Int’l Human Rights Day Weds. Dec 10Smith cites rights violations in China, Vietnam, Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, other nations; Honors retiring human rights leader Rep. Wolf
Promoting and protecting human rights should be a central part of U.S. foreign policy around the world, including in dealings with rising powers such as China, developing nations like Sudan and Nigeria, and every other nation where human rights violations occur, said Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) today. The Chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees global human rights issues, Smith marked Wednesday, Dec. 10, as the anniversary of the founding of International Human Rights Day.
“China, which today continues to defiantly imprison Nobel Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo and over a thousand other documented political prisoners, remains among the world’s worst human rights abusers,” said Smith, co-chairman of the U.S. Commission on China and chair the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. "On International Human Rights Day we remember how far we have come and how far we still have to go to ensure that all individuals can enjoy the fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, press and association.
“We need to support true defenders of human rights and hold accountable the abusers. It is the abuser that jailed Liu Xiaobo, that attacked Malala and assassinated Shabazz Bhatti in Pakistan, that maintains gulags in North Korea, that spreads anti-Semitism and sectarian violence, and trafficks young woman into sexual slavery,” Smith said. “These are intolerable abuses that occur much too often. But I remain hopeful today because I have seen how the universal demand for freedom can break down the walls of tyranny. That is what we celebrate on International Human Rights Day because we believe that good will triumph over evil, that the desire for basic human rights will correct many of the world's wrongs, and that, despite the seemingly unassailable power of the abusers, that power is fleeting because of the millions of people working to promote human rights around the world.”
Smith chose Wednesday, Human Rights Day, to introduce the ‘‘Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Support Act of 2014’,” because religious freedom is so central to human rights, including our own First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. The legislation is named for one of the leading voices in the U.S. Congress, Congressman Frank Wolf (VA-10). Wolf, who is concluding his final term after 34 years in Congress, authored the landmark International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which established both an independent commission and a State Department office wholly dedicated to safeguarding—via sanctions if necessary—religious freedom.
“At home and overseas, Frank Wolf—the William Wilberforce of the United States House of Representatives—has been an indefatigable defender of human rights and human dignity,” Smith said on the House floor today. “Whether it be helping a young mother in a refugee camp in Sudan or political prisoners in Russia or jailed pastors in China or any number of the marginalized and persecuted, Frank Wolf has sought to protect and rescue.”
Regarding the many challenges to religious freedom, Smith said, “Today Christians and other religious minorities, such as Yezidis, Shabaks, and Turkmen Shiites are not just facing a long winter without homes,” Smith said. “They are not just hungry and thirsty and wandering from village to village in Northern Iraq and Kurdistan. They are facing annihilation—genocide—by fanatics who see anyone who does not subscribe to their draconian and violent interpretation of Islam as fair game for enslavement, forced conversion or death.”
Though there are so many human rights abuses throughout the world that one would be hard-pressed to address them all in a single day, Smith noted Vietnam’s documented use of forced labor and horrendous record on human trafficking, and jailing prisoners of faith, such as Father Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest who has been jailed and tortured for his beliefs, stand out.
“The Vietnamese government’s violations of religious freedom against Buddhists and Christians are severe and ongoing,” said Smith, author the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2013, H.R. 1897, which was approved by House of Representatives in 2013 but has not been taken up by the Senate. “The restrictions and jailing of labor and democracy advocates, discrimination against ethnic Montagnards and the pervasive censorship of the Internet are far too harsh for Vietnam to be given trade benefits or security assistance it wants from the U.S. As Vietnam seeks entry to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its generous trade benefits, the U.S. should be conditioning any new economic and security assistance on real advances in freedom and human rights.”
Smith has also pressed the Nigerian government to fight for the hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped earlier this year by the notorious terrorist group Boko Haram. The congressman visited the country and held congressional hearings on the Nigerian crisis. He led the fight to have the U.S. State Department declare Boko Haram a terrorist organization in 2013.
“I met in Abuja with one of the Chibok girls who escaped early on in the ordeal,” Smith said. “This brave young woman has suffered much—was clearly traumatized and in emotional pain. You could hear it in her voice, see it in her eyes—as she sat motionless recounting her story. Yet she spoke of her concern not for herself, but her friends and classmates who remain in captivity. I met with a Muslim father of two girls abducted from the Chibok school. Fighting back tears, he said the agony was unbearable. The story of his daughters underscored the fact that Boko Haram brutalizes Muslims as well.”
Smith has also pushed for the return of U.S. children abducted or unlawfully held in other countries—an act which he describes as a blatant human rights violation— including Brazil, Japan, Tunisia, India and other countries by non-custodial parents. His parental child abduction bill, The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, H.R. 3212, was signed into law in August.
Human Rights Day was first proclaimed in 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly.