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US Lawmakers Tackle Transnational Repression

New Policies Would Prioritize Protection of Dissidents Globally

The dome of the US Capitol seen through a glass ceiling in Washington, DC, April 29, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

On March 16, a bipartisan group of United States senators introduced the Transnational Repression Policy Act, which aims “to hold foreign governments and individuals accountable when they stalk, intimidate, or assault people across borders, including in the United States.” The bill also establishes countering transnational repression as a foreign policy priority, including in government efforts to advance democracy and human rights around the globe.

The legislation builds on a provision Congress passed in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022, which focuses on transnational repression by way of governments’ misuse of INTERPOL data and processes, such as to physically target a dissident located abroad. The Biden administration has also pursued other efforts to counter transnational repression domestically, including through the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The tactics governments use to target human rights defenders and dissidents can be physical, such as abductions, or non-physical, through use of spyware or online harassment. The intent is to control the behavior of the person being targeted.

According to Freedom House, transnational repression is becoming more common and is now a “global threat to human rights and democratic values.” The new legislation, if passed, would be a significant step for the US toward greater protections for dissidents and others targeted in this way.

The legislation would require the State Department to include a new section in its Annual Human Rights Report on transnational repression, and for the Secretary of State to submit a report to Congress on a government strategy to address the issue. It would also create a tip line for victims or witnesses of transnational repression to report incidents to the US government.

The bill also includes a requirement to train relevant US government employees to better understand and identify transnational repression. It directs the intelligence community to identify and share information about perpetrators of transnational repression in the United States. The legislation would also require the president to submit to Congress a list of foreign individuals who should be sanctioned for engaging in transnational repression.

Members of Congress should support this effort. Human rights defenders often come to the United States to escape persecution at home. By passing this legislation, the US government would be better equipped to protect them.

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