Questions for Secretary of State Nominee John Kerry
Freedom House Blog

Freedom House has compiled the following questions for Senator John Kerry, who has been nominated as the next U.S. secretary of state. Kerry’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled for Thursday, January 24.


    •    In his second inaugural address, President Obama declared, “We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.” In the past, you have expressed skepticism about making democracy promotion a priority in U.S. foreign policy. How will you carry out the president’s mandate to support democracy abroad?

    •    Authoritarian governments around the world have become far more aggressive and sophisticated in severely restricting space for civil society. They are also collaborating with one another to crush dissent. What will you do to respond to such crackdowns and help those who are struggling to exercise their fundamental rights?

    •    Foreign assistance is a critical component of overall U.S. international strategy. Do you think U.S. aid should be conditional on the recipient government’s respect for human rights and democracy?

    •    In many regions of the world, women face formidable obstacles to participation on an equal footing with men in the political, social, and economic life of their countries. What steps will you take to advance the status and well-being of women?

    •    Secretary Clinton’s December 2011 statement that “gay rights are human rights” was followed by a significant U.S. government commitment to support such rights abroad. What are your specific plans to defend the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people during your term as secretary of state?


    •    Systematic and severe human rights abuses routinely take place in China, particularly in ethnic minority regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang, and against political and religious prisoners who are arbitrarily detained in “reeducation through labor” camps. These abuses are instigated or condoned by Communist Party officials and security agents at various levels. As secretary of state, what would you do to identify such officials and ensure that they are not welcomed into the United States for visits with U.S. counterparts and participation in judicial or law enforcement exchanges?

    •    When top U.S. officials meet with democracy advocates and victims of persecution from China, they send an important message of solidarity to those fighting daily for the basic rights many Americans take for granted. As secretary of state, how regularly and openly will you meet with such individuals?


    •    U.S. relations with Burma have improved over the last two years as the government of President Thein Sein has released political prisoners and allowed the opposition National League for Democracy to compete in parliamentary by-elections. However, serious human rights abuses continue, as evident in the violent crackdown on protests at the Letpadaung copper mining project in November, the communal violence in Rakhine State, and the military offensive in Kachin State. With U.S. businesses eager to tap into Burma’s resources and markets, how will you ensure that U.S. policy adequately addresses human rights concerns and encourages the Burmese government to move the country further along the path toward democracy?


    •    In the past year, the government of Russia has enacted several repressive measures targeting nongovernmental organizations and restricting the ability of citizens to interact freely with foreign nationals. In October, USAID was abruptly expelled from the country. These steps clearly call into question the premise of the “reset”—that bilateral cooperation with Russia could be strengthened by delinking human rights issues from other interests. Will you continue the reset? If so, why? If not, what policy will replace it?

    •    In 2011, to facilitate the international coalition’s withdrawal from Afghanistan via Central Asia, the U.S. government resumed assistance to Uzbekistan, which has one of the most corrupt and repressive governments in the world. As a condition of this assistance, Congress required the executive branch to provide regular reports on any indication that funds were being diverted through corruption. The first such report, however, was immediately classified. Will you declassify this report? And more generally, how will you ensure that U.S. funds do not fuel corruption and repression in Uzbekistan?


    •    In recent years, a spate of political prosecutions has raised serious concerns about the rule of law and freedom of expression in Turkey, which now has more journalists behind bars than any other country in the world. Many of the jailed journalists are ethnic Kurds who have reported on the country’s long-running conflict with Kurdish militants. How will you address rule of law, media freedom, and minority rights issues with Turkey’s government?


    •    More than a year after Egyptian authorities raided the offices of the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House, their Egyptian and international staff are still on trial. The charges against these employees are political and stem from a dispute between the Egyptian and U.S. governments. What will you do to encourage Egyptian authorities to resolve this issue?

    •    The administration of President Mohamed Morsi has prosecuted several journalists who criticized the government and introduced a new constitution that limits freedom of expression and minority rights and exempts the military from parliamentary oversight. U.S. support for democracy in Egypt has decreased substantially, while aid to the Egyptian military has continued at the same level as under former president Hosni Mubarak. How do you intend to change U.S. policy toward Egypt so that it better reflects current realities in the country?

    •    Egyptian parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in April. Will the United States push for the participation of international monitors to support the Egyptian people’s hopes for free and fair elections that meet global standards?

Latin America

    •    Venezuela is facing mounting uncertainty, and a potential governance crisis, as Hugo Chávez reportedly remains in a delicate medical state in Havana. His inauguration for a new presidential term has been postponed indefinitely, with flagrant disregard for the constitution. In the event that Chávez leaves power, what policy would you pursue to encourage a democratic transition in the country?

    •    While border security is of great concern to many Americans, the success of U.S.-Mexican security cooperation will depend in large part on our joint ability to tackle impunity, strengthen rule of law, and bolster protections for vulnerable populations in Mexico. This summer, you released a report arguing for greater attention to judicial and police reform in Mexico. How do you think the Merida Initiative and other bilateral security efforts have fared? What else can be done to advance the rule of law and respect for human rights in Mexico?

    •    In 2010, your request to review “waste” in Cuba democracy assistance effectively froze $40 million that Congress had appropriated to support democratic activists on the island. The review led to a gap in funding that had provided an essential lifeline to Cuba’s fledging civil society. What is your position today about the effectiveness of U.S. democracy assistance for Cuba?

    •    The Cuban regime has pursued significant economic reforms while tightening its grip on power by repressing civil society. How do you intend to both address the ongoing repression in Cuba and encourage greater economic openings?


    •    In 2012, the White House released its new strategy for U.S. policy toward Africa, which featured the promotion of human rights and democracy as one of its four main pillars. How will you carry out this strategy and ensure the promotion of human rights and democracy, particularly in countries such as Ethiopia and Uganda, which cooperate with the United States on security issues?

    •    Islamist militants in Mali have imposed their intensely repressive rule on the north of the country and threaten stability and democracy in West Africa as a whole. Do you believe that the United States should robustly support France’s efforts to stop the advance of these extremists toward the Malian capital?

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