McGovern, House Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Protect Human Rights Defenders Worldwide

New Bill Would Bolster U.S. Response to Attacks Against Those Fighting for Human Rights and Democracy

WASHINGTON—Yesterday, Representative James P. McGovern (MA-02), Ranking Member of the House Rules Committee and Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act of 2024—cosponsored in the U.S. House by Representatives Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Norma Torres (CA-35), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), and Jason Crow (CO-06).

The legislation strongly reaffirms U.S. commitment to human rights defenders and enhances the government’s ability to protect advocates abroad who are threatened or attacked for peacefully defending human rights and democracy. The bill establishes an interagency framework for supporting human rights defenders that will continue beyond any single administration.

“I’m so proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act of 2024,” said Congressman Jim McGovern. “We know how important human rights defenders are, and U.S. government officials often speak out in their defense all around the world. It’s nice that we talk the talk, but we need to do more—we need to walk the walk. This bill makes absolutely clear that human rights defenders are key for U.S. interests by requiring concrete measures to integrate support for human rights defenders into U.S. assistance and activities abroad, assisting advocates who are forced into exile, working to end impunity for reprisals against defenders and engaging with the private sector to support and protect them. The bill’s comprehensive approach is exactly what we need to counter rising threats and attacks against human rights defenders worldwide and in every sector.”

“The struggle for liberal democracy is global, and it depends upon human rights champions in the United States and all over the world,” said Congressman Jamie Raskin. “I’m pleased to join Senator Cardin, Representative McGovern and other partners in this effort to ensure the United States mobilizes our resources to protect human rights and democracy defenders against persecution and prosecution across the globe.”

“Free speech is the bedrock of democracy, and the United States must do everything in its power to support those fighting for these basic rights across the globe. The Human Rights Defenders Protection Act implements a whole-of-government approach to support human rights defenders worldwide, providing much-needed resources and support for those fighting against corrupt actors,,” said Congresswoman Torres. “Those fighting for democracy like José Rubén Zamora in Guatemala need and deserve our full support as they risk their lives and livelihoods for their communities. For those around the world fighting against corruption and in support of democracy, know that the United States has your back.”

“In so many parts of the world, people risk their lives and livelihoods to defend human rights. I am so proud to be an original cosponsor of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act, which would help center the safety of these courageous activists in US foreign policy. I am grateful to Congressman McGovern and Chairman Cardin for their extraordinary leadership on this bill,” said Congresswoman Omar.

“Human rights defenders across the globe fight for freedom and democracy and supporting them is essential,” said Congressman Crow. “This bill would require a global strategy to protect human rights defenders, provide them a visa pathway to escape urgent threats, expand human rights reporting, and further support democracy advocates at risk. The US stands firmly behind them.”

“Human rights defenders are heroes in the fight for democracy and freedom,” said Senator Cardin. “Yet, attacks against them are rapidly growing around the world, underscoring an urgent and critical need for the United States to do more to protect and support them. The Human Rights Defenders Protection Act will help elevate, guide, and enhance U.S. efforts to support these courageous individuals globally at a time when their efforts are more important than ever. I’d like to thank my colleagues in Congress for cosponsoring this critical legislation, as well as our dedicated partner organizations across the global human rights community for their years of dedication and support behind this effort.”

The legislation is supported by a number of advocacy groups including Amnesty International USA, EarthRights International, Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam America.

“The ‘Human Rights Defenders Protection Act of 2024’ is a critical piece of legislation that will help strengthen and improve the U.S. government’s ability to support human rights defenders around the world. With over 401 human rights defenders killed globally in 2022 alone, now more than ever, human rights defenders need this additional support and protection,” said Andrew Fandino, Amnesty International USA.

"The Human Rights Defenders Protection Act addresses a significant gap in U.S. foreign policy. To respond effectively to rising authoritarianism, unchecked climate change, and transnational repression, we need to do more to protect the courageous people on the frontlines of these crises who are risking their lives to catalyze reforms. Rep. McGovern's legislation provides the U.S. government with the tools it needs to better support the civil society activists, journalists, and concerned citizens who are helping to save our planet," said Kirk Herbertson, EarthRights International.

“Human rights defenders are under threat on every continent. This bill not only shows US support for their invaluable work but would make a real difference in their lives when they’re at risk of being detained, arrested, or worse. Instead of more Washington platitudes about defending the defenders, this bill launches tangible and much-needed efforts to protect people on the frontlines of human rights. Any Member of Congress that cares about human rights, no matter their political affiliation, should be able to get behind this bill,” said Sarah Yager, Human Rights Watch.

“Oxfam America fully endorses the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act. It’s a game-changer, pioneering a government-wide strategy to shield and empower those at the forefront of advocating for a just energy transition, minority rights, democratic integrity and transparent governance. This bill is not just legislation – it is a crucial commitment to human rights at the heart of our foreign policy,” said Tawanda Mutasah, Oxfam America.