Protecting Victims and Defenders

Extending legal and humanitarian protection for vulnerable populations being targeted by their governments, as well as recognizing and seeking to protect the contributions of human rights activists in such countries

When To Do This

Whether or not sanctions have been imposed against a country, and even after they have been lifted, Congress can recognize and support those experiencing persecution or abuse. Doing so will not only help the direct beneficiaries, but provide inspiration for freedom advocates everywhere.

How To Do This

Create awards and rewards, grant honorary citizenship, proclaim a commemorative day, name a street or bill, establish a monument or memorial, create eligibility for refugee status or asylum, and provide legal and physical protection.

What You Should Know Before Proceeding

  • Foreign recognition can sometimes undercut an activist’s domestic legitimacy or trigger increased political, economic and physical risks.
  • Honorary citizenships, monuments and memorials have been approved only on very rare occasions, usually posthumous.
  • Bills are not generally named for living individuals, other than retiring public officials.

Good Practices

  • Use public-private partnerships to raise funds for a monument or memorial.
  • Naming a bill in memory of a human rights defender is a simple and cost-free way to honor the defender’s good work.



Creating Recognition and Awards

  1. Honorary Citizenship. PL 97-54 granted honorary citizenship (in absentia) to Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who rescued tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary and was later imprisoned and executed by the Soviet Union. J.Res. 241 (98th) proclaimed Nelson Mandela anhonorary citizen of the United States and requested the President to take steps to secure his unconditional release from prison in South Africa.
  2. Congressional Gold Medal. The Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Celebration Act (PL 112-148) awarded a Congressional gold medal to Raoul Wallenberg in recognition of his achievements and heroic actions during the Holocaust.
  3. Establishment of a Memorial. PL 105-284 authorized the Government of India to establish a memorial to honor Mahatma Gandhi in the District of Columbia. The memorial is privately funded and maintained.
  4. Street Naming. R. 4452/S. 2451 (114th) would redesignate the street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC as “Liu Xiaobo Plaza”,in honor of the political prisoner and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner. In 1984, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a measure to rename the street in front of the Soviet Embassy as “Sakharov Plaza”, in honor of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, who was then on a hunger strike. Even though the measure was never enacted, the D.C. government executed the change. There were at least 4 pieces of legislation introduced in 1984 to redesignate portions of 16th Street as “Andrei Sakharov Avenue”.
  5. Naming of Legislation. The Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 (PL 112-208) and the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act ( 284/H.R. 624 – 114th) were named in honor of the lawyer and anti-corruption activist Sergei Magnitsky, who died in Russian custody. The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (PL 110-457) is named after a leader of the movement to end the British slave trade.
  6. Addressing Joint Sessions of Congress. In extraordinary circumstances, champions of freedom, democracy and rights have been invited to address a Joint Session of Congress. These have included Lech Wałęsa, the Chairman of Solidarity – the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union — in 1989; Václav Havel, the Czech political dissident who won the country’s first free elections since World War II, in 1990; and Nelson Mandela, newly released after serving 27 years as a political prisoner in South Africa, also in 1990.


Granting Legal Protection

  1. Establishing Categories of Aliens. Sections 599D and 599E of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Appropriations Act, 1990 (PL 101-167) – known as the “Lautenberg Amendment” – allows certain religious minorities from the former Soviet Union and Indochina who were granted parole into the United States after being denied refugee status to become lawful permanent residents. The provision has been extended annually in appropriations measures (most recently in Section 7034(k)(8) of PL 114-113).
  2. Ensuring Eligibility for Asylum and Refugee Status. Section 302 of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 (PL 108-333) clarifies that North Koreans are eligible for refugee status and asylum in the United States even though they may have a legal right to citizenship in the Republic of Korea.
  3. Protection from Removal. Section 107(e) of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (PL 106-386) prevents the deportation of victims of severe forms of trafficking who would suffer extreme hardship upon removal.
  4. Eligibility for In-Country Processing. Section 594 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005 (PL 108-447) designates the children of certain refugees accepted through the Orderly Departure Program as refugees of special humanitarian concern, and therefore eligible for in-country refugee processing in Vietnam.
  5. Special Immigrant Status. PL 110-36 increases the number of Iraqi and Afghani translators and interpreters who may be admitted to the United States. Title VI of PL 111-8, known as the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009, creates special immigrant status for up to 1,500 Afghans who “provided faithful and valuable service to the United States Government.”
  6. Easing of Ideological Exclusions. Section 901 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, FY 1988-89 (PL 100-204) prohibited the exclusion or deportation of aliens on grounds of beliefs, statements or associations which if engaged in by a U.S. citizen would be protected under the Constitution. The provision was repealed by Section 603(a)(21) of the Immigration Act of 1990 (PL 101-649).


Providing Humanitarian Protection

  1. Treatment for Torture Victims. The Torture Victims Relief Act of 1998 (PL 105-320) provided authority and funding to support foreign and domestic treatment centers for torture survivors.
  2. Pilot Program for Victims of Trafficking. Section 102(b) of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005 (PL 109-164) establishes a pilot program to establish residential treatment facilities in foreign countries for victims of trafficking.
  3. Red Cross Visits. Con.Res. 35 (107th) stated the sense of Congress that Lebanon, Syria, and Iran should allow representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit four Israelis being held by Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. Section 703(f) of the International Security and Development Cooperation Act of 1985 (PL 99-83) called on the President to urge the Government of Guatemala to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to conduct an unimpeded visit to Guatemala.
  4. Visits by U.S. Officials. Section 109 of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 (PL 99-440) calls on the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa to meet with Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned at that time.
  5. Humanitarian Demining. Section 1203 of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2007 (PL 109-364) codifies the authority for the Department of Defense to provide humanitarian demining assistance, subject to specific approval by the Secretary of State.
  6. Protection of Jurors. Amdt. 2884 (Moynihan) to H.J.Res. 492, Urgent Agriculture Supplemental for FY 1984 (PL 98-332) provided $500,000 for assistance to El Salvador to protect jurors and other key participants in the criminal proceedings against those charged with the murders of four American churchwomen.

Supporting Humanitarian Intervention

  1. Support for Darfur Peacekeeping Operations. In order to deter and suppress genocide in Darfur, Section 6 of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006 (PL 109-344) gives the President authority to provide the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) with assistance in the areas of logistics, transport, communications, material support, technical assistance, training, command and control, aerial surveillance, and intelligence.
  2. Support for Operations to Disarm the Lord’s Resistance Army. In 2010 President Obama made it U.S. policy to support the hunt for Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a terrorist group in northern Uganda known for kidnapping and sexually enslaving children. Section 1206 of the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (PL 112-81) authorized the Department of Defense to provide logistic support, supplies, and services for foreign forces participating in operations to mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Although many of his bodyguards have defected and one of his commanders was brought to trial in The Hague, Kony continues to elude justice. Ironically, in implementing this directive, the United States has supported other forces that use children as combatants.
  3. Support for Non-State Armed Groups. Section 1223(e) of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2016 (PL 114-92) authorizes the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to provide direct assistance to the Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni tribal security forces if the President determines that the Government of Iraq has failed to take substantial action to increase political inclusiveness, address the grievances of ethnic and sectarian minorities, and enhance minority integration in the political and military structures in Iraq.