WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a hearing today regarding the Administration’s proposed budget for the State Department, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), told Secretary Rex Tillerson that their cuts to human rights programs demonstrate the Administration has “deemed democracy and human rights low priorities for American foreign policy.”
“As the longest serving member of this committee, I can tell you that budget hearings aren’t necessarily about budgets, and they aren’t about pot shots. Getting to the truth about what an Administration’s views and policies are, is a search for the truth. I know there is a tendency to gloss over the Administration’s budget, as it is dead on arrival, but a budget is a statement of values and the Administration has put forth a budget for the State Department that I don’t think shares America’s values. In that context I’m particularly concerned about the cuts to programs that support democracy, human rights and good governance.
“While our support for democratic governments, independent media, and the rights of people to freely express themselves and organize are rooted in the core values that shaped this great country, our support for these programs overseas is not solely in pursuit of lofty ideals. History has proven that over the long-term, governments around the world with strong democratic institutions that respect the human rights of all their citizens are more stable, more prosperous, more resilient to the tentacles of radicalization and instability, and ultimately make better partners for the United States. The budget you present today seems to completely ignore the lessons of history.
“This Administration, despite statements to the contrary, seems to have deemed democracy and human rights low priorities for American foreign policy. The Administration has requested 31 percent less money for democracy, human rights, and governance programs. When heads of state from countries that have a long and visible history of repressing human rights make official state visits, human rights seem nowhere on the President’s agenda.
“I am appalled that you have completely zeroed out Democracy Assistance for countries including Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. As brave citizens continue to risk their lives advocating for the basic freedoms we enjoy here, this budget sends a message that the United States is no longer on their side, and abandoning the pursuit of justice. It effectively withdraws American leadership around the world, pushing the door open for Russia and China to increase their scope of influence. There is a direct connection between repressive actions domestically and adversarial actions abroad. The Russian government this week continued a long tradition of arresting and detaining peaceful opposition protestors. This is the same Russia that violates the international order by invading and occupying Ukraine, spreading its repressive tactics.
“In your opening testimony to this committee at your confirmation hearing you stated the following: Our approach to human rights begins by acknowledging that American leadership requires moral clarity. We do not face an either/or choice on defending global human rights. Our values are our interests when it comes to human rights and humanitarian assistance.
“So my questions, Mr. Secretary, are simple: Does this Administration believe that it is a testament to American leadership and a reflection of our values to completely discontinue programs in support of democracy and human rights?”