A bipartisan, bicameral group of senators are set to introduce legislation to protect human rights around the world during the pandemic.
Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Representatives James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), Ann Wagner (D-Mo.), and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) announced the introduction of the Protecting Human Rights During Pandemic Act.
The legislation would require the State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to lay out a plan with the goal being to prevent human rights abuses from escalating in the name of the pandemic response.
The plan would be implemented through diplomacy and development assistance with foreign countries.
In a statement published Thursday, the Senators said the United States, with its history of protecting individual rights, should take the lead.
“The Protecting Human Rights During Pandemic Act makes clear that, as a lead drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a long history of global leadership, the United States should encourage the protection of internationally recognized human rights during the Coronavirus response.”
According to Freedom House, a human rights research organization based in Washington, the pandemic is exposing restrictions on freedom of expression around the globe that target the press; as a few examples such as Egypt having revoked a journalist’s credentials for reporting correct virus figures and Turkey having detained hundreds of people for “provocative” posts about the pandemic.
“As countries around the world take measures to address the pandemic and its repercussions, it is vital to continue to uphold human rights and democratic practices,” Benjamin Schultz, a Freedom House Spokesperson, told the Epoch Times in a statement. “The Protecting Human Rights during Pandemic Act will support important international programs that promote and protect human rights and democratic governance. Additionally, the legislation includes critical reporting requirements on human rights abuses during the pandemic and in its aftermath.”
Rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have documented the Chinese Communist Party’s continued repression of those who tell the truth about the pandemic, such as whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang.
According to Human Rights Watch, “a number of countries, governments have failed to uphold the right to freedom of expression, taking actions against journalists and healthcare workers” during the pandemic.
Senator Cardin, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “As societies around the world take shelter from the coronavirus, we must redouble our efforts to ensure the public health measures are not weaponized by those who value power more than people.”
If enacted, the bill would require the State Department to collect data and report when governments are abusing emergency measures or powers in the name of the CCP virus response.
The law would require “the Secretary of State and USAID Administrator to submit an initial strategic plan, within 30 days of enactment, describing how they plan to carry out such activities.”
It would make it clear to countries that in order to provide security sector assistance, they would have to meet human rights standards laid out in the legislation.
The Act would also enable Congress to appropriate funding to support democratic institutions in the United States and abroad; it would require that the State Department brief congressional committees on the data collected.
“The United States must lead the way in making sure that the coronavirus pandemic does not become an excuse for governments to violate human rights or for authoritarian leaders to consolidate their rule,” said Rep. McGovern.