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US: Biden Should Act to Ensure Rights for All

Prioritize Racial and Economic Justice, Access to Health Care, Climate Action

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


US President-elect Joe Biden should set out a comprehensive plan to prioritize human rights in the next administration, Human Rights Watch said today. The Biden administration should not only undo regressive policies of the previous administration but seek to put the United States on a path to promote respect for human rights both at home and abroad. This includes addressing systemic racism, climate change, and the right to health, including reproductive and sexual rights, and standing with human rights defenders around the world, not abusive leaders.  

“President-elect Biden should heed the message from voters who want to see racial justice, affordable health care, and economic policies that protect the planet and people in need,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “He should act swiftly to reverse the most harmful Trump administration policies and help build a society in which all people live in dignity and freedom.”

Human Rights Watch released a series of recommendations for the new administration, addressing domestic and foreign policy. Domestically, the Biden administration should confront the US history of systemic racial discrimination, support laws and policies that address racial disparities in the criminal legal system, treat immigrants fairly and with dignity, promote gender equality, and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Biden should prioritize working with Congress to ensure access to health care, including for women and people with disabilities, and to provide Covid-19 economic relief for those most in need, and equitable education for children across the country.

In foreign policy, Biden should fulfill his promise to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords and halt withdrawal from the World Health Organization. The Biden administration should also immediately revoke the “global gag rule,” which limits US aid for health care with harmful anti-abortion dictates, and reinstate funding to the United Nations Population Fund. Biden should repudiate the US Department of State’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, which sought to create a hierarchy of rights inconsistent with international human rights law and US international legal obligations, and rescind the executive order authorizing sanctions aimed at undermining the work of the International Criminal Court. His administration should also cease selling weapons to rights abusers, commit to the international ban on use of antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions, and ensure that civilians harmed by US military action are treated fairly.

On November 9, countries at the UN Human Rights Council reviewed the human rights record of the United States and offered recommendations on guaranteeing the right to health, including sexual and reproductive health, nondiscrimination, voting rights, policing, and gender equality, among others. The Biden administration should re-engage with the Human Rights Council, including by accepting Universal Periodic Review recommendations aligned with international human rights law, and realizing the human rights obligations identified by the council.

“It’s not enough that the calamitous Trump era is coming to an end,” Roth said. “Biden will need to lead a major transformation if the US is to be a credible voice on human rights around the globe.”

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