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Congress Flexes its Human Rights Day Mojo

By Adotei Akwei and Essowe Telou

As 2017 draws to a close it will be hard for human rights defenders not to feel like they have been through a chain saw. Added to the seemingly intractable crises in Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and the Central African Republic were new convulsions that included Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, a deeper appreciation of the continued threat of Boko Haram in West Africa’s Sahel region and the steady implosion of Venezuela. These international crises were mirrored by a devastating dismantling of the US refugee resettlement program, the march towards construction of the Trumpian wall… One could go on but you get the picture. So, instances of leadership in support of human rights have become especially welcome especially when the leadership comes from Congress.

On Thursday Senators Thom Tillis and Chris Coons , the two co-chairs of the bi-partisan Senate Human Caucus, have introduced a resolution, S. Res. 350, recognizing the 69th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in honor of ‘‘Human Rights Day’’ which occurred on December 10th. A companion resolution H. Res. 653 was introduced in the House by Representative Alan Lowenthal. Congress should pass both resolutions and work to have the United States be the force for human rights that the world needs it to be.

The resolutions both remind the United States of its role in promoting freedom, democracy and human rights across the globe, and the role played by Congress and it calls on the United States to recommit itself to that ongoing effort.

At a time when the most vulnerable are facing unprecedented levels of persecution, intimidation and violence against human rights defender is on the rise and the number of displaced persons has soared to the highest since the Second World War, celebrating a global commitment to the common good, and calling for their fellow citizens to continue efforts to ensure that all enjoy their rights to live in dignity and free of fear is welcome and timely.

But Congress can and must do more. This Human Rights Day we urge individual members to consider taking one or all of the following actions:

Oppose the Myanmar military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya by passing bipartisan legislation to aid the Rohingya and to press the Myanmar military to halt the atrocities. Specifically, Congress should pass the BURMA Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017 (S. 2060), the Burma Act of 2017 (H.R. 4223) and H. Con. Res. 90.

Increase humanitarian aid for refugees and displaced peoples worldwide, with particular attention to the Rohingya and impacted populations from Syria, South Sudan, Yemen and the Lake Chad basin of West Africa,

Support individual human rights defenders who are facing sweeping restrictions on their work and increasingly deadly attacks by publicly championing a defender.

All too often we forget that the simplest actions can have a powerful impact even in the face of what appear to be insurmountable challenges. What better way could there be to celebrate international Human Rights Day than by being the human rights change we want to see.

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