Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the committee, said in opening the hearing: “Today, in all regions of the world, authoritarian governments are seizing more and more power, destroying basic democratic institutions, and restricting civil society and freedom of expression. Investing in a democracy is our best hope to strengthen the stability and prosperity of our neighbors and distant countries, as well as to protect our sons and daughters from war. To continue to stand up for democracy and human rights in foreign policy, we need to understand better the challenges we face and how the United States can best confront them.”
According to Menendez, speaking about the decline of democracy in the world, it is impossible to ignore the problems faced by democracy in the United States itself: “The attack on the Capitol on January 6 was the culmination of coordinated disinformation, fueled by the systematic undermining… of the most fundamental elements of democracy in this country, including the right to vote, a free press and our institutions.”
The senator said that in recent years, the United States “has largely lost its moral superiority on the world stage at a time when it is especially necessary to counter the authoritarian forces of Russia and China.”
“Today, Beijing and Moscow are driving global authoritarian expansion with increasingly sophisticated digital authoritarian surveillance and control tools and more traditional measures, such as arresting peaceful protesters and shutting down independent media,” he said.
Speaking about the situation in different countries of the world, Menendez expressed concern about the military coup in Burma (Myanmar) and stressed his firm intention to continue to seek responsibility for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The ranking member of the Committee, Republican Jim Risch, noted: “While our attention is focused on the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, another global threat is emerging: this is the decline of democracy and democratic principles… The ongoing pandemic has given opportunist leaders another reason to seize power and suppress the fundamental freedoms and human rights of their citizens. This is happening even in countries that once tried to reach the level of democracy.”
“The United States has active programs to promote democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights around the world. We support civil society organizations in preparing for the elections, improving media literacy, and increasing women’s participation in the political process. This work continues despite significant obstacles. Authoritarian governments in countries like Russia and China continue to enforce draconian laws against NGOs that limit our ability to support civil society.”
“Even as we remain focused on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic at home, we should not turn a blind eye to the decline of democracy around the world,” he said.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is one of the witnesses at the hearing.