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Sarah Margon

Assistant Secretary, Bureau Of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor, Department Of State

Sarah Margon has dedicated her decades-long career to acquiring foreign policy expertise and advancing human rights. She has held leadership roles at Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress and has served as a policy advisor to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

On April 23, 2021, Margon Was Reported To Be The Biden Administration’s Nominee For Assistant Secretary, Bureau Of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor (DRL), Department Of State

A White House Statement Released On April 23, 2021, Named Margon The Biden Administration’s Nominee For Assistant Secretary, Bureau Of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor, Department Of State. “Today, President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to serve in key national security positions in his Administration. Sarah Margon, Nominee for Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Department of State.” [White House Press Release, 4/23/2021]

Foreign Policy Named Margon A “Prominent Progressive Foreign-Policy Expert” In An Article Announcing Her Nomination. “U.S. President Joe Biden is close to nominating a prominent progressive foreign-policy expert to be one of the State Department’s top human rights envoys, a move that would elevate a prominent critic of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other autocratic governments that have close military relationships with the United States. Sarah Margon is a leading contender to be Biden’s assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, according to several officials familiar with the matter. Officials cautioned the decision is not yet final. If selected and confirmed by the Senate, Margon would manage a portfolio of issues that Biden has defined as major features of his foreign-policy agenda, namely, reestablishing the United States as a defender of global human rights and promoting democracy worldwide to stem the rising tide of authoritarianism.” [Foreign Policy, 4/21/2021]

Margon Responded Excitedly On Twitter To The News Of Her Nomination.

















[Sarah Margon, Twitter, 4/24/2021]

Margon Was A Vocal Critic Of The Trump Administration’s Human Rights

In A Spring 2018 Article For Foreign Affairs, Margon Sharply Criticized Trump’s Attacks On Human Rights

Margon Criticized The Trump Administration’s Approach To Human Rights, Globally And Domestically. “All U.S. presidents have, to varying degrees, downplayed or even overlooked concerns about human rights in order to get things done with unsavory foreign partners. But none has seemed so eager as Trump to align with autocrats as a matter of course. The harm goes beyond mere words. In country after country, the Trump administration is gutting U.S. support for human rights, the rule of law, and good governance, damaging the overarching credibility of the United States. Within the United States’ borders, meanwhile, the Trump administration has unleashed an assault on nondiscrimination and equal justice.” [Foreign Affairs, March/April 2018]

Margon Opined That The Trump Administration Contributed To “Global Deterioration”. “Even before Trump was elected, human rights were under attack across the globe. With crisis, conflict, and instability gripping much of the world, repressive leaders from Ethiopia to Russia to Thailand have used these developments to justify tightening their hold on power—cracking down harder on dissent while rejecting the rule of law and flouting international norms. Now, with Trump in office, there’s little reason to believe that such initiatives will be met with much criticism or consequences from the United States. Indeed, the Trump administration’s chaotic and virtually values-free approach to foreign policy is bolstering this global deterioration while corroding the institutions and alliances needed to reverse it.” [[Foreign Affairs, March/April 2018]

Margon Concisely Cited The Domestic Harm Caused By The Trump Administration. “The president has empowered bigots by making racially charged statements, including referring to white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, as “very fine people.” He has sought to end what he calls the “very dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America,” which is a direct rebuke to activists calling for racial justice in policing. He has also gravely harmed women’s rights by attacking reproductive choice, halting an equal-pay measure, and weakening protections against gender-based violence on college campuses.” [Foreign Affairs, March/April 2018]

Margon Called Attention To Multilateralism’s Important Role In Advancing Human Rights, And The Trump Administration’s Failure To Do So. “On foreign policy, meanwhile, the administration has dismissed or damaged the global human rights framework. Under Trump, the United States has walked away from (or threatened to walk away from) a number of vital global commitments, institutions, and initiatives that would provide an opportunity to share the burden of combating global challenges while respecting rights. The administration has threatened to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council, largely because the Palestinian territories (and therefore Israel) are a permanent item on its agenda. It’s true that the council has flaws, but it has also successfully documented and exposed many human rights issues of concern to U.S. law and policymakers. Walking away would not only weaken the council but also limit the available avenues for Washington to promote human rights. From the UN’s negotiations on the compact for global migration to the Paris agreement on climate change, the Trump administration has repeatedly suggested multilateral institutions are of no use to the United States, even though the country was instrumental in creating the UN, as well as many of the norms and laws that guide thinking about human rights today.” [Foreign Affairs, March/April 2018]

Margon Linked Rhetoric Popularized By The Trump Administration To The Downplaying Of Human Rights Offenses Committed Around The World. Similarly, politicians looking to discredit the free press have latched on to the term “fake news,” one of Trump’s favorite phrases. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad rejected an Amnesty International report documenting the brutal killing of 13,000 military prisoners, saying, “You can forge anything these days. We are living in a fake-news era.” In Myanmar, where security forces have undertaken a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims, a government official went so far as to say, “There is no such thing as Rohingya. It is fake news.” The term has become a catch phrase for government officials in China, the Philippines, Russia, and Venezuela who wish to shield themselves from scrutiny and create a climate of fear that vilifies dissenting voices. Indeed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which has been keeping a database of imprisoned journalists since the early 1990s, the number of people charged with reporting “false news” rose to a record high in 2017.” [Foreign Affairs, March/April 2018]

Margon Was Critical Of The Trump Administration’s Approach To Reproductive And Sexual Rights

Margon Expressed Her Opposition To The Global Gag Rule And Other Trump-Era Policies Attacking Reproductive Rights

Margon Opposed The Trump Administration’s Decision To Withhold Funding For The UN Population Fund And The Administration’s Reversal Of Domestic Policies Which Support Gender Equality. “Perhaps it should not be surprising that a man who was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault has put in place policies that set back the rights of women and girls around the world. But the swiftness of the rollback has been startling. In keeping with Republican tradition, the Trump administration has cut off U.S. funding for the UN Population Fund, which provides lifesaving maternal care for women, falsely claiming that it promotes forced abortions. And the reversal of so many domestic policies in support of gender equality no doubt undermines U.S. credibility overseas when it comes to empowering women and girls.” [Foreign Affairs, March/April 2018]

Margon Expressed Concerned About The Outcomes Caused By The Trump Administration’s Expanded Global Gag Rule. “But perhaps the greatest threat to women will come from Trump’s expansion of the so-called Mexico City policy, also known as ‘the global gag rule,’ a long-standing policy of Republican administrations that imposes conditions on health-care organizations receiving U.S. aid…The United States is by far the world’s largest health donor, so the rule will inflict untold harm on women, girls, and their families. It will likely hinder hard-fought progress on health care in poor and middle-income countries, particularly those that rely heavily on U.S. resources. Affected health programs may have to cut not only their family-planning offerings but also services linked to child health, including vaccinations and the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.” [Foreign Affairs, March/April 2018]

Margon Highlighted The Dilemma And Undesirable Impact That The Expanded Global Gag Rule Had On NGOs Dependent On U.S. Funding. “As research by Human Rights Watch in Africa has found, the new rule already means fewer health services of all types, not just the loss of safe abortion care. To take one example, Family Health Options Kenya, an organization set to lose U.S. funds, has curtailed outreach services such as family planning, cervical cancer testing, and HIV testing for impoverished communities, and it has already closed one clinic. Organizations in Kenya that have no choice but to agree to the new restrictions because they depend on these funds worry that more women will die from unsafe abortions, a leading cause of maternal mortality in the country. In Uganda, the policy presents a difficult choice for organizations with multiple public health campaigns: Should they keep the funds and focus just on fighting HIV/AIDS, or should they reject the funds and work to end injuries and deaths from back-alley abortions?” [Foreign Affairs, March/April 2018]

  • Margon Amplified The Adverse Outcomes Of The Expanded Global Gag Rule.  

[Twitter, 1/23/2018]


Margon Also Critiqued The Trump Administration’s Commission On Unalienable Rights

Margon Critiqued The Commission On Unalienable Rights. “The Trump administration plans to launch a new human rights panel with a focus on ‘natural law,’ sparking fear among experts it could be an attempt to upend a host of protections, including for women and LGBTQ+ people. Titled the Commission on Unalienable Rights, the new body will provide Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, with advice and recommendations concerning international human rights issues…Washington DC director at Human Rights Watch, Sarah Margon, said the commission was ‘concerning’ and that the White House's recent history ‘doesn’t lend itself to a productive conversation that expands human rights.’ ‘If you look at the way this administration has engaged in human rights over the past 18 months to two years there is no real reason to be hopeful,’ she said.” [The Independent, 5/31/2019]

Throughout Her Career, Margon Has Advocated For An Expansion Of Reproductive Rights And Rights For LGBTQ Communities Globally

Margon Urged The Obama Administration To Advocate For The Repeal Of Nigeria’s “Same Sex Prohibition Act.” “Human rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), has urged the United States President, Mr. Barack Obama, to raise issues relating to critical human rights challenges in Nigeria with President Muhammadu Buhari during his high-level visit to America in the week. While the body enjoined Obama to encourage Buhari to keep his commitment to ensure that government security forces respect human rights and to address the endemic corruption that has deprived many Nigerians of their basic rights, the Washington Director for HRW, Sarah Margon, also implore Obama to implore Buhari to repeal the Same Sex Prohibition Act contrary to views expressed by larger majority of Nigerians. ‘Human Rights Watch also urged Obama to raise corruption issues with Buhari as well as the need to repeal the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, which became law during the administration of Nigeria's previous president, Goodluck Jonathan. The law criminalises public displays of affection between same-sex couples and penalises organisations advocating the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people,’ she said.” [Africa News, 7/21/2015]

Margon Questioned The Obama Administration’s Decision To Increase American Military Support In Uganda, Which Human Right Advocates Felt Was Misaligned With The Administration’s Critique Of The Country’s Criminalization Of Homosexuality. “The timing of the decision to increase American military help for Mr. Museveni, even as his government has been locking up journalists, targeting opposition leaders and criminalizing homosexuality, has dismayed human rights advocates. On Monday, a number of them questioned Mr. Obama’s support for advancing civil liberties in Africa. ‘Who wouldn’t want to get rid of this brutal rebel group?’ said Sarah Margon, acting Washington director of Human Rights Watch, in a reference to the Lord’s Resistance Army, the guerrilla group led by Mr. Kony that has terrorized civilians in Uganda, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. ‘But they’re not a direct threat to Museveni right now, and what he gains by this is continued American support to his military, and legitimacy, just when he signed this law.’” [New York Times, 3/24/2014]

Margon Has Advocated For Abortion Access. “In 1992, I went with my mother and her friends to the pro-choice rally. Even at 16, I felt empowered and excited by the potential for change as I watched women, men and their families from all over the country unite against the clampdown on women's rights. On Sunday, I went to the huge march in Washington with my friend and my fiancé, and, at almost 28, I felt almost exactly the same way -- but this time the concerns felt even more pressing. That so many people marched together for women's rights is indicative of how pervasive the fear is that these rights will be taken away. I can only hope that while exact numbers of those in attendance many not have been collected, President Bush and his supporters in Congress will realize where the mainstream view really lies: with each individual woman in this country.” [New York Times, 4/26/2004]

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