Questions for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

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Freedom House has compiled the following questions for Secretary of State John Kerry, who will appear before Senate and House committees today and tomorrow to discuss the proposed foreign affairs budget for fiscal year 2016.

General

  • U.S. funding for democracy assistance has shrunk since 2009, despite the fact that many nations around the world are plagued with instability and undemocratic governance. According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2015 report, global freedom has declined for the ninth straight year, and 36 percent of the world’s population lives in countries ranked as Not Free—a clear demonstration of the need for democracy assistance. What is the reasoning behind shifting funding away from this priority over the years, and does the administration plan to restore or increase funding for democracy, human rights, and governance programs in the future?
  • Globally, safe spaces for civil society are shrinking, and civil society groups are under increasing threat as governments implement restrictive policies supposedly meant to prevent “color revolutions.” Does the United States have a strategy to deal with this challenge? How does the United States plan to bolster civil society under these increasingly repressive conditions?
  • We have seen an increase in the use of broadly written “antiterrorism” laws to ban civil society groups and silence human rights defenders. What is the United States doing to push back against these laws, especially in countries it considers partners in the fight against actual terrorism?
  • How will the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons ensure that the position is more than just symbolic, and how will the envoy effectively combat legislation in foreign countries that criminalizes LGBT people and activists?
  • The United States has steadily deemphasized and decreased funding for reliable international news services like Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. At the same time, U.S. adversaries ranging from Russia to the Islamic State militant group have expanded and fine-tuned their delivery of distorted news and propaganda. What is the U.S. strategy in this area? Are there plans to step up funding for objective news and information aimed at underserved foreign audiences?

Middle East and North Africa

  • What is the United States doing to help activists who are working to revive prospects for democratic reform despite fierce repression by authoritarian governments across the Middle East?

Africa

  • What is the Obama administration doing to hold the Kenyan government accountable for its lack of respect for internationally recognized human rights? How will the 2016 budget address restrictions in Kenya on the freedoms of assembly, expression, and political pluralism and the need for an independent judicial system?
  • Mauritania receives the worst ranking, Tier 3, in the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, yet the United States continues to provide significant military assistance to the Mauritanian government. What is the reasoning behind this policy, and how does the administration plan to address the problem of slavery in Mauritania?

Asia

  • A recent Freedom House report found that for the United States and other major democracies, short-term economic and strategic priorities almost always override democracy and human rights concerns in relations with China. Last month, another Freedom House study found that China’s Communist Party regime is becoming both more repressive and more vulnerable to instability. What funding is included in the 2016 budget request for China? How can U.S. foreign policy more effectively address Beijing’s authoritarian governance problems and ensure that the United States does not sacrifice its values and long-term interests for the sake of smoother bilateral relations in the near term?

Eurasia

  • Azerbaijan is experiencing what may be its most brutal crackdown on civil society in recent history. Freedom House has ranked Azerbaijan as Not Free in the latest edition of Freedom in the World. Arrests of journalists and activists are on the rise, and attacks against them continue with impunity. Azerbaijani authorities are using travel bans, the freezing of bank accounts, incarceration, and public smears to silence dissent. What funding is included in the 2016 budget request for Azerbaijan? Do you believe Azerbaijan can still be considered a reliable partner when it is raiding the offices of U.S.-based organizations like IREX, the National Democratic Institute, and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty?
  • Is the administration planning to provide more resources to help democratic allies in Central Europe and the Baltics cope with a growing security threat from Russia?

Latin America

  • After years of mismanagement, the economy of Venezuela, an important hemispheric neighbor, is headed off a cliff, with uncontrolled inflation and dire shortages of consumer goods. The Maduro regime has responded by doubling down on repression, arresting a series of opposition leaders on preposterous charges. What is the United States’ strategy for dealing with further political and economic instability in Venezuela? What kind of engagement are you seeking from other countries in the region?
  • How is the United States including democracy and human rights in its ongoing negotiations with Cuba on restoring full diplomatic and economic ties?
  • What is the U.S. strategy for strengthening the Organization of American States and supporting the Inter-American Human Rights System?
  • What is the Obama administration doing to help restore normal democratic order in Haiti, whose government has been ruling by decree in the absence of a parliament since January?

 


Photo Credit: Center for American Progress Action Fund, Photo by Ralph Alswang, Photographer (Flickr/Creative Commons) 

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

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