Our Issues

Democracy and Human Rights

The Background

As a country founded on liberal democratic ideals, it is consistent with both our best American values and our economic and security interests to support the peaceful spread of democracy and protection of human rights around the world. Since World War II, presidents of both parties have embraced this idea as a core tenet of our foreign policy.

In the wake of World War II, President Truman invested in the Marshall Plan to help our European allies restore their economies and defend their democratic institutions. President Kennedy subsequently launched the U.S. Agency for International Development recognizing that, in an interconnected world, global prosperity and freedom are closely tied to the prosperity and freedom of Americans. Under President Reagan, the U.S. launched the bipartisan National Endowment for Democracy, giving voice to the fundamentally American aspiration that the U.S. “remain[s] freedom’s staunchest friend.” Since the fall of the Soviet Union, American global leadership in support of democratic governance, human rights, and well-regulated market economies has coincided with three decades of unprecedented global gains in human welfare.

“Human rights is the soul of our foreign policy, because human rights is the very soul of our sense of nationhood.”

— Fmr. President Jimmy Carter

President Trump’s cynical “America First” philosophy represented a sharp break from that tradition, surprising our allies and adversaries alike. The Trump administration embraced authoritarian leaders while heaping criticism on our democratic allies, praising North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as a “pretty smart cookie”; citing Egyptian President and perennial human rights abuser Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as a “great friend and ally”; and calling Russia’s authoritarian President Vladimir Putin “really very much of a leader,” despite Putin’s attacks on American elections and repeated attacks on Russian civil society. This intentional devaluation of a traditionally bipartisan pillar of American foreign policy shook our allies and emboldened our adversaries.

The Latest

The last few years have seen a global trend of democratic backsliding, and the COVID-19 epidemic has only exacerbated this trend. Countries around the world have been forced to delay elections, and the freedom of assembly has been severely restricted globally. While many of these precautions are necessary to curb the outbreak, some countries have continued to impose draconian measures to restrict mobility and freedoms in the name of slowing the spread of COVID.

As democracies are perceived to lose their appeal, human rights violations proliferate, and repressive policies gain steam. The Biden administration has taken action to reverse these worrying trends and reassert America’s support for democracy worldwide. Early in his administration, President Biden hosted the Summit for Democracy in an effort to galvanize the world’s democracies, reinvigorate liberal democratic ideals, and set an affirmative agenda for democracy renewal. A second Summit is planned for December 2022, and the time between Summits is known as the Year of Action – a period in which the United States would work with partners to advance the commitments made during the first Summit.


of Americans agree that “when other countries become democratic, it contributes to our own well-being.”

The administration has taken tangible steps to make good on its promises to support, defend, and renew global democratic governance. The U.S. has actively defended democracy in Ukraine by sending weapons, humanitarian support, and development assistance following Russia’s brutal invasion; President Biden announced reforms to our policy toward Cuba to continue to put pressure on human rights abusers while engaging with Cuban entrepreneurs and families; and has rejoined and reengaged with the UN Human Rights Council. While these are important steps toward reclaiming our leadership on advancing democracy and protecting human rights, there is still work to be done: Affirming the rights of migrants by ending Title 42 restrictions on asylum seekers, denouncing Saudi Arabia’s brutal repression of dissidents, and ceasing arms sales to human rights abusers.

What You Can Do

Large majorities of Americans support efforts to promote democracy and defend the human rights of vulnerable populations around the world. These actions advance both our national security and our highest values as a nation. Congress must assert U.S. democratic and rights leadership by supporting a robust international affairs budget, challenging authoritarian regimes, and enacting legislation to strengthen U.S. support for democracy and human rights.

Call your members of Congress at 202-224-3121 and tell them: