The Biden government is committed to protecting human rights as the core of its foreign policy. Now the National Security Council has hired a key officer who will help the President and his team carry out this work.
Rob Berschinski, currently senior vice president of policy at the Human Rights First Advocacy Group, will serve as senior director of democracy and human rights for the NSC on Monday, multiple sources told me. He will report back to Shanthi Kalathil, the NSC’s coordinator on these issues. Foreign policy also reported on the appointment.
Bershinsky, a former senior US State Department human rights official during the Obama administration, will, among other things, help guide the US response to China’s mistreatment of Uighur Muslims and corruption in autocratic countries. It is likely that he will also play a role in organizing the upcoming summit on democracy. This meeting is supposed to be held by Biden to strengthen democracy around the world against what groups like Freedom House call a “democratic recession”.
Berschinski’s new position will put him at the center of Biden’s handling of global affairs, both in light of the realities of democracy and human rights around the world and of the government’s stated foreign policy goals.
“The United States is committed to a world in which human rights are protected, their defenders celebrated and those who commit human rights abuses are held accountable,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a February statement. “President Biden is committed to a foreign policy that combines our democratic values with our diplomatic leadership and that focuses on defending democracy and protecting human rights.”
“[Biden] will not hold back, and he will speak out if he has concerns about human rights violations, lack of freedom of speech, or lack of freedom of the media and expression, “White House press secretary Jen Psaki told journalists last month.
Such an emphasis on human rights could make Berschinski’s portfolio more important than in other administrations, experts told me. It is likely that he will become embroiled in discussions about how the US should deal with policies towards Russia, Venezuela, Iran and other nations known to violate human rights.
But the appointment comes at an uncomfortable time. Last month, Biden decided not to punish Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the 2018 murder of U.S.-based Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, despite information released by the government using the royal as an orchestrator called the conspiracy.
Biden’s team said it was important not to completely sever relations between the US and Saudi Arabia after the gruesome murder, especially after decades of partnership in economic and security areas. However, this led some to question the government’s true commitment to human rights.
Of course, finding the right balance between when another country should be put on the human rights list and when such concerns should be brushed aside in pursuit of the national interest has been a delicate issue for almost all US governments, to find. Now Berschinski has to deal with this tricky problem.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Berzhinsky declined to comment when he was reached.