Not Optional: Human Rights

( [email protected] ) Nov 08, 2009 12:06 PM EST

Many were shocked last February when Secretary of State Clinton said that pressing China about its human rights abuses “can’t interfere” with more important things-like “the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.”

Even the Washington Post was shocked; its editors said Clinton’s comments were “misguided.” But now it seems that Clinton was only stating what was to be official Obama administration policy.

We saw this same attitude last month when Barack Obama declined to meet with the Dali Lama. The snub was an apparent effort to curry favor with Chinese leaders-leaders who deny religious liberty and human rights, not only to their own citizens, but also to Tibetans.

Obama’s refusal to meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader reminded me of when President Ford wrongly refused to meet with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the heroic Russian dissident.

Obama and his aides have also reportedly refused to meet with a representative of Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.

And now we learn that the President has been quietly cutting off aid to groups that monitor human rights abuses and fight on behalf of human freedom-especially in Iran.

In the Wall Street Journal, David Feith and Bar Weiss write that the administration has eliminated millions of dollars in funding for the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, Freedom House, and the State Department’s Iran Democracy Fund.

These actions go against everything America stands for. Our worldview is largely informed by our Christian heritage-one that puts human dignity first. Has this administration forgotten that human rights have always been America’s greatest export?

We believe that all humans are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, as our Declaration of Independence says. We can’t just write off these rights for the sake of climate change or the economy; they’re central to who we are.

I knew this before I became a Christian. In 1973 President Nixon sent me to Moscow to negotiate for the release of Soviet Jews. I told Vasily Kuznetsov, the hard-line Soviet negotiator, that if the Soviets did not loosen their restrictions, Congress would not pass the trade treaty, which the Soviets desperately needed. Release the Jews, I said-or kiss American grain goodbye.

Kuznetsov pounded the table and shouted, “You have no right to interfere in our internal affairs!”

“These aren’t your internal affairs,” I replied. “Human rights are not conferred by government; they cannot be denied by government. They are God-given. We call them ‘inalienable.’”

Kuznetsov finally agreed to release the Jews-and America shipped its grain.

I can’t take credit for that; it was the U.S. Congress and the American people who freed those captives. And it will take the same pressure from Congress and the American people to free captives in China, Iran, North Korea, and anywhere else people are denied their God-given rights.

I hope you’ll contact the White House, Hillary Clinton, and your representatives with a strong message-one loud enough to be heard by people languishing in prisons around the world: The principles that guided us throughout our history are not for sale.


From BreakPoint, November 6, 2009, Copyright 2009, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. “BreakPoint®” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries®” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship