  • How will the efforts under the discontinued Assistance for Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia (AEECA) account be carried over for the FY 2013 budget? Will there be continued support for democratic expansion and the protection of human rights in countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, and in the Central Asian republics?
  • What efforts is the U.S. government making to support democracy, the rule of law, and human rights in Russia? Does the administration support the passage of the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act, which would impose financial and travel restrictions on Russian officials involved in the persecution and death of whistle-blowing Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky?
  • Has the administration reassessed its reset policy toward Russia in light of the blatant ballot stuffing in the December parliamentary elections and Vladimir Putin's extensive use of anti-Americanism in his bid to retain power?
  • In Ukraine, do you intend to take stronger action against the Yanukovych government in light of its antidemocratic practices, including the persecution of opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko?
  • The energy-rich countries of Eurasia -- including Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan -- share pervasive violations of human rights and a lack of democratic institutions. Does the administration have a strategy to encourage these regimes to treat their people with justice and uphold fundamental political and civil rights?
  • Are you concerned about what many observers perceive as serious backsliding in new democracies such as Hungary and Turkey?

Latin America

  • What is the U.S. government doing to respond to the brutal assault on freedom of expression in the Latin American region, which includes ongoing violence against the press by drug gangs in Mexico, government control and harassment of the media in Venezuela, and the aggressive use of libel laws by Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa?
  • What is the administration’s position regarding the role of the Organization of American States (OAS) vis-à-vis other regional and subregional organizations that have been created recently? Is there willingness to increase financial support for the OAS to strengthen its influence in the coming years?
  • How can the U.S. government help the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights accomplish its mission, considering the attacks the commission has faced from some Latin American governments?

Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.

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