WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on U.S. support of democracy and human rights. The witnesses included Mr. Leopoldo Lopez, a Venezuelan freedom activist and co-founder of the World Liberty Congress, Ms. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, leader of the Democratic Forces of Belarus, and Mr. Damon Wilson, president and CEO of the National Endowment for Democracy.
Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:
“The United States has been the largest and most robust supporter of democracy and human rights around the world. Unfortunately, in spite of our significant investments and efforts, freedom and democracy are constantly under attack.
“According to Freedom House’s 2023 Freedom of the World Report, it is the 17th consecutive year of decline in freedom across the globe.
“We have all plainly seen authoritarians across the world increase their attacks on internationally recognized human rights. In every region, totalitarian and authoritarian nations like China, Russia, Cuba, and Iran are implementing new tools to silence civil society.
“Putin’s war in Ukraine is the most blatant attack on democracy we have seen since the Cold War. The United States, alongside our European allies, has been on the forefront of supporting Ukraine in this battle for freedom.
“But Ukraine isn’t the Kremlin’s only target. Inside Russia, the Russian people have had their political and civil rights stripped. Any form of dissent is punished. The most prominent opposition leaders are jailed on fabricated charges and given harsh sentences.
“Russia’s authoritarian influence has stretched to Belarus as well. I am honored to have Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya with us – she’s going to testify here today. As the president-elect of Belarus, she was forced to flee after dictator Lukashenka stole another election. There are an estimated 1,463 political prisoners inside Belarus.
“I look forward to hearing from your experience how the U.S. can better support freedom fighters such as yourself.
“The next battleground for freedom and democracy will be Taiwan. China has made clear its willingness to take Taiwan by force. The U.S. and the rest of the world must not stand idly by. We know exactly what the Chinese Communist Party would do to destroy rule of law and human rights, because they just did it in Hong Kong. They were testing the West to see how we would respond.
“Now, the CCP continues its subjugation of this once vibrant city, including the persecution of Jimmy Lai. I strongly condemn this, and Mr. Lai should be released immediately. Beijing should know the world has not forgotten about him or the Hong Kong people.
“The Biden Administration must not allow Taiwan to become the next Afghanistan. As we learned the hard way there, when the U.S. retreats, the rest of the world suffers. We have seen the human rights of women and girls completely obliterated by the Taliban in very short order.
“It is important to remember that democracy is more than just about holding elections, as we are seeing play out in Nigeria. In a healthy democracy, elections must be free, fair, and transparent.
“Now, I ask today’s witnesses: what can the U.S. do to better support democracy and human rights around the world? As the Biden Administration holds it second Summit for Democracy this week, I hope to see less talk and more action. I agree with the chairman in that regard. This is the second one – we didn’t see much come out of the first one. Sometimes these things do take time to blossom, but we should concentrate on actually getting something done.
“It is one thing to gather countries together for a conference, but we need these countries to do more than just pay lip-service to democracy and human rights. Democracies can only endure when they have institutions that are strong and can sustain them. Condemnations of human rights violations and speeches are all well and good, but what we really need is action.
“I look forward to hearing from the witnesses on what U.S. tools have worked to support democracy and human rights and where we can improve. The dictators and authoritarians keep inventing new ways to suppress, so we need to get creative.”
These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.