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Congressman Smith Says United States Must 'Stand With the Oppressed'

The Role of Congress in U.S. Human Rights Policy and Beyond

Speaker: Christopher Smith, (R-NJ) Chairman, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives
Presider: Michael D. Mosettig, Writer, PBS Online NewsHour
June 17, 2014

Event Description

Representative Christopher Smith joins Michael Mosettig of PBS to discuss the challenges of human rights policymaking and the importance of speaking out on behalf of the victims of abuse. Smith laments the power of lobbying interests to kill human rights-related bills in Congress and warns that economic interests frequently take precedence over rights concerns in U.S. foreign policy. Though critical of certain aspects of its implementation, Smith points to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as an example of effective legislation that has successfully prodded foreign governments to take steps to prevent human trafficking.

Event Highlights

Christopher Smith on how U.S. commercial interests often trump human rights concerns:

"Several years ago, I brought an action, which went nowhere, to look at the unfair trading practice of paying people $0.10 to $0.50 an hour, no labor rights whatsoever in China. If you try to form a labor union, you have a one-way ticket to the gulag, and you will be beaten and tortured as a result of trying to form a labor union. And yet many American companies are working side-by-side, Chinese companies, to manufacture feeder products, and then they get assembled there in many cases. And the source—the origination of those products is beyond suspect. They were being made under slave-like conditions. And, unfortunately, there is a look askance on the part of too many in government when it comes to that."

Christopher Smith on the ease with which lobbyists can defeat human rights legislation in Congress:

"Right now, the Podesta Group is trying to ensure that the Senate does not take up the Vietnam Human Rights Act. They're a very effective lobby group, and they probably will succeed. It only takes one hold in the Senate to tie up a bill. So that's a problem. What these countries do so effectively, particularly even Haiti—I remember Haiti had a very high-ranking—went on to be commerce secretary. They are very effective in working the Hill, key staff on the Hill and key members, to ensure that human rights legislation doesn't see the light of day. And it's happened so many times I've lost track. And Vietnam is just the most recent example."

Christopher Smith on the importance of U.S. officials publicly speaking out on the subject of human rights:

"We need to stand with the oppressed, and not the oppressor. And I think a lot of people mistakenly think that if we just talked to the government nice, somehow something good will come out of it. They look at that, and they say, you know, these people aren't serious and we can put one over on them. And too many people—I argue to my colleagues that when you travel, read the human rights report from the State Department before you hop in that plane and bring up those issues, whether it be child abduction, human trafficking. You know, the list is long."


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