Protecting the human rights of all people, no matter where they live, should continue to be a major component of U.S. foreign policy.
Standing in solidarity with those whose rights are violated — whether in Sudan or Burma or Afghanistan — is not only a strategic decision but a moral imperative.
Earlier this month, I organized a bipartisan effort in Congress calling for U.S. and international action to confront the grave humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka. The lives of up to 200,000 civilians have been endangered as they have been trapped in northern Sri Lanka amid fighting between Sri Lankan Government forces and the Tamil Tigers, a guerrilla group.
Thirty seven of my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, joined in sending separate letters to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, urging that they press for civilian emergency aid, safe passage from the conflict zone, and political reconciliation between ethnic Tamils and Sinhalese. Working with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, our concerns were met with a quick and positive response from Secretary Clinton and Dr. Rice. Secretary Clinton called the Sri Lankan President directly and pledged that the U.S. will remain highly engaged in the Sri Lankan peace process.
In February, I participated in an Asian Human Rights Forum on Capitol Hill. The conference, organized by Northern Virginia human rights groups, included more than 100 Vietnamese, Burmese, Tibetan and Chinese-American activists. During my remarks, I emphasized the inviolability and universality of all human rights and the importance that they be respected in Asia and around the world. I was particularly proud to salute Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, a courageous Vietnamese human rights activist whom I nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his fearless activism over the past three decades.
On March 8, International Women’s Day, I was also privileged to join in a seminar featuring four Afghan women leaders working to improve women’s rights in their country. I visited Afghanistan last year, witnessing firsthand the widespread violence against women there. In many tragic cases, women are treated as property, sometimes traded as bribes to settle feuds. In some areas controlled by the Taliban, women and girls have been forced to wear the burqa against their will and are prevented from attending school.
In spite of extraordinary challenges, these Afghan women leaders show great courage as they struggle for equality and opportunity under harsh and cruel conditions. Like the Vietnamese leader Dr. Que, these Afghan women and all those that resist oppression deserve our respect and full support.
The right to freedom of speech and the press, the freedom to choose one’s government, the right to be free from torture and arbitrary detention, the right not to be trafficked for any purpose – these are universal human rights that are inalienable. As a nation that represents freedom, democracy and human rights, we must stand in solidarity with these heroic activists working to build a more peaceful and just world.