A human rights agenda for the Trump administration and the 115th Congress
BY FORMER REPS. FRANK WOLF (R-VA.), TONY HALL (D-OHIO), OPINION CONTRIBUTORS –
02/24/17 12:55 PM EST
President Reagan once said the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are a covenant, not only with the people of Philadelphia in 1776 and 1787, but with the people of the world. This covenant extends not only to those who live in free and democratic countries, but also the people who suffer under challenging conditions in countries like Pakistan, China, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan and North Korea. It binds the ideals and principles on which we have stood for nearly 250 years to the plight of people yearning for freedom everywhere. Extend this thought and we find that America, by virtue of both our founding and our current position of global influence, has a duty to speak up for freedom, an obligation to help those who cannot help themselves.
As we begin a new administration and a new Congress, Americans should remember our commitment to the peoples of the world and our extraordinary ability to practice those ideals. We have an opportunity now to reinvigorate our commitment to human rights and religious freedom after years where we failed to provide the necessary leadership to address these issues. Here are a few examples needing the attention of the administration and Congress:
In China, Catholic Bishops are under house arrest and house church leaders are in prison. One hundred thirty Buddhist monks have set themselves on fire to protest oppression by their government. That government is detaining and torturing human rights lawyers, booksellers and democracy activists, while blocking access to the Internet and press.
In Pakistan, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, is languishing in jail under a death sentence for blasphemy. Our friend, Shabbaz Bhatti, the lone Christian in the Pakistani Cabinet, was gunned down while leaving his mother’s house for highlighting assaults on religious freedom, sending a clear message to activists and minorities.
In Iraq, the plight of Assyrian Christians, Yazidis, and religious minorities, thousands of whom were forcibly displaced during ISIS’ murderous march across Iraq, goes largely unreported. The Christian community in the Nineveh Plain has fallen from 1.5 million in 2003 to fewer than 250,000 today, with 17 families fleeing daily. This is both significant and heartbreaking as more Biblical activity took place in Iraq than any country outside Israel. Every Christian we met in Iraq expressed a sense of abandonment by the West.
In Syria, it would be more dangerous to take the road Paul took to Damascus today than in his time. The brutality of Bashar al-Assad’s regime has left over 250,000 people dead and displaced millions. The genocide that is occurring there is horrendous, yet the international community has sat on its hands and watched as none other than Russia and its dictator Vladimir Putin take up the mantle of defenders of the oppressed. The resulting sense of irony is as revolting as it is true.
In Sudan, Dictator-President Omar al-Bashir, the only sitting head-of-state to ever be indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, continues his campaign of genocide on the civilians of the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile State and Darfur. In addition, Bashir enjoys contributing to instability in South Sudan. Yet, despite his ordering the slaughter of millions, he travels freely throughout the continent. Recent lifting of U.S. sanctions on Sudan was nonsensical. Since sanctions were lifted last month, Bashir continues genocide against black African ethnic groups, and declared the demolition of 25 churches in Khartoum. Bashir tells citizens that he strong-armed the U.S. into easing sanctions and normalizing relations. We are being taken for fools. America should communicate the truth to the Sudanese people and support democratic, secular opposition.
In Iran, people of the Bahai’i faith are persecuted. The murderous theocratic regime celebrates newfound relief from international sanctions while being allowed to continue oppressing its citizens.
In Egypt, Coptic Christians are not just persecuted but many have recently been murdered by what appear to be professional assassins.
The list goes on.
We urge President Trump, his administration, and Congress to recommit to addressing these urgent issues. We urge them to serve notice to dictators the world over that actions of oppression are not committed in secret and that the United States sees them and will not stand idly by as innocent people suffer under their brutality.
America is great when she defends the oppressed and protects those who cannot protect themselves. The time has come to fulfill the obligations of our centuries-old agreement with the peoples of the world. To us, this is the way to truly make America great again.
Frank R. Wolf served in Congress, representing Virginia’s 10th District from 1981-2015. Tony P. Hall served as US Ambassador to the UN Food Agencies in Rome from 2002-2006 and in Congress from 1979-2002 representing Ohio’s 3rd District.