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Photo: Dustin Chambers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Human Rights Watch criticized President Biden and other leaders of democratic nations for sending "mixed signals" on human rights in its annual World Report published on Thursday, saying they "are not meeting the challenges before them."

Why it matters: Though Biden pledged to put human rights at the center of his foreign policy, HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth wrote that weapon sales to repressive governments and public reticence on certain human rights violations place those promises in question.

  • The report also accused Biden and other Western leaders of failing to make a strong enough case for democracy to counter the global rise of authoritarianism.

What they're saying: "Biden took office promising a foreign policy that would be guided by human rights. But he continued to sell arms to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel despite their persistent repression," Roth wrote.

  • "During key summits, Biden seemed to lose his voice when it came to public denunciation of serious human rights violations," he added.
  • "The US State Department has issued occasional protests about repression in certain countries, and in extreme cases the Biden administration introduced targeted sanctions on some officials responsible, but the influential voice of the president was often missing."
  • Roth clarified that Biden contrasts sharply with former President Trump's "embrace of friendly autocrats when he was US president."

HRW also specifically criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for condemning the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity in Xinjiang but being "blind" to violations in Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Myanmar.

  • It said German Chancellor Angela Merkel undermined Europe's condemnation of crimes against humanity in Xinjiang by helping negotiate an unconditional European Union investment deal with China.
  • "[If] democratic officials continue to fail us, if they are unable to summon the visionary leadership that this demanding era requires, they risk fueling the frustration and despair that are fertile ground for the autocrats," Roth wrote.
  • "If democracies are to prevail in the global contest with autocracy, their leaders must do more than spotlight the autocrats’ inevitable shortcomings. They need to make a stronger, positive case for democratic rule."

"The struggle for human rights can’t be won in a single year," a state department spokesperson said in a statement.

  • "This Administration does not and will not approve arms transfers where we believe there is significant risk of diversion, civilian harm, or misuse, including human rights abuses," they added.
  • "We are ensuring that our relationships in the [Middle East] better reflect our interests and our values, while also reaffirming our commitment to help our partners defend themselves and deter external aggression."

The big picture: Other international organizations concerned about human rights and the global status of democracy have also recently warned that autocratic countries, like Russia and China, are on the rise.

  • The nonprofit Freedom House said the world is in a "long democratic recession" and estimated that democracy improved in only 28 countries in 2021 and worsened in 73.
  • The European think tank International IDEA concluded in a report that the number of "backsliding democracies" had doubled over the past decade and the number of countries moving in an authoritarian direction since 2020 outnumbered those going in a democratic direction.

Go deeper ... Democracy vs. China: Biden's top priorities are sometimes in conflict

Go deeper

Biden boxed in on Ukraine

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration is pushing to get Congress, Europe and Ukraine on the same page as it tries to deter Russia from invading Ukraine — all while knowing that the decisive factor will ultimately be the whims of Vladimir Putin.

Why it matters: Officials from virtually all sides are warning that the risk of a large-scale, conventional war on the European continent is greater than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Few agree on how to stop it.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: The Weather Prediction Center said in a storm summary Monday that winter storm warnings are still in effect for portions of the Central Appalachians, Ohio Valley, interior Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast, while portions of the Central Appalachians and coastal New England are under high wind warnings.

Colleyville Rabbi credits survival to active-shooter training

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, one of the people taken hostage in a synagogue outside Fort Worth on Saturday, said in an interview with CBS Monday that he initially took in the man because he thought he needed shelter.

The big picture: Cytron-Walker said he spoke to the hostage taker, identified by the FBI as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram, for several minutes and made him tea before Akram took the rabbi and three other people hostage during Shabbat services for around 11 hours in Colleyville, Texas.