Although the Bush administration infringed on human rights for the past eight years, hope is on the way in the form of President-elect Barack Obama, human rights expert Michael Posner said Tuesday.
In a speech at the Law School, Posner argued that rather than preventing human rights abuses throughout the world, the United States has in recent years been contributing its own abuses to the list. In front of an audience of about 20, Posner expressed confidence that Obama would work to correct these abuses and re-establish the United States as an active advocate for human rights.
“There are a range of countries in the world where there is a desperate call for U.S. leadership in human rights,” said Posner, the president of Human Rights First, a nonprofit human rights advocacy organization.
The next administration must first rectify current human rights issues that have resulted from the government’s refusal to follow the rule of law, Posner said.
At Guantanamo Bay, for instance, torture should not be tolerated, he said, and prisoners should not be detained indefinitely.
Obama has already said that he will close the facility at Guantanamo Bay.
Posner emphasized Obama’s opportunity to re-establish the United States as a human rights leader. In Iraq, for example, Posner said that America needs to pay close attention to the needs of refugees as it transitions out of the country. He argued that America should make an effort to absorb Iraqi immigrants,
He also referenced the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, as an example of failed American leadership. Posner called for the government to push South Africans to come up with more solutions and emphasize more collective global action in the area.
Taking stands on human rights issues around the world will help re-establish global confidence in America, he added.
“There are simply places in which the world is watching for what we are going to do,” Posner said.
But he added that he does not underestimate the amount of energy that tackling these issues will take.
“The devil is in the details,” Posner said. “It’s a lot harder to undo a mess [than to create it].”
Suneela Jain LAW ’10 said Posner’s message that human rights challenges can be solved by strong leadership was reassuring in the face of the economic downturn.
James Silk LAW ’89, a Yale law professor and executive director of the Schell Center for International Human Rights, said he feels the United States has lost sight of a larger set of human rights issues since the attacks on Sept. 11. He added that while Posner did not bring up any new points about human rights, he framed the discussion in terms of a clear-cut order of issues upon which the Obama administration can act.
Silk said he also liked Posner’s emphasis on the fact that certain rights are universally agreed upon, such as a person’s right to not starve.
“These are deeply held American commitments,” said Silk. “People care about eating.”