NGO Letter to Establish the Senate Human Rights Commission (S.R. 725)

December 8, 2020

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader



The Honorable Chuck Schumer
Senate Minority Leader


Senator James E.Risch
Chairman
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations


Senator Bob Menendez
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations


Senator Roy Blunt
Chairman
Senate Committee on Rules & Administration


Senator Amy Klobuchar
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Rules & Administration


December 8, 2020

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Democratic Leader Schumer, Senator Risch, Senator Menendez, Senator Blunt, and Senator Klobuchar:

We are writing in strong support of S. Res. 725, a resolution establishing the Senate Human Rights Commission, introduced by Senate Human Rights Caucus co-chairs Senator Chris Coons and Senator Thom Tillis. If passed, this resolution would establish the Senate Human Rights Commission and authorize $200,000 per year for the Commission’s activities.

Since its launch in 2014, the Senate Human Rights Caucus (the Caucus) has become a critical platform and resource for the Senate and Congress to promote respect for and protection of human rights around the world. The Caucus has held briefings on a wide range of issues, such as the persecution of the Rohingya, human rights in Iran, and threats to religious minorities, and it has also served as a catalyst for individual actions in support of human rights by numerous Senators.

The Senate Human Rights Commission would serve as a counterpart to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (Lantos Commission) in the House of Representatives. The Caucus and the Lantos Commission already work together effectively and frequently. For instance, at the beginning of this year, the Caucus formally joined the Lantos Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project, which works with a number of non-governmental organizations to advocate for the release of prisoners of conscience around the world. But the Caucus does not have dedicated staff or resources like the Lantos Commission, which limits its capacity. In establishing a Senate Human Rights Commission, the Senate would strengthen collaboration between governmental and non-governmental bodies –including through projects like the Defending Freedoms Project –that bolsters U.S. leadership on human rights around the world.

Together, the Lantos Commission and the Senate Human Rights Commission will complement, not replicate or infringe upon, the traditional work of Congressional committees by holding public and private briefings on human rights issues that transcend the jurisdictions and interests of multiple committees and raise awareness of topics that the committees and personal offices may not have the bandwidth to cover. A full time, fully staffed Senate Commission will also serve as an important platform for civil society to share their concerns and recommendations with Congress.

We urge you to support the resolution that would, if passed, establish the Commission and provide $200,000 to allow the co-chairs of the Commission to hire dedicated, full time, personnel thus greatly increasing the volume and effectiveness of the work currently undertaken by the Caucus, reinforcing its expertise, and amplifying Congress’ important voice on human rights and foreign policy.Since the early 1970s, Congress has led the U.S. Government’s focus on and commitment to fundamental human freedoms as a core part of its foreign policy.

The need for Congressional leadership on these issues around the world has never been more critical: crises from Yemen to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Philippines and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are rolling back progress on protecting rights and freedoms painfully secured since the establishment of the United Nations, in many cases with U.S. support. This trend has serious implications not only for the millions of people directly impacted, but also for U.S. foreign policy objectives and U.S. national security.

The investment in a Senate Human Rights Commission will pay off inlives saved, freedoms restored, and rights protected, respected, and fulfilled. For these reasons, we respectfully request your support for S. Res. 725.

Sincerely,

Amnesty International USA
Africa Faith and Justice Network
Amazon Watch
American Jewish World Service
Arakan Institute for Peace and Development
Center for Victims of Torture
Chinese Human Rights Defenders
Church World Service
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Council for Global Equality
Earthrights International
Emgage Action
Ethiopian Community Development Council
Freedom House
Freedom Now
Front Line Defenders
Global Justice Center
Global Witness
HIAS
Human Rights Campaign
Human Rights First
Human Rights Foundation
Human Rights Watch
Institute for Asian Democracy
International Campaign for the Rohingya
International Interfaith Peace Corps
International Refugee Assistance Project
International Rescue Committee
Invisible Children
Justice For All
Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Never Again Coalition
No Business with Genocide
Oxfam America
Pax Christi Metro New York
Peace Direct
PEN America
Physicians for Human Rights
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Project on Middle East Democracy(POMED)
Refugee Council USA
Refugees International
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Scholars at Risk Network
Sister Parish
The Burmese Rohingya Association North America
The Sentry
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
United Stateless
United States Campaign for Burma
Vietnam Human Rights Network
Watch Democracy Grow
Washington Office on Latin America
21Wilberforce