Human Rights Watch drops 2024 voting guide centering reparations and other top priorities

New York, New York - Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released its guide to voting in the 2024 elections with a focus on key social and racial justice issues – including reparations for Black Americans.

Human Rights Watch has released a 2024 guide for voters and candidates identifying top issues in US domestic and foreign policy.
Human Rights Watch has released a 2024 guide for voters and candidates identifying top issues in US domestic and foreign policy.  © Robyn Beck / AFP

The 15-page Human Rights Guide to the 2024 US Elections identifies critical domestic and foreign policy issues that should be on every candidate's lips on the campaign trail, and every voter's mind at the ballot box.

"The Human Rights Watch elections guide is a roadmap for people in the United States to assess the commitment of candidates to human rights," Tanya Greene, director of HRW's US Program, said in a statement.

"This year's elections will be a challenge to the people of the United States to safeguard human rights and reinforce rights-respecting democratic ideals," she added.

Melania reportedly has some strong thoughts on Trump's hush money trial
Melania Trump Melania reportedly has some strong thoughts on Trump's hush money trial

Here are the top human rights issues facing the US, as identified by the organization, leading into the 2024 elections.

Racial justice and reparations

According to the HRW guide, 2024 candidates and voters serious about undoing generations of systemic racial injustices should be laser-focused on reparations for Black Americans. This includes supporting:

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination upheld the US government's need to act on reparations in August 2022. HRW calls on candidates to support measures that would boost US compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, ratified by Congress in 1994.

Criminal justice

Central to promoting racial justice is addressing the crisis of mass incarceration in the US, which locks people up at a higher rate than any other country on Earth. Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people are disproportionately represented in prison populations, meaning that concrete measures must be taken to end racial discrimination in the criminal justice system and beyond.

On top of that, candidates are encouraged to support steps to:

  • Set incentives for state and local officials to end predatory and abusive policing,
  • End unnecessary arrests,
  • Stop the criminalization of homelessness and poverty,
  • Decriminalize drug possession and sex work,
  • Limit pretrial detention, and
  • Abolish cash bail.

Children's rights

As efforts to weaken child labor laws pick up around the US, HRW is calling on candidates to strengthen protections for minors by supporting:

  • The removal of exceptions in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which allow children to work in the agriculture industry at younger ages,
  • H.R. 4046, Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety (CARE) Act,
  • H.R. 4020, the Children Don't Belong on Tobacco Farms Act, and
  • Updates to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's list of hazardous occupations prohibited for children under 16.

HRW also urges candidates to endorse the following:

  • Expanded access to affordable, reliable internet for all students,
  • Strengthened data protection laws for children,
  • An end to life without the possibility of parole (AKA death by incarceration) sentences for minors, and
  • Transformational investments in community-based alternatives to detention.

Immigrants and border communities

Rather than pursue cruel and repressive immigration and border policies, 2024 candidates should:

  • Favor an end to the Biden administration's "asylum ban,"
  • Support the creation of reception centers that respect migrants' human rights,
  • Oppose the arbitrary detention and electronic monitoring of migrants, and
  • Take measures to stop states like Texas from engaging in anti-migrant human rights abuses.

Ensuring free and fair elections

As threats to democracy pick up, right-wing attacks on voting rights are hitting Black and brown Americans the hardest. Candidates running for office are encouraged to promote free and fair elections by:

  • Supporting H.R. 14, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,
  • Trying to prevent intimidation and violence at polling places, and
  • Refraining from spreading disinformation about electoral processes.

Access to information and democratic participation

To boost equal and fair democratic participation, candidates are further asked to:

  • Support the restoration of voting rights to people convicted of felonies,
  • Ensure unpaid fines and fees and driver's license revocations do not disenfranchise people,
  • Favor measures to ensure students are taught the true history of the United States, and
  • Propose protections for educators seeking to instruct students on Black history and other topics.

Economic justice

The US continues to register stark socioeconomic disparities and wealth inequality. To improve the quality of life for all Americans, politicians should endorse:

  • An expanded the child tax credit and social security,
  • Greater investments in affordable, accessible housing and health care, and
  • Universal social protection.

Technology and human rights

The rapid growth of the technology sector is bringing with it concerns over potential human rights abuses. In 2024, candidates should meet the moment by advancing:

  • A human rights-centered federal data protection law,
  • Required human rights impact assessments of all AI systems and remedies for harmed people,
  • Limits on damaging spyware, and
  • Effective transparency requirements for social media companies.

Climate change policy and impacts

The global climate emergency is looming large as the 2024 election approaches, with the fate of people and planet on the line. Given the seriousness of the crisis, any candidates seeking office in 2024 should commit to:

Reproductive health

To combat growing attacks on reproductive health care, all 2024 candidates should have a concrete plan addressing:

  • Continued racism in health care,
  • The maternal mortality and morbidity crisis, and
  • Inequities in cervical cancer rates.

They should also promote access to education and preventative care, as well as abortion care as a human right.

Sexual orientation and gender identity

LGBTQ+ Americans, particularly transgender individuals, are experiencing an unprecedented wave of attacks on their civil liberties heading into the 2024 elections. Candidates should act to protect their basic rights with a plan that guarantees access to:

  • Accurate identification documents,
  • Gender-affirming health care,
  • Bathrooms and other facilities that correspond to gender identity,
  • Basic services like housing, education, employment, and public services,
  • Domestic violence and homeless shelters, and
  • Comprehensive gender and sexuality education in schools.

Candidates should also support non-discrimination legislation, including H.R. 15, the Equality Act.

People with disabilities

Law enforcement officers are often sent as first responders to situations in which individuals are experiencing mental health crises, which creates dangerous situations and has a disproportionate impact on Black and brown people. Politicians should, instead, support community and consent-based, trauma-informed responses centered on harm reduction.

Rights of older people

HRW urges candidates to protect older constituents by ending the inappropriate use of antipsychotic drugs and boosting staffing levels in nursing homes. These steps would go a long way to reducing unnecessary deaths and improving the quality of life for elderly people in America.

Foreign policy

In addition to tackling stark inequities at home, HRW says 2024 candidates should be prepared to take bold stances to reduce US militarism and human rights violations abroad. This includes:

  • Upholding international human rights and humanitarian law,
  • Ensuring the US is not complicit in abuses by foreign military forces,
  • Disavowing the use of torture in all cases,
  • Closing the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention facility,
  • Ending lethal targeting by the CIA and other US agencies, and
  • Providing redress to civilians harmed in US military operations.

Candidates serious about upholding international human rights obligations should also support:

  • Prioritizing human rights obligations at home to set a strong example,
  • Conditioning US military aid and weapons sales on adherence to international human rights standards,
  • Sanctioning foreign actors accused of human rights abuses,
  • Providing practical assistance to human rights defenders under threat,
  • Countering foreign governments' restrictions on civil liberties, particularly of marginalized groups, and
  • Pushing for the release of political prisoners and information on those forcibly disappeared.

The 2024 general election is set for Tuesday, November 5, with key primary races already underway.

Cover photo: Robyn Beck / AFP

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