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Jimmy Carter Still Shine Light On Human Rights….And Places Like Darfur

December 2, 2008

As a high school freshman in 1976 I recall being drawn to the argument made by the new American President, Jimmy Carter, that human rights had to be a central feature to our foreign policy.  Now some 30 years later I am still a staunch believer in that point of view.  If anything, recent history has proved the correctness of the ‘Carter Doctrine.’

The American people and our courts have rejected the proposition that some people’s rights can be suspended arbitrarily; to do so violates the very core of our democracy. Hopefully, those working to establish democratic practices and institutions worldwide will seize upon this development and convince their own fellow citizens that democracy and human rights are worth the struggle.

The international community, including a newly energized United States, should move swiftly and decisively to support the local heroes who risk much to advance this cause.

Human rights defenders from throughout the world are participating in our annual conference at The Carter Center this week to share the challenges they face, and to decide how the international community can best support their efforts.

For years, these activists have told us that when the United States engaged in torture and indefinite detention, their decades of struggle for rights began to erode. Dictators who had felt pressure from the United States to improve rights were suddenly off the hook. With new leadership in Washington, a clear and principled message on the centrality of human rights can help set a new tone.

Too often, the international community has failed to respond to emerging crises, partly because voices of the oppressed are missing in policy discussions. Had the international community heeded the warning of human rights defenders in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, more robust and coordinated diplomacy and even limited intervention may have averted these crises.

Catastrophic conditions exist in Congo, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Myanmar, Afghanistan and elsewhere and will require unprecedented cooperation to resolve. It is time to embrace the idea that when human beings are systematically abused, international peace and security are inherently threatened.

In such situations, the global community should spare no effort to help societies in distress. Crises like these can be assuaged before they escalate if there is determined global leadership and cooperation.

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