Human Rights Campaign

America is experiencing an unprecedented time of uncertainty, political divisiveness and challenges to the values upon which our nation was founded. Leaders who stand up for what is right, serve causes bigger than themselves and build bridges for the common good are dwindling. In response, the McCain Institute has launched a broad initiative through 2020 – to inspire and educate Americans about the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms at home and around the world, a cause Senator John McCain dedicated his life to advancing. This is the institute’s first major initiative since the passing of Senator McCain.

In early 2018, the McCain Institute embarked on an ambitious research project to better understand American public opinion on human rights. The results found a significant lack of common understanding and support for the need to protect basic human rights and freedoms in the world, a strong preference for focusing on issues here at home, and no common language for discussing these issues – particularly among younger Americans. Addressing that challenge is the long-term goal of this initiative.

The initiative was publicly launched in October 2018 with a call for Mavericks. The non-partisan campaign encouraged citizens to show up to the polls for the U.S. midterm elections to vote for candidates that fight for the dignity of all people and champion causes greater than themselves. The creative for the campaign – which included videos, billboards and social media posts – drove viewers to to sign the Maverick’s Pledge. The pledge garnered thousands of signatures within the first week and earned stories in the Associated Press, Washington Post, BBC, CNNand others.

“Our values are our interests, and our interests are our values.” – Senator John McCain

The McCain Institute is dedicated to advancing human rights, dignity, democracy and freedom in the United States and around the world. The United States was founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and Americans believe that all people should enjoy these rights. For decades, with strong bipartisan support, the United States has promoted human rights and democracy in recognition of the fact that free nations are more prosperous, stable and reliable partners. Authoritarian regimes, by contrast, pose most of the challenges in the world today, and how a regime treats its own people is often indicative of how it will behave in foreign policy. Promoting human rights and democracy advances America’s national interests.

With that in mind, the McCain Institute promotes the integration of human rights policies into broader national security and foreign policy strategies. The Institute strives to elevate human rights and democracy issues higher on the foreign policy agenda. It focuses its efforts on Eurasia, sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia. The Institute builds broad constituencies and promote public-private partnerships to enhance common understanding of human rights challenges and common responsibilities in addressing them.

The promotion of human rights also plays a critical role across the full range of activities at the Institute:

  • Including human rights activists within our Next Generation Leaders program.
  • Establishing a human rights panel as a regular feature of at our Sedona Forum.
  • Highlighting human rights issues and experts in our Debate and Decision Series.
  • Hosting human rights activists for targeted programming in the United States.

Human Rights Defenders Program

The McCain Institute launched the Human Rights Defenders Program in 2017, providing transition assistance to human rights activists who were forced to flee war, civic unrest and instability in their homelands. One activist survived repeated attempts against her life, others were jailed for their activism, and all of them left their countries to seek safety and refuge. Our support is aimed at helping them re-settle while remaining engaged in the fight for human rights in their home countries. Since the program started, the Institute has supported 14 defenders from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Palestine, Pakistan, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan and Yemen.  The activists come from varying backgrounds – journalists, researchers, bloggers, civic activists, scholars – underscoring the growing repressive nature of governments around the world.

The Institute is seeking financial support in order to offer assistance for up to six months to a year for at least 10-12 displaced human rights activists per year. This program will give activists time to settle into new environments, support their families (if applicable), and find sustainable employment or fellowships in their new places of residence, allowing them to ultimately carry on their activism.

We partner with like-minded organizations such as Freedom House, Committee to Protect Journalists, Protect Defenders, Scholars at Risk, Scholars Risk Fund, Civil Rights Defenders and others to identify the most deserving cases for support, and pick up where their support for activists’ safety and extraction is exhausted. We help them safely settle in nearby locations so that if the circumstances in their home countries improve, they can return with minimal difficulty.

The Human Rights & Democracy Working Group

The Human Rights Working Group is a nonpartisan initiative, convened by the McCain Institute, which brings together experts and practitioners from NGOs, think tanks, academia and current and former U.S. administrations, in an effort to elevate the importance of promoting democracy and human rights within U.S. foreign policy. The Working Group produced numerous country reports, an all-inclusive “Advancing Freedom Promotes U.S. Interests,” a first-of-its-kind publication that offers concrete recommendations for addressing democracy and human rights concerns in a number of countries including Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Senator McCain introduced the report in a rollout at the U.S. National Defense University in September 2016. In addition to the Human Rights and Democracy Working Group, the McCain Institute has organized working groups on Russia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Azerbaijan. In an increasingly partisan climate, the McCain Institute has been recognized for its unique ability to bring together stakeholders from both sides of the aisle to work together on these critical issues.