Promoting Respect

Establishing laws, policies and programs for respecting human rights and advancing democratic freedoms.

When To Do This

When U.S. laws and policies on human rights are ambiguous, a strategy for promoting them is lacking, or authorities to carry out activities are missing, legislation can improve clarity and coherence.

How To Do This

Enact a statement of official policy, bring U.S. law into conformity with international standards, require the development of a strategy or action plan, authorize activities, or provide funding for implementation.

What You Should Know Before Proceeding

  • The administration already has the authority to carry out most of the policies and programs it wishes to pursue. State Department officials tend to view authorization measures as imposing (or risking the imposition of) new constraints.
  • Programs always have tradeoffs in a zero-sum budget environment. Money spent on one project or activity is money not spent on another.
  • Stating a policy in law does not mean it will be reflected in practice.
  • When the administration is forced to prepare a strategy over its objections, the resulting document is not often productive or useful.

Good Practices

  • Find out what is preventing the administration from clarifying a policy or carrying out a program before drafting a bill. Legislation must address the source of the problem, whether it is lack of staff or funds, fear of diplomatic repercussions, disagreement that the proposed program will achieve the desired results, or technical and legal hurdles to implementation.
  • Be clear and specific about what a strategy should cover and include. The administration always wants flexibility, but it is likely to use that flexibility to produce something brief and vague.
  • Strategies should aim for the medium- to long-term, and thus be left in place for at least 5 years before a new one is required.



Stating Policy

  1. Human Rights Policy. Section 502B(a)(1) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (PL 87-195) states that the “United States shall…promote and encourage increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the world without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”
  2. Country-Specific Policies. Section 531(a) of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 1991 (PL 101-513) contains a clear and concise statement of policy for U.S. foreign policy objectives in El Salvador. Sec. 4 of the Venezuela Defense ofHuman Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 (PL 113-278) sets out U.S. policy regarding democracy, peace, accountability, and civil society in Venezuela.
  3. Policy on Women and Girls. Section 3 of the International Violence Against Women Act of 2015 ( 713/H.R. 1340, 114th) would have established U.S. policy for preventing and responding to violence against women and girls around the world. Section 3 of the Girls Count Act of 2015 (PL 114-24) states U.S. policy regarding the participation of girls in society and the need to ensure that girls are not undercounted.

Establishing Legal Standards

  1. Outlawing Torture. 327 of the FY 2008 Intelligence Authorization Act (H.R. 2082) – which passed both houses but was vetoed by the president – required the CIA to abide by the United States Army Field Manual in carrying out its interrogations. A revised version of this provision was enacted in Sec. 1045 of the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (PL 114-92).
  2. Making Genocide a Criminal Offense. The Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987 (PL 100-606), known as “the Proxmire Act”, established the criminal offense of genocide in U.S. Code. The Crimes Against Humanity Act ( 1346 – 111th) would have imposed criminal penalties for a broader range of crimes against humanity, including sex trafficking, torture, and ethnic cleansing.
  3. Combating Trafficking in Persons in the U.S. Title XII, subtitle B of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (PL 113-4) establishes criminal penalties under U.S. law for human trafficking offenses and provides protections for trafficking victims.


Requiring the Development of Strategies

  1. One-Time Strategies. 414 of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (PL 112-158) requires the Secretary of State to develop a comprehensive strategy to promote internet freedom and access to information in Iran. Sec. 101 of United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2003 (PL 108-25) required a comprehensive, integrated, 5-year U.S. strategy to expand and improve efforts to combat global HIV/AIDS.
  2. Recurring Strategies. 489 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (PL 87-195) requires an annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (which is more of a report than a strategy). The Sen. Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2014 (PL 113-289) mandates that government-wide Global Water Strategies be delivered in 2017, 2022 and 2027. Section 3103 of the Global Partnerships Act (H.R. 6644, 112th), which was never acted on, would have required U.S. action plans every 3-5 years for human rights and democracy in countries receiving foreign assistance.
  3. Making Sure the Strategy is Implemented. 301 of the Departmentof State Authorities Act, FY 2017 (PL 114-323) requires the Secretary of State to submit a strategy for combating sexual exploitation and abuse in United Nations peacekeeping operations, along with an implementation plan for achieving the strategy’s objectives.


Authorizing Assistance

  1. Human Rights and Democracy Fund. Section 664 of the Freedom Investment Act of 2002 (Subtitle E of Title VI of PL 107-228) creates a fund to support defenders of human rights, assist victims of human rights violations, and related activities. The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) considers this fund to be its “flagship program.”
  2. Assistance for Democracy Strengthening. Although USAID carries out extensive programs to support democracy, human rights, and good governance (funded under the title “Democracy Fund” in annual SFOAs), the authorities in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 for such activities are scattered and incoherent. Chapter 8 of the Global Partnerships Act of 2012 (H.R. 6644, 112th) would have created streamlined goals, objectives and authorities for such assistance.
  3. National Endowment for Democracy. Title V of the Department of State Authorization Act, FYs 1984 and 1985 (PL 98-164), established the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a non-profit organization to strengthen democratic institutions around the world. In addition to funding key initiatives of independent, nongovernmental organizations, NED supports four core institutes: the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
  4. Victims of Torture. Section 130 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (PL 87-195), which was added by Section 4(a) of the Torture Victims Relief Act of 1998 (PL 105-320), authorizes the provision of assistance for the rehabilitation of victims of torture. Under this authority, USAID carries out its Victims of Torture Program.
  5. Prevention of Trafficking. Section 106 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (PL 106-386) requires the President to carry out programs to enhance economic opportunity for potential victims of trafficking as a method to deter trafficking.
  6. Child Protection Compacts. Section 1202 of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (PL 113-4) authorizes the Secretary of State to assist countries that enter into child protection compacts with the United States. In 2015, the United States signed its first compact under this authority with Ghana. Under the compact, the Trafficking-in-Persons office will support Ghana in its efforts to prevent child trafficking, prosecute and convict child traffickers, and protect child victims of human trafficking.