In the wake of recent violence, including the tragic death of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya, some have called for the United States to decrease its diplomatic engagement with the Middle East. With perceptions of America in the region already greatly damaged by a legacy of narrow relationships with autocratic governments, such a move would be a grave mistake with dire consequences for U.S. foreign policy and national security interests. Ambassador Stevens was among the strongest advocates of building relationships with the Arab public, and it would be tragically ironic to see his death lead to an abandonment of this critical task.
The world was outraged when a 14-year-old girl in Pakistan was shot in the head last week simply for being an ardent advocate for the right of girls to an education. Unfortunately, Malala's case is not an isolated one. In most parts of the world today, individuals and organizations working to advance social, political, and environmental justice face imminent danger as a result of their work. In the past two months alone, a 70-year-old activist in Cambodia was sentenced to 20 years in prison because he challenged the government's policy of confiscating local land for powerful corporate interests; in southern India, police used live ammunition on villagers protesting against a proposed nuclear power plant; a human rights lawyer opposing the creation of special economic development zones was shot dead in Honduras; and in the United Arab Emirates, an outspoken critic of inhumane treatment of political prisoners was assaulted in the street twice and faced government surveillance.
While both President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, have their sights set on November 6, there is another important election around the corner. On November 12, the United States will compete to retain its seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council.
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, which 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.