Amnesty International USA asked Pete Buttigieg 13 questions about some of the most pressing human rights issues of our time.
Here is his 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?
There is a humanitarian crisis at the border, and unfortunately, the Trump administration’s steps are only making the situation worse. Rather than address the conditions that push families out of their home countries, this administration cuts funding and disengages from the region. Rather than provide needed resources to provide timely asylum decisions, this administration wants to build a wall and make it harder to apply for asylum. This is cruel and counterproductive. We need to reinforce our values as a nation of immigrants by allocating resources to care for these vulnerable children and families, provide the capacity for our asylum system to process claims, and address the root causes that are leading families to flee their homes in the first place. We also need to reduce the number of immigrants at the border we are holding in detention, and reinstate and expand case management programs.
I also support conducting a comprehensive review of ICE and CBP to assess how they could be better structured. What is clear from the outside is that we need to reestablish sound immigration enforcement priorities, ensure civil rights and liberties are protected and provide better oversight. If redistributing certain or all responsibilities to other agencies is the best way to do this, then we should. Above all, we need to do everything we can to protect those who come to our border seeking refuge.
What can the U.S. do to address the causes of migration from the Northern Triangle of Central America?
The United States must work toward reducing the push factors leading to the mass migration of people from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. We should assist regional governments as they implement reforms and work to strengthen overall governance, including by supporting and emboldening civil society organizations dedicated to human rights, good governance, and democratic accountability. Through targeted investments, training, and allocation of resources, the U.S. should bolster and expand programs that build safety and opportunity at home. U.S. aid can be leveraged to reduce violence and combat corruption, while strengthening human rights and the rule of law. This means increasing the capacity of community-based initiatives and other private-public partnerships that protect people, reduce violence and displacement, and provide economic opportunities. The aid should also support effective reintegration for people returning to their home countries, particularly children and families, to reduce the risk that they will be targeted for violence, forced to flee or otherwise be displaced again.
What role should U.S. refugee admissions play in our response to the global refugee crisis?
The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Instead of providing leadership, the Trump administration has abdicated its responsibility. We need to restore our place as a global leader in refugee resettlement. I would return to the 110,000 admissions target last proposed by the Obama administration and would be open to going beyond that number. Far from being “full”, many communities like my own have actually lost population and would welcome more immigrants and refugees. It is not only the right thing to do, but in our interest, as it would help grow our tax base and plug labor gaps as Americans age.
I also recognize that while the U.S. can play a far bigger resettlement role itself, we must at the same time encourage our allies to also resettle more refugees. Even still, this crisis is too large to resettle every refugee. I will work with states on the frontlines of displacement crises to provide incentives to move refugees out of camps and integrate them into the labor market and broader society so that their protection is more durable and the host community can also benefit.
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?
While the legal rules for refugees and internally displaced peoples differ, the lives of those affected by displacement are often similar. It is crucial that we provide assistance to countries affected by conflict, violence, and natural disasters that experience high levels of internal displacement. Providing aid to these countries is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.
Foreign assistance should be targeted and adaptive to these contexts, while ensuring accountability to the populations served. We must ensure that assistance is fit-for-purpose for acute emergencies and protracted crises, leveraging the most effective elements of humanitarian and development aid. And, we must ensure that aid focuses on enhancing the capacity of local communities and authorities, particularly in urban areas that increasingly shoulder the burden of internal displacement.
We should use, and work to improve, existing mechanisms, including the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and the Kampala Convention. The Kampala Convention provides strong guidance in Africa where protracted crises have generated a disproportionate amount of internal displacement. It underscores the importance of working directly with governments, who are responsible for providing services or helping international organizations provide services.
We must acknowledge that climate change is the major challenge of our time and is expected to induce higher levels of displacement. We must address this head on, focusing on prevention, governance and adaptation to reduce the likelihood and impact of climate-related events and its effect on displacement.
What policies should the U.S. implement to reduce and prevent gun violence?
Stopping senseless shootings is in part the responsibility of the president and congress, and the inaction since Sandy Hook—and even since Columbine when I was in high school—means that something in Washington is broken. I belong to the generation that came of age with school shootings, but gun violence hardly stops there—there are countless stories of tragic deaths that will never make headlines.
The United States must implement laws that raise the standard for responsible gun ownership, beginning with universal background checks as the foundation. Licenses should be required at the point-of-purchase for all gun sales; the “boyfriend loophole” should be closed to protect partners in dating relationships at the same standard as marital relationships; and extreme risk protection orders should be implemented at the federal level to give family and friends concrete steps to disarm a loved one exhibiting dangerous warning signs. We also must hold the gun industry accountable and repeal gun industry immunity, even if that risks re-election and attacks from the NRA. Assault weapons have no place on American streets and should be banned alongside high-capacity magazines and accessories that increase a firearm’s rate of fire. It is the duty of the president and Congress to make the American people feel protected by the country’s gun laws.
How should the U.S. address police killings of civilians, including the lack of transparency and accountability?
We need to increase the standard for when officers can use lethal force, limiting it to circumstances where such use is necessary and where no other alternatives exist. We must then provide standardized training which prioritizes a new philosophy in which non-violent resolutions to confrontations are considered the greatest police successes. We must rethink how officers respond and provide them with the tools to de-escalate crisis situations. Further, we must empower them to intervene and prevent each other from using deadly use of force when alternatives are available.
We should implement early warning systems to help identify problem officers, and have our police agencies commend and promote officers and supervisors who successfully avoid the use of force, thereby changing the culture of law enforcement agencies. And when an unjust use of force occurs, whether deadly or not, we must take appropriate steps to hold officers accountable, ensure transparency, and heal communities. This means promoting the use of independent investigators – and involvement of citizens in the process – to ensure a fair and impartial assessment of what happened. The results of these investigations accompanied with real data about the frequency of the use of force must be made available for public consumption. Lastly, law enforcement and communities must come together and discuss not only the incident at hand but how to prevent future incidents from occurring. This has been our approach in South Bend, and federal policy should support departments in doing the right thing.
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?
Freedom from persecution for one’s religion or ethnicity is a human right I strongly believe in as a Christian and as an American. Populations suffering persecution look to the United States for help because we value these freedoms, and upholding them helps preserve the international rules-based order that we rely on. So we have a job to do in holding governments and non-state actors accountable for these violations of human rights. We can use existing tools like the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) or the Global Magnitsky Act that would result in travel bans and asset freezes, sending a strong message that religious and ethnic persecution are unacceptable. We’re not missing options – we’re missing political will and a foreign policy based in our values. We should also provide assistance to communities targeted because of their religion or ethnicity, especially those who have endured crimes against humanity. Americans, throughout our history, have helped the persecuted recover and rebuild.
How should the U.S. protect LGBTI rights at home and abroad?
No one should face discrimination or violence on account of who they or, whom they love or how they identify. This is true freedom that every person deserves.
In my Administration, discrimination against all LGBTI persons, and in particular transgender Americans, will end. I will reverse President Trump’s ban on transgender Americans serving in the military and enforce non-discrimination protections in federal civil rights laws and the Affordable Care Act. I will support passage of the Equality Act, protect LGBTI asylum seekers, and strengthen efforts to end hate crimes targeting LGBTI persons here at home and around the world. I will work to reduce bullying; improve the health and well-being of LGBTI youth, parents, and families; address LGBT homelessness; and combat overrepresentation of LGBTI individuals in the criminal justice system. I will support efforts by States to end conversion therapy, such as done in Colorado.
Globally, I will advance LGBTI human rights and human rights more broadly as key elements of our foreign policy. We will develop targeted multilateral and diplomatic engagement to uphold LGBTI human rights in all corners of the world, including at the United Nations.
It is important that we restore American values of fairness, equality, and dignity which President Trump has eroded. Families, communities, and nations are stronger when we allow all individuals to be true to who they are.
How should the U.S. ensure that our foreign and domestic policies protect sexual and reproductive rights?
Our country has long been seen as a global leader on women’s rights. Over the last three years, however, the Republican Party has willfully abdicated that responsibility — launching instead a relentless assault on women and families that must end if we are to restore our country’s leadership on reproductive rights.
That fight begins with a simple recognition of freedom: whether at home or abroad, women are only free if they can exercise agency over their own bodily health, with the counsel of those whom they choose and trust.
At home, my administration will safeguard women’s right to comprehensive care, and this includes abortion services. We will abolish the Hyde amendment, invalidate and prohibit state legislation that limits women’s access to care, and repeal the domestic gag rule. Lastly, we will only make judicial appointments that protect women’s reproductive freedom.
Abroad, we will resume and expand investments in sexual and reproductive health through the U.S. Agency for International Development, the United Nations Population Fund, and our other global partners. We will prohibit censorship of gender and family planning data, and repeal the Helms and Siljander amendments.
How should the U.S. address the targeting, harassment, and killing of human rights defenders and journalists around the world?
Human rights defenders and journalists have always been under threat, but risks are skyrocketing. They are being attacked by more governments previously supportive of an open civil society. The current Administration has contributed to the vitriol against the media and set a precedent other governments have adopted. This is unacceptable.
America was one of the biggest supporters of human rights defenders and journalists. To reclaim that role, we should publicly condemn any attack on those holding governments accountable. We can use global platforms like the U.N. and G7 to call out attacks and regularly meet with human rights defenders to elevate their messages. At home, let’s set the example with regular press briefings and traveling with the press corps.
We can also support human rights defenders in practical ways, like ensuring access to technology to collect and share information without interference from government censors and adequate export controls on American technologies so we’re not contributing to state surveillance. Finally, we can support their physical security with assistance for safe workspaces, legal representation, and expedited visas.
How should the U.S. respond to the increasing use of political repression by authoritarian regimes?
There is no one-size fits all model for countering the global rise of political repression, but we’ve seen this before and have the tools to confront authoritarians of just about every stripe. While we need to be humble enough to understand that real change must come from within, the U.S. should stand against tyranny and oppression, and support those working to open closed societies.
America has often supported independent media, civil society groups, and individual human rights defenders. That’s something I want to increase, particularly where freedoms are shrinking, whether through financial support, the training of community leaders, diplomatic exchanges, regular embassy meetings, open-ended visas to the US, or simply moral support. The current Administration has gone in the opposite direction – friending tyrants and publicly supporting oppressive actions. We need to get back to who we are, which is a country that exemplifies freedom and gives hope to others.
We can also more responsible in our weapons sales and military alliances so we’re not supporting repression. Before offering to train and equip any government, we need a full review of their human rights record and should restrict our cooperation if a partner didn’t uphold the highest standards of human rights. Likewise, we can work to restrict the new technologies regimes are using to repress freedoms including with expanded US export controls.
Finally – and I realize this would seem obvious until recent days – I would not invite authoritarian leaders to the White House and would minimize one-on-one engagement.
How can the U.S. ensure compliance with and accountability for its international human rights obligations in national security operations?
Compliance starts at the top. It must be clear in words and actions from the President on down that we expect everyone who serves under the American flag to adhere to international humanitarian law and applicable human rights obligations. America led the way in creating those obligations, after all. Ensuring compliance with them reflects the American value of humanity even in the darkest times of conflict. Compliance with international law is also clearly in our national security interest, ensuring our actions are legitimate, that our words are credible, and that we can expect others to adhere to the same standards. On what basis can we expect others to treat our soldiers humanely if we violate the laws of war? On what basis can we expect the support of a civilian population if we kill their doctors, their teachers, their children? Like so many others who have served, I see adherence to our legal obligations not as a hindrance but as essential to success.
Compliance also means paying attention to allegations of wrongdoing. It means investigating and holding those who violate our obligations accountable – regardless of rank. The Uniform Military Code of Justice is the lynchpin of this system. We need to support it and protect it from the kind of political interference that we have recently seen from President Trump in his consideration of preemptively pardoning alleged perpetrators of war crimes.
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?
Arms sales are not simply a commercial transaction but an act of foreign policy. The US has a responsibility to ensure that what we sell doesn’t contribute to humanitarian crises and human rights abuses.
Potential arms transfers should be vetted and conditioned on recipients’ human rights records. This means applying the Leahy law to arms sales and greater scrutiny to sales in high-risk or conflict areas, and knowing how American weapons are used once they leave our shores. When conditions on the ground change, so should the conditions on our sales — which may mean a willingness to reject transfers that don’t reflect our values.
Transparency around potential transfers must also be improved, and affected stakeholders in both the US and the recipient country should be consulted for their views.
We need not be overly concerned that some partners will turn to others for their weapons on the basis of these minimal requirements: partners prefer to buy American goods for their quality, interoperability, and “total package” approach of training and maintenance. If our partners cannot abide by basic human rights standards, it’s better they find others to supply their arms. There’s scant evidence that more responsible arms transfers would damage the American economy or cost American jobs. We know from recent experience that the costs of not fully taking partner behavior into account are much higher.
How should the U.S. government hold businesses accountable for human rights abuses?
Human rights abuses committed by American companies is an issue we’re only beginning to grapple with in policy terms. Existing standards need to be enforced, clearly, but there are gaps we’ve got to fill too. As a most basic step, we could be helping companies understand how to identify and prevent human rights abuses, and their obligation to address breaches.
Like many of our allies, we should explore what it would mean to hold companies legally liable. Right now, companies have little incentive to address human rights abuses. In many, procurement and compliance might not even talk to each other, so priority is given to monetary costs, not human rights.
But there’s even more to the equation. Integrating human rights compliance into a business model is sound strategy. Companies are part of our societal fabric and can make it stronger through good stewardship of labor, the environment, and the populations they impact. Implementing the UN guiding principles on business and human rights would be a good place to start for some.
Finally, I want the average citizen to be able to raise a complaint or seek justice. The U.S. judicial system could be better structured and resourced to remedy human rights violations by American companies. The government should also support non-judicial paths for cases where that is an appropriate remedy or where jurisdiction becomes an issue.