Human Rights

For over sixty years, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has called for the respect of the basic rights of all people, throughout the world. The United States must be a leader in upholding these fundamental human rights, both at home and abroad.

Too many people around the world still live under the specter of violence and repression. Civil society, labor leaders, and other activists are easy targets for oppressive governments seeking to stifle dissent. In too many countries, women and girls are particular targets for violence and are denied the right to seek education and economic independence; many women are even denied the right to control their own bodies.

I feel strongly that promotion and protection of fundamental human rights – as well as the punishment of serious violations and abuses – should be a United States foreign policy priority. When dealing both with friends and foes, the U.S. government must emphasize the importance of human rights concerns.

I am a member of the Executive Committee of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan Congressional panel created to highlight the importance of human rights within the Congress. I work with the two co-chairs to hold hearings and briefings on a wide range of human rights topics. You can see a list of the Commission's recent hearings here.

I am working to promote human rights in a number of countries that I have visited, including:

Colombia. Colombia has a long history of serious human rights violations and serious abuses against members of indigenous groups and human rights defenders. Colombia remains the deadliest country in the world to be a trade union member. Although the Labor Action Plan, agreed upon by U.S. and Colombian governments but not legally binding, commits the Bogota regime to take several steps to punish human rights violations, serious abuses against labor leaders and trade unionists continue. For those reasons, I opposed the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The U.S. should not reward a country where labor laws are not enforced and violence against workers is tolerated.

Honduras. At the invitation of prominent human rights defender Berta Oliva, I traveled to Honduras after the June coup in 2009 to document human rights abuses committed by the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti. I have continued to raise serious concerns about the widespread abuses that plague the country, where human rights defenders, journalists, community leaders and opposition activists are subject to death threats, attacks and extrajudicial executions.

Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), women are subject to the systematic use of rape as a low-tech, low-cost weapon of warfare that destroys communities. Hundreds of thousands of women -- in some villages, as many as 90% of the women -- have been raped. Patrick Cammaert, who served as UN force commander in the DRC, has said that it is "more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier." I traveled to DRC with U.S. Ambassador on Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer, UN Special Envoy Margot Wallström, and Congolese Ambassador to the U.S. Faida Mitifu for the opening of City of Joy – a center built by Eve Ensler's V-Day movement in partnership with UNICEF and DRC's Panzi Foundation to help women rebuild their lives and become leaders.

Haiti. Haiti is the poorest nation in our hemisphere, and I believe that the United States has an obligation to help the Haitian people build a prosperous and stable nation. It is unacceptable that so many Haitians lack access to clean drinking water, sanitation supplies, and medical care.  I have traveled to Haiti several times, including in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, and I am continually inspired by the hope and courage of the Haitian people.  I have supported the Obama Administration's decision to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to qualifying Haitian immigrants. Immigrants granted TPS are able to work in the United States and support themselves as well as contribute to our economy. While I strongly support emergency humanitarian aid when it is needed, we need to do more to promote long-term development and infrastructure growth. I have worked closely with Dr. Paul Farmer and Partners in Health to promote the development of a health care system capable of providing care for the Haitian people, and with Haitian organizations on reforestation initiatives. I have also supported legislation promoting accountability and oversight for U.S. assistance, to ensure that it is reaching the people who need it the most.

Legislation I've Introduced

International Violence Against Women Act – I have introduced the International Violence Against Women Act (IWAVA), a bill to create a comprehensive, 5-year strategy to combat violence against women and girls abroad. This bill would give the U.S. State Department new tools ranging from health programs and survivor services to legal reforms in order to promote economic opportunities and education for women. IVAWA would also increase humanitarian funding and update mechanisms for responding to emergency outbreaks of violence against women and girls.

Resources 

Human Rights Watch

Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission

Human Rights First

Institute for Inclusive Security

Futures Without Violence

Women Thrive

Refugees International

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