The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2021

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2021 29 Diplomatic support for human rights defenders ... can make a life-or-death difference for these individuals. still provides an annual assessment of individual countries’ human rights records. President Ronald Reagan worked with Congress to establish the National Endowment for Democracy and other institutes aimed at supporting the advance of demo- cratic practice around the globe. The outgoing administration is on record as supporting the cause of global human rights and democracy—and puts special focus on the cause of religious freedom—even if its commitment to this agenda has been questioned. What Diplomats Can Do Individual diplomats have a crucial role to play in the defense of democracy around the world. First, American diplomats can make a renewed commit- ment to democratic values in their day-to-day work. Support for democracy starts at home, and highlighting the need to strengthen our own country’s democracy can be a powerful way to gain credibility when it comes to defending democratic practice abroad. In South Korea this past summer, Ambassa- dor Harry Harris made sure that his embassy’s official Twitter account expressed solidarity with peaceful protesters calling for racial justice in the United States, and embassy officials even hung a large Black Lives Matter banner in front of the mission. While the media reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s office asked for the sign to be taken down, the gesture sent a clear message that great democracies are capable of reflection and self-correction and don’t simply lecture other countries. More concretely, diplomats can work to strengthen Ameri- can democracy by pushing for a more diverse and inclusive Foreign Service. State Department staff should encourage the leadership to reform recruitment practices. According to a January 2020 Government Accountability Office report (GAO- 20-237), only 32 percent of the department’s full-time, perma- nent, career employees—including both Civil Service and For- eign Service members—identify as racial or ethnic minorities. For the Foreign Service alone, the number dips to 24 percent, meaning our diplomatic corps is significantly less diverse than the public it represents. Reforms to the recruitment process could help, starting with a review of intake procedures for any inherent biases and consideration of changes that would allow for midcareer entry into the Foreign Service. Second, U.S. diplomats can educate young people on democracy. U.S. diplomats are often the first, and sometimes the only, representatives of democracy who can reach out to the youth of the world. Global dissatisfaction with democracy, par- ticularly in developed nations, is at an all-time high, increasing from 47.9 percent in the 1990s to 57.5 percent in 2019, accord- ing to a report by the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Future of Democracy. And data show that the world’s 1.8 billio n young people share this sentiment. Many feel excluded from or underrepresented by democratic institutions and processes, and do not believe that elected officials have their interests at heart. They view free and fair elections as less important than previous generations and are more tolerant of autocratic rule. Scholars theorize that this is because much of the world’s youth have grown up under some form of democratic rule (Freedom House finds 39 percent of the world’s population liv- ing in a “Free” country and another 25 percent in a “Partly Free” country with some features of democracy), seeing only its defi- ciencies and not recognizing the many advantages it has over other forms of government. Diplomats can help young people see all that democracy has to offer by supporting programming that teaches and encourages basic democratic principles such as integrity, inclusion, accountability and civic engagement, and by encouraging actual participation in democratic gover- nance as elected leaders or political activists. Third, diplomats are often the last line of defense when it comes to human rights abuses. We repeatedly hear from our partners around the world that diplomatic support for human rights defenders, activists and prisoners of conscience can make a life-or-death difference for these individuals. Attend- ing trials, inquiring with foreign government officials about the health and status of detainees, and visiting them in prison can directly influence how long they are imprisoned and how they are treated in custody. It is vital that diplomats report the truth about the human rights situation in the countries in which they are stationed, even if they worry that Washington will not judge them kindly for their candor. Such attention clearly demon- strates to undemocratic rulers that their crimes will not go unnoticed by the world. Diplomatic involvement has made a critical difference in many well-known cases, whether it was helping to negotiate the safe departure from China of human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who had been detained under house arrest; rou- tinely pressing Azerbaijani officials until they agreed to release