By Hannah Torregoza
Detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima has lauded the US Senate’s approval of the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA).
The Act seeks to promote respect for human rights and basic freedoms as a long-term strategy in the Indo-Pacific region, which includes the Philippines.
De Lima, a known human rights defender here and abroad, said she welcomes the US Senate’s passage of the ARIA which would give impetus to the fight against violations to human rights and democracy not only in the Philippines, but also in whole Indo-Pacific region.
“During these times when our national voice on human rights concerns has been largely silent, the passage of the Senate Bill 2736 in the US can play a crucial role in the fight for democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the country and the whole of Asia,” De Lima said.
ARIA seeks to demonstrate the US commitments to the region and for a rules-based international order, advancing its interests and goals, including substantive US resource commitments.
One of the key features of this powerful legislation is it authorizes US sanctions against human rights abusers.
Logged as Senate Bill 2736, ARIA was approved by the Upper and Lower Chambers of US Congress last Dec. 5 and Dec. 18, respectively. It was introduced by Sen. Cory Gardner, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Asia and its ranking member Sen. Edward Markey.
Under the measure, ARIA provides US$150-million annually for five years for democracy, rule of law, and civil society support, including US$10 million annually for freedom of information efforts in North Korea.
The measure also calls for additional US efforts against trafficking-in-persons and human slavery and authorizes US sanctions against human rights abusers.
The bi-partisan support for the bill was also credited to the leadership of the late Senator John McCain, along with Sen. Bob Corker, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ben Cardin and Sen. Bob Menendez. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy reportedly championed the bill.
Once signed into law, ARIA also offers US$210 million year in financial aid to civil society groups, universities, multilateral institutions and nongovernmental organizations promoting human rights and the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific nations.