Washington, DC – Lorne W. Craner, President of IRI, testified today before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Congressman Howard L. Berman (D-CA), at a the hearing entitled Human Rights and Democracy Assistance: Increasing the Effectiveness of U.S. Foreign Aid.
In his testimony, Craner highlighted the bipartisan support democracy and human rights assistance have received from Congress, “…for more than 30 years, beyond the inception of NED (National Endowment for Democracy), Congress has truly been at the forefront on issues of human rights,” and the support by both Democratic and Republican administrations, “…for more than 30 years, since the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, human rights and then democracy have been at the forefront of our foreign policy in a bipartisan manner.”
While commending the role Congress has played in supporting and increasing democracy and human rights assistance, Craner acknowledged that assistance is fragmented; major gaps exist in funding coverage; there are few incentives for Foreign Service officers to specialize in human rights and democracy; and that the U.S. Agency for International Development‘s (USAID) democracy and governance office has been marginalized.
Craner offered and supported a series of recommendations to address these issues, including:
- Upgrading the USAID’s democracy and governance office to a bureau, which would send a strong signal within the bureaucracy that the issue is important;
- Ensuring better coordination between the U.S. State Department’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) and USAID’s democracy and governance office;
- Reforming USAID’s democracy assistance delivery mechanisms and the State Department’s foreign assistance bureau to improve the effectiveness of programs; and
- Absent extensive USAID reform, moving USAID funds to DRL and NED, which are focused solely on democracy and human rights.
Craner went onto stress that, “…improving delivery mechanisms is no substitute for vigorous leadership by the President and Secretary of State,” and criticized the administration for its weak start on democracy and human rights issues. Craner cautioned that this “lack of strong, consistent leadership from the top of the administration” is leading to real problems within the bureaucracy which is “cutting or slowing of funding for democracy programming in countries such as Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.”
To address the administration’s lack of leadership, Craner called on Congress to act once again. “In the decades since our country committed itself to actively supporting democracy and human rights abroad, Congress has repeatedly stepped in when it found seemingly more committed administrations insufficiently interested in human rights and democracy. It is time for the Congress to do so again.”Top