11 July 2024

The recently released Human Rights Watch (HRW) annual report is an all too familiar assessment of the global rights situation, except in the US itself. Indeed, the report should have said more about the situation in the US, instead of focusing on the rest of the world.

This year represents the first year of the Biden Administration’s pursuit of policies related to human rights. It does not look so good. The record of COVID-19 death and infection among the non-white population is a good indication of the disparity and systemic racism in American society. The report should have dealt more with police brutality and impunity, as they are the key rights violators in the US.

To the outside world, however, the investigation of the January 6th riots should serve as a barometer for the state of US democracy. After a year, the special committee, which was set up to investigate the assault on the Capitol, has still been unable to gather all the information it needs to reach a conclusion. The former aides to former president Donald Trump are not cooperating. Their information and insights are indispensable in gauging what really happened before, during and after the 5 hours of insurrection. For the time being, it seems that certain powerful individuals can still find reasons not to provide their testimonies. What would be the general US reaction if similar were to occur in other countries?

The special committee did the right thing by subpoenaing records of major tech companies. They are being held responsible for whatever misinformation, unknowingly or not, they helped to promulgate. It was a last ditch effort, after these companies failed to provide information, that would determine the nature of the insurrection.

It must be said here that US democracy is facing unknown challenges in the future. Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW, was right in saying that the riot “was really just the beginning”. Despite their failure to overturn the result of the presidential election, Roth said, Trump’s supporters are using much more sophisticated efforts to take the next presidential election. It is clear that they want their man back in the White House at all costs. The outcome of upcoming mid-term elections will be a weather vane.

Roth stressed that there is an urgent need to defend the US democracy. Without saying so explicitly, he implied that defending it these days means preventing the return of Donald Trump or his cronies. Given Biden’s first-year record and recent opinion polls, however, it is almost certain that the pro-Trump elements will be further energised into doing more to disrupt the next election. More than a dozen states that support Trump have already come up with various measures and legislation to suppress voting rights. These manoeuvres further cloud the American democratic picture.

The Biden administration’s determination to promote democracy around the world will amount to nothing if the January 6th investigation is further delayed, politicised and subsequently compromised. If that is the trajectory, US democracy and its global appeal would be certainly and quickly tarnished.

What the US needs to do now is to show that its democracy is stable and is not in decline, as it is being made out to be. The best way to prove this is to pursue those who were involved in the insurrection to the very end. At the moment, the Biden administration is struggling to get all concerned individuals and groups in both houses to cooperate, to get to the real truth.

Any failure to prosecute those behind the riot will be a greater threat to global democracy than the numerous examples cited in the HRW report.

By Kavi Chongkittavorn