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Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Delaware on November 5, 2020, while Kamala Harris looks on. © 2020 AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

(New York) – US President-elect Joe Biden should reverse four years of regression on human rights and immediately work to place respect for rights at the forefront of US laws and policies, Human Rights Watch said today.

As the Associated Press, Fox News, and other media organizations project that Biden has won the US presidency, US officials should ensure that the voters’ will is respected and not undermined by baseless lawsuits. President Donald Trump has made unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, and his campaign has asked courts to intervene in Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.

“In a democracy, the will of the people, not of politicians, determines the outcome of an election. Now President-elect Biden needs to govern on behalf of all Americans,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “People came out in record numbers to vote. The electoral process must ensure that their choices are respected. This is a moment to heal the nation and end the divisiveness.”

Exactly 100 years after women in the United States gained the right to vote and 55 years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Kamala Harris, the daughter of parents who immigrated from India and Jamaica, has become the first woman, first Black American, and first Asian-American to be elected vice president of the United States.

Trump’s reckless allegations of voter fraud in the November 3, 2020 presidential election have met with bipartisan condemnation. Candidates have the right to pursue the legal avenues available to them, but pursuing baseless claims unnecessarily prolongs the electoral process and may serve to undermine confidence in the outcome of the election. The Trump campaign has signaled an intent to seek a recount in Wisconsin and the Georgia secretary of state announced on November 6 that the tally of votes in the presidential race there would end with a margin small enough to prompt a recount.

Both campaigns, the political parties, and all officials in the US should urge the public to respect the electoral process. Election-related lawsuits should be resolved in a manner that centers the right to vote and focuses on ascertaining the will of voters. A record number of Americans of all backgrounds participated in the election amid a pandemic and other structural obstacles to casting a ballot. International human rights law requires that each vote be counted, Human Rights Watch said.

As president, Biden should make human rights a priority at home and abroad, Human Rights Watch said. This includes pursuing policies that support the rights of people in the United States to live in dignity, express their opinions, have and form families as they please, put sufficient food on the table, access safe water, see a doctor without fear of discrimination or financial ruin, and feel safe in their own skin. Biden should also press for swift legislation to address the Covid-19 pandemic, tackle systemic racism, and rectify harms and injustices in the criminal and immigration systems.

On foreign policy, the incoming administration should demonstrate global climate leadership, promote and protect sexual and reproductive rights, and ensure that US weapons and technology are not sold to rights-abusing governments. Human rights abusers should not be given “red carpet” treatment but instead be pressed on human rights both publicly and privately.

Some voters across the country cast their ballots using official drop boxes, the US Postal Service, or other forms of early or absentee voting. These methods of voting have been in place in many US states for years, but some states and citizens used them for the first time during the 2020 primaries and the general election as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Trump campaign’s lawsuits appear mostly related to these procedures.

“There is a vast difference between legitimate legal challenges aimed at protecting the right to vote and efforts to disenfranchise voters who support your opponent,” Roth said. “One strengthens democracy. The other seeks to undermine it.”

Emails from the Trump campaign and Trump’s statements, including on social media, have made baseless claims about the legitimacy of mail-in ballots and called for supporters to “fight back.” While respecting freedom of expression, social media platforms should enforce their policies to limit the spread of election-related disinformation and misinformation, including unsubstantiated claims of fraud, as well as incitement to violence, Human Rights Watch said.

Demonstrations have occurred since election day and more may take place in the coming days from across the political spectrum. In recent letters to state and local officials, Human Rights Watch and other organizations urged them to ensure that law enforcement – including the National Guard and other military units that might be deployed – permit demonstrators to peacefully assemble and use force only as a last resort, if necessary and proportionate, to respond to a genuine threat that cannot be addressed through other measures.

Police in New York City on November 4 appear to havekettled,” or surrounded, demonstrators, body-slamming and tackling some who appear to have posed no threat. Human Rights Watch criticized such tactics in a recent report about police response to demonstrators in the Bronx in June.

Foreign leaders and international human rights bodies should support the will of the American people in choosing their president while speaking out in defense of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the United States.

“This election shows the tremendous amount of work still to be done to ensure that everyone in the United States can live in dignity and free of racism and discrimination,” Roth said. “After taking office in January, the Biden administration should act to reverse Trump’s many transgressions of rights at home and to address the many inconsistencies and hypocrisies that have long plagued US human rights policy abroad.”

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