China Aid Association
(WASHINGTON, D.C. – July 10, 2009) ChinaAid learned that Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, yesterday expressed concern over the Obama administration’s failure to date to champion human rights as a central part of American foreign policy. Below is the complete text of Wolf’s remarks. They are also available online at www.wolf.house.gov :
“A May 5 Washington Post article opened with these words: ‘The Obama administration has backed away from overt expressions of support for human rights and democracy in favor of a more subtle approach, worrying advocates who say that the issues are being given short shrift as President Obama seeks to rebuild relations with allies and reach out to adversaries.’
“I join the ranks of those who are deeply troubled by the trajectory of this administration on human rights.
“In a February visit to Asia, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton plainly indicated that human rights would not be a priority in her engagement with China. She said, ‘We pretty much know what they [the Chinese government] are going to say’ on human rights issues.
“With that logic, the administration will rarely find it advisable to raise human rights concerns with any country, particularly the worst offenders.
“Clinton went on, ‘We have to continue to press them. But our pressing on those issues can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis.’
“Human rights organizations were dismayed. How had impassioned advocacy for the dignity of every person been relegated to a position of mere interference? And this in spite of Obama campaign promises to ‘be frank with the Chinese’ and ‘press them to respect human rights.’
“Following Secretary Clinton’s Asia comments, and subsequent remarks during a visit to the Middle East where she indicated that Egypt’s abuses would not negatively affect our bilateral relations, The Washington Post editorialized on March 11, “Ms. Clinton is doing a disservice to her own department – and sending the wrong message to rulers around the world that their abuses won’t be taken seriously by this U.S. administration.’
“Against this backdrop, President Obama in April moved to lift restrictions on travel and remittances for Cuban Americans absent any commitment by the Castro brothers to release even one of the hundreds of political prisoners who languish in jails.
“Frank Calzon of the Center for a Free Cuba cautioned, ‘Lifting the travel ban means the most hostile elements of the Cuban government will get an injection of our currency…The tourist industry is controlled and staffed by the Cuban government. If Washington wants to transfer dollars to the Cuban military, that’s one way of doing it.’
“Cuba is still characterized by our own State Department as a ‘totalitarian state.’ This year’s National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) annual Democracy Award recently went to five courageous leaders of Cuba’s pro-democracy movement. The Washington Post editorial page on June 25 pointed out that in both the Bush and Clinton administrations, NED awardees were given either an audience with the president or a statement of support. Not so this year.
“According to the Post, the White House issued a ‘hastily drafted statement’ only after the paper inquired about the president’s silence. These brave Cuban democracy activists are, in the words of the Post’s editorial page, ‘hoping that the American president will focus his policy on supporting them. Yet for now, Mr. Obama’s diplomacy is clearly centered on their oppressors.’
“Or consider Sudan. During the campaign, when asked about Darfur, Barack Obama said, ‘We can’t say ‘never again’ and then allow it to happen again. And, as President of the United States, I don’t intend to…turn a blind eye to slaughter.’ He also spoke of ‘ratcheting up sanctions.’
“Now, almost six months into the administration, the State Department is still conducting a much vaunted ‘comprehensive review’ of U.S.-Sudan policy. Nothing concrete has emerged. The little that has leaked out in press reports is disturbing.
“The administration appears divided at the highest levels over whether genocide is even still taking place in Darfur. Furthermore, they are making overtures to Khartoum which are, at best, naïve.
“As recently as June 18, the Post reported that Special Envoy Scott Gration ‘has advocated easing some American sanctions and upgrading U.S. diplomatic relations with Sudan’s government to induce cooperation.’
“And more recently on the Iranian elections, while the president’s tone has toughened a bit in the face of increased pressure and bloodshed, his initial response was painfully muted.
“Asked about whether there was ‘any red line’ his administration wouldn’t cross where the ‘offer [to talk to Iran’s leaders] will be shut off,’ the president simply replied, ‘We’re waiting to see how it plays itself out.’
“A July 6 National Review Online posting on the plight of seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders set to go on trial later this week, pointed out that a ‘restrained approach’ to human rights advocacy ‘may not work for the seven imprisoned Baha’i in Iran, who face trial on July 11. The Iranian regime needs to understand that such blatant religious persecution has consequences. Silence may convince the Iranian leadership that they can get away with murder.’ The Baha’is are not the only minority faith in the region under duress.
“In the president’s much anticipated Cairo speech, he only made fleeting reference to Egypt’s Coptic Christians, saying that ‘religious diversity must be upheld.’ But far more than diversity is at stake.
“A June 26 press release by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom following recent reported attacks on Egyptian Copts describes the pattern of persecution endured by this community. The commission indicated that ‘initial reports say that state security services did little to prevent the violence from occurring. This repeats the established pattern that security services do not adequately protect Christian citizens in many localities. For all Christians in Egypt, government permission is required to build a new church or repair an existing one, and the approval process for church construction is time-consuming and inflexible. Even some permits that have been approved cannot be acted upon because of interference by the state security services at both the local and national levels.’
“A May 7 Washington Post editorial described the Obama administration as rushing to ‘embrace Egypt’s 81-year-old strongman,’ in reference to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The editorial went on to say that the administration is retreating from raising human rights abuses and that ‘the pullback is not only rhetorical.’
“Funding for democracy promotion in Egypt, reportedly at the request of the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, was initially cut from $50 million to $20 million this year. That number has since been bumped by $5 million as the funding bill has moved through the committee process – but even with that increase, the funding amounts to half of the previous year’s figure. Given that millions of dollars in unconditioned foreign aid has gone to the Egyptian government in the years following the Camp David accords, this slash in civil society funding is an embarrassment.
“One of the darkest places on the globe is North Korea. More than 200,000 North Koreans – including children – are being held in political prison camps. It is estimated that between 400,000 and one million people have died in these camps, having been worked to death or starved to death.
“A June 16 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal featured a quote from a North Korean refugee woman who said, ‘If I had a chance to meet with President Obama, I would first like to tell him how North Korean women are being sold like livestock in China and, second, to know that North Korean labor camps are hell on earth.’
“Even in the face of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions it is inexcusable for their abhorrent human rights record to not just be relegated to the back burner, but seemingly removed from the agenda altogether. Unlike past administrations, this administration had nothing to say, no public statement, acknowledging North Korea Human Rights Week this April, and Secretary Clinton, who was in town, could not find time in her schedule to meet with any of the 30 brave North Korean defectors in the nation’s capital to mark the occasion.
“Or consider Vietnam. In its 2009 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found that, ‘Individuals continue to be imprisoned or detained for reasons related to their religious activity or religious freedom advocacy; police and government officials are not held fully accountable for abuses; independent religious activity remains illegal; and legal protections for government-approved religious organizations are both vague and subject to arbitrary or discriminatory interpretations based on political factors.’
“The commission recommended that Vietnam be placed back on the State Department’s Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list, a list reserved for the world’s worst offenders of religious freedom. But a June 25 Washington Times article reported that ‘U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Michael W. Michalak recently rejected calls by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to put Vietnam back on the CPC watch list. He cited that there was not enough evidence of religious persecution.’
“This is the same ambassador who recently gave a 4th of July speech in which he cited the timeless words of our own Declaration of Independence, but then had nothing to say about the oppression and lack of freedom in Vietnam.
“It is worth noting that Ambassador Michalak is a career foreign service officer who has been in his current position since the last years of the Bush administration. He is well acquainted with my concerns regarding his apparent disregard for human rights in Vietnam and his failure to make the U.S. embassy an island of freedom.
“I was quick to criticize the Bush administration when it seemed that they were missing opportunities to be a voice for the voiceless. Too often in the previous administration the public rhetoric failed to match action. But in this new, young administration, even the rhetoric is absent.
“Reports of the president’s trip to Russia quote a top National Security Council adviser as saying the Obama administration ‘came to the conclusion that us waving our fingers around the world is a strategy that hasn’t worked very well in the past.’ This same adviser later conceded to Politico that human rights were never raised in Obama’s meeting with Russian President Putin.
“It seems this administration could learn a lesson from history… from another Russian in fact.
“The year was 1975. Famed Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was set to visit Washington. The city’s foreign policy establishment, among them Henry Kissinger, sought to obstruct him at every turn. He was refused a meeting with President Ford, who declined to meet with him fearing it would sour an upcoming meeting with Soviet leader Brezhnev. When Solzhenitsyn delivered a major speech at the AFL-CIO, State Department employees were forbidden from attending.
“Ronald Reagan, former governor of California, was angered at the snub and wrote a column which appeared in papers across the country exposing the White House’s motives for refusing an audience with this renowned dissident, author of Gulag Archipelago. Reagan wrote, ‘the real reason for the snub surfaced: a visit with Solzhenitsyn would violate the ‘spirit of détente.’
“Fast forward eight years. Now president, Mr. Reagan delivers an electrifying speech where he refers to the Soviet Union as the ‘evil empire.’
“Another Soviet dissident, Natan Sharansky, wrote in his book of how word of that speech penetrated the gulag. ‘Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan’s ‘provocation’ quickly spread through the prison. The dissidents were ecstatic. Finally the leader of the free world had spoken the truth – a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us.’
“Nearly 30 years later, much has changed, but much remains the same. Speaking truth to power will always place America on the right side of history. Speaking out for those who have no voice will always be a source of hope for people in the darkest corners of the globe.
“This president and this secretary of State need to remember that the surest way to accomplish their stated goal of bolstering America’s standing in the world is to find common cause not with oppressors, but with those they repress.”