Wednesday, February 13, 2008

VOTE 60 : Norm Coleman Rejects Role of Dissident

While the House mourns the death of a Human Rights advocate, Norm Coleman is leading the opposition against dissenting at a human rights conference.

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The freedom of speech and the right of the people peaceably to assemble form the bedrock of the American democratic spirit.

Politicians need to embrace these rights even if they are the target of dissidents.

Recently, Barak Obama was confronted by abortion protesters at a campaign rally. While Obama’s supporters wanted to out-shout the protesters, Obama defended Free Speech stating "Let me just say this though. Some people got organized to do that. That's part of the American tradition we are proud of. And that’s hard too, standing in the midst of people who disagree with you and letting your voice be heard."

Barak Obama sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and through CSPAN, citizens have been able to see Committee sessions. Long before Obama had announced his candicacy for President, viewers saw an intelligent, thoughful Senator in action. At the other side of the Committee, viewers also saw Norm Coleman in action … most memorable was Senator Barbara Boxer schooling Coleman in the US Constitution during the John Bolton confirmation hearings during which Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said "I have come to the determination that the United States can do better than John Bolton" for the United Nations.

Coleman's battles with the United Nations have been well documented and he is at it again.
Now, Coleman is leading a group of Senators (not one Democrat in group) to demand that America not participate in the Durban II Conference - UN World Conference on Racism in 2009. Many of the specifics involved in plans for Durban II remain vague, but the Conference participants include Libya, Iran, Pakistan, Cuba, and Russia.

Now the participants’ agenda at the Conference may not yield the results that America wants. Yes, there could be complaints of human rights abuses on Cuban soil … but those complaints could concern Guantanamo Bay. After all the first Durban Conference resulted in Secretary of State Colin Powell stating “You do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of ‘Zionism equals racism;’ or supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country in the world — Israel — for censure and abuse.”

That’s the point. Obama’s words are apropos – “standing in the midst of people who disagree with you and letting your voice be heard."

By not being a disadent at the conference, hateful talk will be unchecked.

But then again, Coleman has been idle when presented with other opportunities. For example, the Republicans have shown no leadership in approving the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW is a UN Resolution `to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women; to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises'.
To date, over 180 countries have ratified the agreement.
The United States is the only industrialized country that has not ratified CEDAW. By not ratifying, the US is in the company of countries like Iran, Sudan, and Somalia. Senator Klobuchar has indicated her support for passage, but she is not on the Foreign Relations committee which has jurisdiction. Senator Coleman has not responded to my request for action.

It is with sadness, that Coleman leads the Durban II protest while the House mourns the death of Congressman Tom Lantos who was the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee.
Lantos was a strong supporter of Israel and is the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress. As chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, he advocated on behalf of human rights, championing pro-freedom activists in China, Burma, and elsewhere. In 1993, he bitterly complained to the State Department for failure to be a dissident as China sold missiles to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Lantos was one of the key lawmakers who helped establish a dialogue with Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, when it became apparent that Gaddafi was preparing to switch sides in the war on terror and support the United States. Lantos had visited Syria and encouraged Speaker Pelosi to visit there also. Lantos wanted to visit Iran. "We talked to the Soviet Union for over half a century, and there is no doubt in my mind that the tremendous amount of interchange had something to do with the collapse of the system."

Lantos was not limited to talking about human rights abuses, in August of 2006, he and five other members of Congress participated in a protest that lead to their arrest. "We have been calling on the civilized world to stand up and to say, 'Enough,' " Lantos said. "The slaughter of the people of Darfur must end."

That’s the key Norm … talking with your adversaries … convincing them to change their ways … not rejecting an opportunity to present an alternative view.
Sanctions don’t work. Engagement works.
There is a role for a dissident.
We can respect a man who can “stand in the midst of people who disagree with you and let your voice be heard."

Senator Coleman could have learned a lot from Congressman Lantos.

NOTE : VOTE 60 in the title of this commentary refers to my effort to promote the importance of the US Senate races in 2008. VOTE 60 will be the headline of future Senate-related commentaries.

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