Kirsten Gillibrand

Democratic Presidential Candidate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speaks during a press conference on the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump
Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Amnesty International USA asked Kirsten Gillibrand 13 questions about some of the most pressing human rights issues of our time.

Here is her response exactly as provided:

  • How should the U.S. respond to the growing number of asylum-seekers, including families and children, seeking protection at the U.S. southern border?

The policy of detaining and separating children and families and abusing the detention system to punish asylum seekers is unacceptable and un-American. We should utilize community-based alternatives to detention programs with efficient case management and access to counsel, and establish an independent immigration court to depoliticize the system and ensure due process. In addition to building a more humane immigration and asylum system at home, we must do more to address the root causes of refugee flight. Most people don’t want to leave their homes, but they are fleeing violence, corruption and extreme poverty. Instead of cutting off assistance as President Trump has done in the case of the Northern Triangle countries, we must work with civil society in those countries and international partners to address the root causes that force people to flee.

  • What can the U.S. do to address the causes of migration from the Northern Triangle of Central America?

People from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are fleeing incredible violence, which threatens them and their children. Girls and women are targeted by gangs that operate with impunity. People do not have adequate recourse to effective law enforcement and judiciary to keep them safe. Rather than cutting off assistance as President Trump has proposed, we should support civil society, legal reform, and the strengthening of communities in these countries. That’s why I was an original cosponsor of the Central America Reform and Enforcement Act, which provides assistance to improve rule of law, increase economic opportunity and create more security for children and families in the Northern Triangle countries, while ensuring that those governments are implementing reforms. And when political leaders in these countries exacerbate the problem through corrupt, ineffective governance, it is critical that the U.S. continues to work closely with international partners such as the OAS and the United Nations’ International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. When necessary, targeted sanctions designed to hold individual human rights violators accountable are an important lever in an effort to foster improved accountability and the rule of law. That is why I have cosponsored the Guatemala Rule of Law Accountability Act.

  • What role should U.S. refugee admissions play in our response to the global refugee crisis?

President Trump’s administration has drastically cut U.S. refugee admissions – an outrageous fact given the significant numbers of people fleeing persecution around the world. Among the most drastic cuts were to refugees from Muslim majority countries. I have cosponsored the National OriginBased Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants (NO BAN) Act, which repeals the three versions of President Trump’s Muslim ban, strengthens the Immigration and Nationality Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, and restores the separation of powers by limiting overly broad executive authority to issue future travel bans.

  • What kinds of support could the U.S. provide to countries and regions experiencing record levels of internal displacement induced by causes as wide-ranging as climate change and warfare?

Armed conflict, violence against women, religious persecution, and droughts and other significant weather phenomena associated with climate changes have created both refugee and internally displaced populations who need humanitarian and sometimes long term support. According to the UN, about 40 million people are internally displaced – a record number. First and foremost, we must ensure that internally displaced people are safe and being treated pursuant to the international Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which means working with our international partners to press countries to abide by such principles. Second, we must adequately fund international institutions with the expertise, experience and global trust to provide humanitarian relief and protection. And finally, we must support long term solutions – whether reconciliation or addressing the havoc of climate change – that allow such populations to return to their homes if they choose to do so.

  • What policies should the U.S. implement to reduce and prevent gun violence?

Mass shootings and gun violence are a national crisis that threaten the safety of our families and communities. We can’t accept repeated tragedies and tens of thousands of deaths every year as normal, and we can’t accept politicians choosing NRA money over Americans’ lives. We must ban assault and high capacity magazines, which allow shooters to keep firing for longer. I cosponsored the Background Check Expansion Act, which would require background checks for all gun sales and transfers, and I have fought for a decade to combat gun trafficking. We must close the loopholes to make sure guns can’t get into the hands of dangerous criminals, terrorists or domestic abusers.

  • How should the U.S. address police killings of civilians, including the lack of transparency and accountability?

These tragedies happen all too frequently. We must have transparency and accountability. Nobody unarmed should die on a street corner. Officers should not return to duty after an unjustified killing, and we must end the code of silence that protects bad actors. The Department of Justice must help police departments across the country with pattern-or-practice investigations, and this requires careful supervision of consent decrees. We have a duty and an obligation to ensure that the police are protecting everyone. On day one of my presidency, I will direct my Department of Justice to work with state and local governments to reform broken windows policing, advance community oversight and independent investigation, and fund and require all departments use of body cameras. I will also eliminate the use of for-profit policing, because incarceration cannot be a business model. I will work with Congress and my cabinet to stop the excessive transfer of military grade equipment to local police forces. Finally, I will instruct my Attorney General to investigate incidents of police killing of unarmed civilians with the same vigor as we will approach ending gun violence.

  • How should the U.S. address human rights abuses suffered by religious and ethnic minorities at the hands of government and non-government actors worldwide?

No one should suffer because of who they are or what they believe. The United States must make very clear in its diplomatic exchanges that religious and ethnic persecution will not be ignored. We must support civil society institutions that fight discrimination and persecution. And when possible, we should apply targeted pressure, such as my call on the administration to apply export controls on cutting edge technologies used by Chinese institutions to surveil and jail the Uighurs and other Muslim Chinese communities in the Xinjiang region. We must call out attacks on religious communities as I did when the people attending church services in Sri Lanka were murdered. But this is not enough – there are times when people cannot safely remain in their home countries, and the United States must have a generous asylum policy that lives up to our international humanitarian obligations by providing asylum to those with a well founded fear of persecution, regardless of ethnic or religious background. We must also fund institutions such as UNHCR, which have the experience and international standing to provide safety and a path to refuge for people fleeing such oppression.

  • How should the U.S. protect LGBTI rights at home and abroad?

No one should be persecuted because of whom they love. When the person flees draconian laws that put them in danger, the U.S. must provide asylum opportunities and support international institutions that support refugees. This is why I have called on fought to ensure that the State Department to work to ensure that LGBTI refugees are protected in their home countries, and when that is impossible, to expedite hat their flight to safety are expedited. And I have called on Secretary Pompeo to reverse the odious trend against the LGBTQ community – including to allow surrogate children of same-sex partners to receive their citizenship. At home, I have introduced bipartisan legislation to protect transgender service members. My bill would protect currently serving transgender service members and continue to allow new transgender service members to join the military. And I was the first presidential candidate to support a federal designation of a third gender.

  • How should the U.S. ensure that our foreign and domestic policies protect sexual and reproductive rights?

A woman’s right to make personal health decisions is nonnegotiable. In the face of relentless attacks from this administration and its allies in Congress, I have unfailingly stood up to protect women’s access to safe and legal abortion, birth control and health care at Planned Parenthood and to ensure women serving in our military have the same reproductive health rights as their civilian counterparts. I voted against the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule and am an original cosponsor of the Global Health Empowerment and Rights Act, which would permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule. I have pledged to appoint only judges who will commit to upholding Roe v. Wade, will fight to codify the decision in our laws, and will repeal the Hyde Amendment and President Trump’s domestic gag rule. 

  • How should the U.S. address the targeting, harassment, and killing of human rights defenders and journalists around the world?

The detention, killing and other violence against journalists and human rights activists silences these important voices that shine a light on corruption and human rights violations. Supporting journalistic freedom is critical not just for freedom of the press, but for the fight for fundamental improvements to the rule of law. That is why I have written to King Salman of Saudi Arabia calling for the release of human rights and women’s rights activists, some of whom were provided a reprieve as a result. That is also why I co-sponsored legislation seeking to hold Saudi government leaders accountable for the brutal death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Such violence is unacceptable and we must always make clear to those countries that the United States will not sit idly by as journalists, human rights lawyers and activists are detained, tortured and killed.

  • How should the U.S. respond to the increasing use of political repression by authoritarian regimes?

President Trump’s foreign policy has abandoned America’s moral leadership. We must reclaim these values and re-engage with our allies, so that together we can impress upon authoritarian regimes the cost of their actions against their own people. Two examples of my work on these issues are China and Venezuela. With respect to Venezuela, I have supported efforts to bring about new elections that would represent the will of the Venezuelan people. I believe the broad international agreement in support of new elections, and the humanitarian outpouring designed to support the Venezuelan people are the way to fight repression. In China I have been alarmed by the surveillance and detention of the Chinese Uighur and other Muslim communities. In response, I have called for the Trump administration to control the export of cutting edge American technologies that the Chinese authorities are or can use for the abuse of their people’s rights. And I have called on Saudi Arabia to set free women’s rights activists and have opposed continuing military support to the Saudi regime over the murder of Jamal Kashoggi, a prominent journalist critic, as well as the tens of thousands of civilian deaths in Yemen.

  • How can the U.S. ensure compliance with and accountability for its international human rights obligations in national security operations?

I oppose the United States’ continued involvement in endless wars – in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria – without Congressional oversight or the need for over 22,000 American troops to address our national security goals. We must bring our troops home, rather than continue to prosecute wars long after achieving our limited goals. Additionally, I have long supported the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo to the United States. In New York, the federal district courts have successfully prosecuted terrorist suspects without public security incident – I believe the U.S. judicial system is capable of trying suspects held in Guantanamo in fair, transparent and secure trials. And finally I am concerned by the civilian casualties that groups like Amnesty International have found to be associated with U.S. military and intelligence strikes, including by drones. I have called upon the Department of Defense to review its operations and determine whether unmanned aircraft are responsible for an inordinate number of civilian casualties, and change our policies.

  • What can the U.S. do to ensure U.S. arms are not used to perpetuate human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law?

The Saudi-UAE prosecution of the Yemen war has caused an outrageous number of civilian casualties – many of them women and children. That is why I have supported legislation to end US weapon sales to Saudi Arabia, as well as an end to U.S. military refueling for Saudi coalition planes, which allows them to loiter longer, enabling them to hit more targets. More recently the Trump administration has tried to move a number of military sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates despite Congressional concerns. I will work with my colleagues in Congress to oppose these sales. We must make clear to other countries that we will not condone or support human rights abuses – particularly using American products. And we must do more to ensure that the weapons we sell do not end up in the hands of human rights abusers, and even America’s adversaries. We must invest in robust mechanisms to keep a check on the weapons we sell.

  • How should the U.S. government hold businesses accountable for human rights abuses?

Corporations exercise significant impact on human rights, climate change, ethical technology use and many other issues that affect our lives. The United States must vigorously enforce existing legal requirements such as anti-bribery laws aimed at stopping foreign corrupt governments, regulations designed to safeguard the environment, export controls on surveillance and similar technology tools that can be exploited by countries with bad human rights records, and not ignore Congressional opposition to weapons sales to countries that would use them against civilians. But that is not enough. I have worked to increase the human rights based framework which corporations must respect by addressing gaps in export controls on surveillance tools working to stop US military sales to countries that have caused indiscriminate civilian deaths. In addition to more transparency requirements in U.S. law, we must work with allies on international guidelines and rules to ensure that companies cannot simply flee to other jurisdictions to carry out bad practices.