As United States President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris begin the first 100 days of their administration, the work ahead will be formidable: with a pandemic raging in the United States and a country divided after a turbulent year, the administration will also need to make up for failures of U.S. cooperation and leadership in the international community.
Given the multitude of critically important issues at hand, PHR outlined our key priorities that this administration should act on swiftly in its first 100 days – from COVID-19 to immigration and policing – that will go a long way to help restore trust in science, and the protection of health and human rights.
Act Urgently on COVID-19
- Set and enforce a national mask mandate.
- Widespread community enforcement of mandatory mask wearing drastically reduces the rate of COVID-19 transmission. The Biden administration should work together with state and local leaders to implement a national mask mandate policy that is enforceable against businesses and entities.
- Fast-track swift, equitable access to vaccines.
- Strengthen worker protections in U.S. health care settings, including whistleblowers.
- In health care settings across the country, health workers – including physicians, medical trainees, nurses, technicians, and other health care professionals and caregivers – continue to face dangerous working conditions, alarming shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), and little or no enforceable protections when they speak out. PHR stresses the urgent need for new, enforceable emergency standards for worker protections, workplace safety standards, transparency, accurate reporting, and accountability.
- Ensure transparency and protection of evidence-based science, data, policies, and processes in all aspects of federal and state COVID-19 response.
- Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, public health officials, physicians, and scientists have been regularly and repeatedly attacked and undermined by public officials at all levels of government. It is absolutely essential that the Biden administration restore trust in guidance from the scientific community, and center scientific evidence in all U.S. COVID-19 response policies.
Restrict Excessive Force in Policing
- Set and enforce national guidelines for police use of force that align with international standards.
- International legal principles require law enforcement agencies to adopt rules and regulations for the use of force, which must be minimized, targeted, proportional, and directed at de-escalating violence. Additionally, the use of “less than lethal” incapacitating weapons must be carefully controlled, and the deployment of “less than lethal” incapacitating weapons must occur in a manner that minimizes the risk of endangering uninvolved persons. Restraint must be shown in all use of force by law enforcement agents, with a view to minimizing injury and loss of life.
- Consider banning dangerous crowd-control weapons.
- PHR has long documented and reported on significant dangers, health hazards, and human rights implications of numerous forms of crowd control weapons. A number of forms of kinetic impact projectiles and chemical irritants pose significant challenges due to their inherently indiscriminate nature, or potentially lethal nature. PHR urges the Biden administration to advocate for and incentivize further regulation of crowd-control weapons on a state and local level to greater reduce the risk of misuse or excessive use of these weapons, and to increase transparency and accountability in their use.
- Propose legislation that ends “qualified immunity,” and allows for judicial accountability for police violence.
- The U.S. legal principle of qualified immunity has been expansively and excessively abused to shield law enforcement officers from judicial accountability for excessive uses of force, and racial prejudice in policing. PHR urges the Biden administration to eliminate the defense of qualified immunity in civil actions for deprivation of constitutional rights in order to increase the accountability of government personnel and law enforcement.
Protect Asylum Seekers at the U.S. Border
- Restore access to seek asylum at the U.S. border.
- The Trump administration worked tirelessly over the past four years to eviscerate the U.S. asylum system. Three of the most egregious policies that served to either delay or deny asylum seekers access to the U.S. asylum system and protection within the United States are the Migrant Protection Protocols, metering, and Title 42 expulsions. These three policies in particular kept asylum seekers trapped in dangerous and traumatic conditions, often compounding significant traumas. All of these policies should be immediately repealed.
- End family separation and expedite the reunification of families.
- Through horrifying policy decisions designed to inflict suffering as a method of “deterrence,” the Trump administration separated hundreds of children from their families along the U.S. southern border. Many of these children remain separated from their families despite orders to reunite them. Reunifying these families must be an urgent priority for the Biden administration.
- End child and family detention, and scale up community-based alternatives to detention.
- U.S. treaty obligations and international law direct that asylum seekers should not be held in detention settings. The unnecessary and often prolonged detention of children and families is especially traumatic and hazardous. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s assessment of its own non-custodial family case management program concluded that community-based alternatives to detention were overwhelmingly successful. The Biden administration should therefore prioritize the humane, and rights respecting community-based alternatives to detention that have been proven successful in the United States.
Restore U.S. Leadership in the International Community
- Recommit the United States to multilateral engagement, including restoring all outstanding dues and financial commitments, participating in the United Nations Human Rights Council, restoring full cooperation with the World Health Organization, and lifting all sanctions against members of international justice mechanisms – including the International Criminal Court.
- Under the Trump administration’s “America First” policies, the United States has withdrawn significantly from the international community, and has forfeited its place as a global leader on human rights, public health policy, and even in many areas of international peace and security. This global retreat has left the United States cut off from allies and from institutions like the World Health Organization, that is at the forefront of coordinating a global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. PHR urges the Biden administration to recommit to multilateralism, to the global peace and security system, to international humanitarian and human rights bodies, and to global efforts to combat the pandemic.