HRC Blog

Congress’s Slow Confirmation of Sarah Sewall Hampers U.S. Ability to Take Action in Uganda

Last month, the Ugandan Parliament passed a dangerous bill that would sentence men who are convicted of engaging in sexual relations with other men to a fourteen year prison sentence, and a life imprisonment for committing aggravated homosexuality.

Countless members of Congress and the Obama Administration have criticized this law.  But the United States’s ability to respond is hampered because the Senate has not confirmed Sarah Sewall to the position of Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.

The Under Secretary’s office works with other U.S. government and foreign partners to “prevent and respond to conflict, promote peace and genuine stability, strengthen and develop the rule of law, achieve accountability for atrocities, counter terrorism and violent extremism, build democratic institutions, deepen respect for universal human rights, strengthen civilian protection and security, and advance the United States' humanitarian policies, practices, and programs around the world.”  That position has been vacant for almost a year.  Within that office, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) leads U.S. efforts to promote democracy, protect human rights, and advance labor rights globally.  The nominee to head that bureau, Tom Malinowski, is also waiting for the Senate to vote on his nomination.

The United States cannot remain at the forefront of protecting human rights if key positions remain vacant.  While the process to find, interview, vet, and nominate a candidate is lengthy, the inability of the United States Senate to put its partisanship aside and vote on qualified and uncontroversial candidates is troubling. 

Sarah Sewall, who has been nominated to be under secretary, has had a lengthy career advocating for human rights in government, as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance at the Department of Defense, and as senior foreign policy advisor to former Senator George Mitchell, and in academia from Harvard University to the Naval War College.  Tom Malinowski’s nomination to lead DRL is supported by, among others, the bipartisan congressional Helsinki Commission, who has acknowledged his role in “ending torture to advancing democracy and the rule of law.”

HRC will work with Senate staffers on both sides of the aisle to quickly bring these nominations back to the floor of the Senate so that they receive the vote that they deserve, and so that the United States has effective advocates leading the U.S. response to this and other human rights abuses around the world.

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