U.S. Foreign Assistance and Human Rights 2008

Human Rights and Civil Society Shortchanged in Bush Administration's Foreign Assistance Budget Request

Freedom House
April 19, 2007

In a report released today analyzing the Bush Administration’s 2008 budget request for foreign operations, Freedom House calls on the Congress to reverse proposed reductions in support to human rights defenders and civil society activists worldwide.

The report, “Supporting Freedom’s Advocates?” analyzes the 2008 foreign assistance budget request for “Governing Justly and Democratically” and makes specific funding recommendations based on urgent needs and opportunities.

“The Bush Administration’s request for an overall 17 percent increase in funding for foreign assistance programs that promote democratic governance is a reflection of its stated dedication to the promotion of freedom, and should be congratulated,” said Jenifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House.

“However, there appears to be a greater focus on working with state institutions than in previous years, and accordingly less attention to the bravest individuals and groups who are often the drivers of constructive democratic change,” Ms. Windsor continued. “At a time when human rights defenders and democracy activists face enormous pressure and growing harassment around the world, the proposed nine percent decrease in human rights funding sends precisely the wrong message.”

The report draws on Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual evaluation of the state of political rights an civil liberties around the world, which shows stagnation in the advancement of freedom over the past decade. The 2007 edition in particular highlights a systematic effort to weaken or eliminate pro-democracy forces in a number of countries, including Russia, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and China.

Rather than decreasing funding overall for human rights, and specifically in critical countries like Russia and Zimbabwe, Freedom House calls for sustained and enhanced levels of support to frontline defenders in these societies.

“The President and his Secretary of State have said repeatedly that the work of fostering democratic reform, in the Middle East and beyond, requires a ‘generational commitment.’ Freedom House agrees, and would observe that a generational commitment requires annual commitments of resources and effort,” states the report.

The report also urges sustained funding for global programming managed by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department and the Office of Democracy and Governance at USAID.


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