Human Rights First Releases Walking the Talk: 2021 Blueprints for a Human Rights-Centered U.S. Foreign Policy

WASHINGTON – Today Human Rights First released Walking the Talk: 2021 Blueprints for a Human Rights-Centered U.S. Foreign Policy, a series of policy “blueprints” outlining specific, achievable, meaningful policy recommendations for the presidential administration taking office in January 2021.

Walking the Talk is a step-by-step instruction manual detailing how a new presidential administration could use pre-existing executive authority to build a U.S. foreign policy centered on promoting human rights, leading by example at home, protecting the most vulnerable, and stemming corruption. Edited by Senior Vice President for Policy Rob Berschinski and authored by the staff of Human Rights First, the report is meant to serve as a roadmap for officials tasked with restoring America’s commitment to human rights in the next administration.

Walking the Talk’s ten thematic chapters range from how to demilitarize domestic law enforcement; to how to better hold human rights violators accountable through improved targeted sanctions; to how to rebuild America’s asylum system; to how to stem the flow of security assistance to habitual human rights violators; to how to limit the sale of advanced surveillance technologies to authoritarian states; to how to sharpen America’s anti-money laundering toolkit, among several other topics.

Human Rights First is releasing Walking the Talk amidst an international landscape characterized by surging autocratization; a U.S. administration that has abandoned treaty obligations disparaged international institutions, and derided America’s closest democratic allies; sustained calls by Americans to remedy systemic injustice at home; and the unprecedented circumstance of an American president unwilling to commit to a peaceful transition of power.

As noted in the report’s introduction:

Protests roiling America’s streets in the wake of the killing by law enforcement of George Floyd and other Black Americans remain a stark reminder of the chasm between the nation’s ideals and the lived experience of many of its people. From systemic inequities in criminal justice to brutal treatment of asylum seekers, human rights and equal treatment under law remain, for many within the United States, a promise unfulfilled. Administration policies that seek to diminish protestors’ legitimate grievances have done little to improve matters, while the deployment of militarized federal agents to cities over the objections of local officials has exacerbated unrest.

At the same time, across the globe, autocratic leaders are expanding their power, eroding the rule of law, and obscuring the line between truth and fiction. For the first time since 2001, a majority of the world’s population lives under non-democratic, rights-violating governments. This trend, which encompasses hardened dictatorships and backsliding liberal democracies alike, threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions, while undermining the world’s ability to meet today’s foremost global challenges, from climate change to economic inequality to mass migration.

American respect for human rights and the rule of law—at home and abroad—has never been more vital. For the sake of every American and the millions abroad who continue to look to the United States as a beacon of hope, the presidential administration that assumes office in January 2021 should place high on its agenda a commitment to rebuild America’s international stature.

America needs to live up to its ideals and to its rhetoric. It should commit to lead the international community’s efforts to better protect and promote human rights. And it should do this as it pursues the promise of equal rights for all at home.

Make no mistake: a foreign policy more firmly grounded in respect for human rights greatly benefits American security and prosperity. In an age of resurgent authoritarianism, populism, and xenophobic nationalism, policies that advance human rights and democracy don’t stand in opposition to America’s core interests, they reflect America’s core interests.

The report can be downloaded and read in full here. Individual thematic chapters can also be downloaded separately via the following links.

Walking the Talk: 2021 Blueprints for a Human Rights-Centered U.S. Foreign Policy


  1. Holding Human Rights Abusers and Corrupt Actors Accountable Through Global Magnitsky and Other Targeted Sanctions
  2. Confronting Digital Authoritarianism by Stemming the Proliferation of AI-Enabled Surveillance Technology
  3. Upholding Refugee Protection and Asylum at Home
  4. Addressing Racial Injustice, Demilitarizing Law Enforcement, and Refocusing the Military on Defense
  5. Ending Endless Wars
  6. Closing Guantanamo
  7. Minimizing and Accounting for Civilian Harm in U.S. Military Operations
  8. Overhauling Security Sector Assistance
  9. Curbing Corruption at Home and Abroad
  10. Rejoining the UN Human Rights Council while Advancing Real Reform

Published on October 19, 2020


Seeking asylum?

If you do not already have legal representation, cannot afford an attorney, and need help with a claim for asylum or other protection-based form of immigration status, we can help.