Will the Biden Administration Improve Human Rights?

President-elect Biden speaking at an event in Nevada in February. (Source: Gage Skidmore on Wikimedia Commons)

By Hadley Baker

Four days after the U.S. Election Day, we finally got a definitive result: Biden won Pennsylvania and secured enough electoral votes to win the presidency. After four years of Donald Trump systematically stripping away the basic human rights of many Americans, Biden’s win was an immense relief.

But now, a few weeks later, the dust has settled as the Biden team plans for the transition, and many are wondering what impact Biden will really have on the human rights demands of the people. While Trump has yet to formally concede, and is fighting the validity of the election in court—with practically no concrete evidence of election fraud—it seems as though he’s finally starting to accept defeat, allowing the Biden team to plan for January.

Biden is generally viewed as a moderate politician who would not commit to radical changes appeasing the progressive wing on issues of climate change, racial justice, or universal healthcare during the campaign—unlike more liberal candidates.

But after a summer of protests over police brutality and systemic racism, revelations of sterilization of immigrant women in ICE detention centers, wildfires raging across the U.S., and a pandemic that has already killed over 250,000 Americans, will Biden take a more aggressive stance to actually tackle these issues in a meaningful way?

The answer is unclear as of yet. Beyond just undoing regressive policies limiting human rights from the Trump administration—including halting withdrawal from the World Health Organization and re-entering the Paris Climate Agreement—Biden should address the concerns of the public on human rights issues.

While clearly stating that he will undo these policies, Biden is less transparent on whether or not he will address systemic racism and climate change in a meaningful way and has rolled out a healthcare plan that would offer a private and public option—instead of the universal health care that many are calling for—even though he acknowledges these all as problems the U.S. should confront.

One positive indication so far of Biden’s commitment to improving human rights are his diverse Cabinet appointments. Alphonso David, President of the Human Rights Campaign said that “President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris are assembling a team that will represent the best of America”, including the first Latino and immigrant to serve as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the first woman to serve as Secretary of the Treasury.

But broad political commentary and symbolic appointments are insufficient. The Biden administration needs to take concrete steps to improve the myriad of human rights issues the country is facing. Human Rights Watch released a series of recommendations for the Biden administration on domestic and foreign policy human rights concerns, including supporting policies that address racial disparities in the criminal justice system, prioritsing the fair treatment of immigrants, and prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Further, and the most likely to happen in the upcoming months, the group recommends providing COVID-19 economic relief and ensuring wide range access to healthcare.

Whether or not the Biden team takes that advice remains to be seen, and will probably not be realised for months or years to come.

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