December 8, 2021, Washington, D.C.–President Biden’s Summit for Democracy kicks off on Thursday. The event will convene leaders from governments, civil society, and the private sector to address threats to democracy and give leaders space to announce strategies for defending human rights and democracy worldwide. Over 100 governments are expected to participate and will present “commitments” that address the three thematic pillars of the event: countering authoritarianism, protecting human rights, and combating corruption.

EarthRights International Executive Director Ka Hsaw Wa issued the following statement: 

“We welcome the Biden administration’s efforts to put human rights protections and anti-corruption at the heart of its foreign policy. But it needs to do more to protect frontline environmental defenders and hold corporations accountable for the climate crisis. This is also a key moment for the United States to reaffirm its commitment to human rights and climate justice and re-establish itself as a leader in those areas. We look forward to seeing concrete actions announced on these issues and implemented throughout the subsequent ‘Year of Action.’

“In the runup to the Summit, the US State Department released new guidelines for addressing threats against human rights defenders. This is an important step in the right direction. Human rights defenders and civil society play a crucial role in protecting and promoting democratic values. In every region of the world, human rights defenders face growing threats to their lives and safety for speaking up against injustice. Environmental defenders are, particularly, at risk. This document provides a roadmap for US embassies to engage more effectively with defenders and frontline communities. EarthRights called for the development of such guidelines in our 2020 report “Speak Without Fear,” which documented inconsistencies in US embassies’ responses to threats against defenders. 

“At the same time, actions speak louder than words. We urge President Biden to live up to his rhetoric leading up to the Summit for Democracy by applying it to the US government’s most significant foreign policy challenges.

“In February, for instance, the Myanmar military launched a violent coup that unraveled the country’s emerging democracy, killed thousands of its own people, and terrorized millions. The administration has hesitated to take bold steps to push back on the coup. It has stopped short of legitimizing the pro-democracy National Unity Government – which it could have invited to the Summit–and has not cut off the military’s access to gas revenues, its largest source of income. In Myanmar, the Administration has effectively sided with the fossil fuel industry. It needs to support democracy in Myanmar and halt the atrocities carried out by the military, which is destroying countless lives. Further, the Biden administration must not sweep the abuses of oil companies like Chevron under the rug or implicity support them by not working to end these human rights violations. 

“By weakening food security, exacerbating land conflicts, poisoning water resources, and causing forced migration, the climate crisis is already undermining democracy worldwide. Environmental defenders are our first line of defense against the climate crisis and often risk their lives and livelihoods to speak out against environmental abuses. Guaranteeing their rights to oppose fossil fuels projects that ruin their communities and trash our planet goes hand in hand with protecting democracy. 

“The climate crisis is testing the ways in which democracies tackle our toughest societal challenges and is exposing the weakest links in those strategies. Healthy democracies depend on civic engagement and ensuring that the people have a voice in policies that directly affect them. To strengthen democracy worldwide, we must also reverse the climate crisis. We hope to see the Biden administration throw its full weight behind human rights and environmental defenders and center their voices in future democracy summits.” 

Kate Fried, EarthRights International
(202) 257.0057