WASHINGTON—Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, leaders of the U.S. Helsinki Commission said Wednesday the U.S. must lead the fight against modern tools of repression and consistently raise human rights concerns. (Video and photos available. Text of speeches available here.)
Standing in front of the largest piece of the Berlin Wall outside Germany, U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD)
, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings
(D-FL) and Ranking Minority Member Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS)
spoke to a crowd of human rights leaders, foreign diplomats, including the ambassadors of Germany and Romania.
“Walls that divide or imprison are not always made of bricks and mortar. The United States must renew its commitment to human rights – not as a personal belief of any political leader or simply an Administration policy, but as a moral obligation of our country to uphold international law and universal principles of freedom and liberty,” Chairman Cardin said. “We must strengthen international institutions through more active U.S. engagement, but -- whether we are talking about money or militaries, energy or the environment -- the central issue of human rights must never be off the table.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD)
, who chaired the Helsinki Commission in 1989 reflected on its work during the Cold War, when its work helped thousands of people escape Soviet communism and led delegations that were among the first to give human rights advocates a voice in their own countries.
Speaking alongside German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth, Commission leaders praised how far nations have come since 1989 and identified walls that still stand as barriers to religious, press, and political freedom.
“Historic progress has been made worldwide, but we are not done. For our country to advance freedom around the globe, we know we must advance it here,” Co-Chairman Hastings said. “I’m disappointed that the administration has still not yet nominated an ambassador to one of the preeminent human rights organizations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. For a president who so strongly supports international engagement and reinvigorating multilateral institutions, I expected better. I know it is early and the agenda is long, but I hope we will have an ambassador nominated by year’s end.”
“As we celebrate twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we must rededicate ourselves to tearing down the walls of the 21st Century,” said Senator Brownback. “One thing is clear: while physical brutality will always be a tool of oppressors, the tyranny of today and tomorrow will be measured by the extent to which tyrants censor and suppress access to electronic information. As the next generation inherits a globally and instantly connected planet, the struggle for liberty will be waged over fiber optics as much or more than through firepower.”
Majority Leader Hoyer added: “Those who were forced to set up this Wall had promised so much—equality, plenty, brotherhood. But they delivered only what Orwell called the prospect of ‘a boot stamping on a human face, forever.’ They called themselves revolutionaries, but they acted out one of the oldest human urges: the urge to dominate our fellow humans. In this Wall, we saw a system that could entrap, but not entice. When it stood, this Wall stood for the division of Europe; but in the battle of ideas, it was also the gray flag of surrender."