Defending Human Rights & the Trump Administration: The Front Line Moves to Washington, DC

December 15, 2016


Next month Congress will get to interview nominees for the incoming Trump administration. These cabinet nominees are important indicators as to whether his administration will be uphold and protect human rights or whether the inflammatory rhetoric from the campaign will become policy. The implications for human rights – here in the United States and internationally could not be more stark and hard as it may be to remember the incoming administration will have a huge impact globally as well as here in the United States.

So far President-elect Trump’s nominees to lead foreign policy raise more alarm than confidence.

Rex Tillerson, the nominee to be Secretary of State,   has spent 40 years at the multi-national energy giant Exxon Mobil traveling extensively, negotiating deals with foreign governments focused on one thing: profits for the company. The next Secretary of State will face the challenge of armed extremist groups, stopping possible genocides in Syria and South Sudan and leading the global community to help the estimated 65 million people currently displaced throughout the world.  The Secretary of State will also face a growing assault on human rights: the arrested of human rights defenders, closing political space and growing violent xenophobia against members of the LGBTQ community. All of these have direct implications for U.S. national security.

Will the Rex Tillerson who helped push the Boys Scouts of America to accept LGBTQ members show up or will it be the Rex Tillerson who has been awarded a medal of friendship by Vladimir Putin, the leader of one of the most homophobic regimes in the world, for making money for Exxon Mobil and the Russian state?

Will it be the Tillerson who has had no qualms doing business with governments with appalling human rights records such as Equatorial Guinea and Chad?

Will it be the Tillerson who flouted Obama administration policy, signed a deal with the Kurdish Regional government in Iraq and then told State Department officials he had “to do what was best for his shareholders”?

Then there is John Bolton.

Bolton would be Tillerson’s deputy, and in charge of day to day affairs at the Department of State.

As U.S. Ambassador to the UN Bolton left a truly dismal record when it came to human rights. Bolton led the charge to have the United States withdraw from the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court (ICC), a body that serves as the court of last resort to enforce accountability for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Bolton believes that the ICC constrains the freedom of the United States and undermines U. S. sovereignty. In fact Mr. Bolton has derided the idea of international law being binding on the United States at all.

But most disturbing is Mr. Bolton’s support for torture, excusing it as “hard but necessary” to protect U.S. national security.

Torture is never a “necessary”, and human rights are not transactional cards to be traded away or discarded in negotiations.  It is up to us to ensure that incoming Trump administration never forgets that.

Next month’s nominations hearings in  the Senate be more than an exercise to see if  either man is fit for the job it will be about the United States will return to torturing people and ignore its obligations to respect human rights whenever they want to.

It is imperative that the Senate asks the right questions and listen to the answers carefully before making any decisions.

AIUSA will be sharing questions for all of the cabinet nominees for the Trump administration. We urge anyone and everyone to contact their senator and stand up for human rights by demanding clear commitment from all of the nominees.

We must all be Human Rights Defenders and the new frontline is Washington, DC.