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Guidelines for U.S. Diplomatic Mission Support to Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders
August 29, 2023

The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to putting human rights and democratic principles at the center of our foreign policy. These Guidelines for U.S. Diplomatic Mission Support to Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders outline and amplify the U.S.’s commitment to supporting this vital work as part of the President’s strategic vision and U.S. foreign policy. It is addressed primarily to both U.S. Department of State Human Rights Officers and members of civil society around the world, including human rights defenders.

An open, inclusive, empowered, and fully functioning civil society is vital to healthy democracies, prosperous economies, and resilient societies. The United States is committed to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and continues to engage, both bilaterally and in multilateral fora, to protect and promote fundamental freedoms and the role of human rights defenders. The work of civil society, including human rights defenders, to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms and support good governance is a critical safeguard against threats from autocratic regimes and backsliding democracies. Where civil society and human rights defenders’ ability to work freely is weakened, human rights abuses and violations, discrimination, and corruption flourish. The United States will continue to play a central role in advancing human rights through the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, ensuing covenants, treaties, and conventions. This public guidance reflects the views of the United States policy position with the aim of supporting civil society and human rights defenders in their invaluable work.

Democracy and human rights are under threat around the world. The world has been in a sustained democratic recession for more than a decade, which includes a consistent reduction in the role for civil society. Many countries have passed laws restricting its funding and operations. Some governments misuse national security laws to clamp down on the ability of civil society actors to exercise their freedoms of expression, association, movement and peaceful assembly. There has also been an increase in use of censorship and surveillance technologies, as well as Internet shutdowns, to undermine democratic debate. Governments should not shut down or restrict services online or deploy surveillance technologies as a means to limit the exercise of individuals’ human rights or to intimidate civil society. Instead, governments should enable civil society and expand civic space to further the success of the public they serve, as civic groups play a unique and positive role in society.