Archive for February, 2019

Investigation and Legislation

Capitol Hill ImageLike many, we were struck by the false alternative given in President Trump’s “State of the Union” address between legislation and investigation.  Surely the Congress has the constitutional responsibility to do both, and surely both are needed in our system of government.

But on human rights, we offer this spin:  Congress should investigate the Administration’s arm’s-length stance from our country’s traditional embrace of human rights and the rule of law as core elements of our foreign policy.  That investigation may inform the need for new human rights legislation to follow.

Last week, the Council wrote to the President with our concerns about Russia’s failure to investigate and hold accountable Chechen leaders responsible for the unlawful round-ups, detentions, and murders of LGBT Chechen citizens.  (Read our letter here.)  These reprehensible actions – occurring as they did barely a week after a report by a human rights expert, commissioned by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), into responsibility for this latest round of anti-LGBT repression – are hardly an accident.  Nor is Russia’s cold-shouldered response to this tragedy.

But we are concerned at how little the Administration appears to have done in response to this recurrent tragedy.  the brutality being carried out in Chechnya deserves more than a tepid, three-day-late statement by a Deputy Spokesperson at the State Department, distributed in writing in the Department’s briefing room.  It needs to be raised – with outrage, by the way – in bilateral dialogue between our senior-most leaders.  It deserves a concerted interagency response, one that evidences how a lack of accountability may imperil bilateral science, exchange, and business relations that Russia reputedly wants to preserve.  And it requires, too, a strong and clear public response by the President.

Congressional hearings, in both houses, should examine this matter.  They should examine, too, other questions that have been raised regarding our government’s attachment to human rights.  What are we doing in response to the gruesome murder in Turkey of a U.S.-based journalist – a crime that our country’s own intelligence community lays at the door of Saudi Arabia?  Why has the President embraced so many dictators – Putin, el-Sisi, Erdogan, Duterte – who are violating human rights in their own countries, with impunity?  What practical impact do our annual human rights reports have on U.S. bilateral policies and programs?  And which of these tools and programs can be put in play to encourage reform?

Americans are taught in school the value of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Political leaders – including in the White House – regularly affirm these values.  We have every right to know why this Administration has done so little in that vein.

So let’s have that investigation.  Let’s have hearings in each house of Congress, and invite the White House to offer its best evidence that human rights remain at the core of our foreign policy.  We’re not seeing it.  It’s time to ask why.

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