December 11, 2017 at 11:46 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
McCain and Cardin: Trump ‘largely silent’ on human rights abroad

U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) have said President Trump has not done enough to promote human rights abroad. (Photo public domain)

U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) on Friday said the U.S. has been “largely silent” on human rights abroad since President Trump took office.

“For much of the past year, our national voice on international human rights issues has been largely silent,” said McCain and Cardin in a letter they sent to Trump.

McCain and Cardin said this silence “was strikingly apparent during” his trip to Asia last month “where our delegation failed to raise major human rights concerns or name dissidents who languish in dark prisons across the region for no other reason than their brave defense of democracy and human rights.”

“The administration’s silence combined with confusing statements from Secretary (of State Rex) Tillerson, who has suggested that our country’s fundamental values can be separated from the foreign policies we pursue, sows confusion both at home and abroad,” wrote McCain and Cardin. “At this time of increasing uncertainty and growing security challenges, it is imperative that we reassert the United States’ commitment to our human rights obligations, and ask other countries to join us in reaffirming the centrality of human rights as the cornerstone of peace and security.”

The letter, among other things, notes LGBTI people “are deprived of their basic human rights in dozens of countries.” McCain and Cardin also highlight “countless repressive governments around the world” are shutting down organizations that promote human rights.

“Protecting human rights at home and abroad is important not only to our national character, but also to our security interests as countries that respect their citizens are less likely to breed terrorism and are better able to focus on political and developmental problems that otherwise undermine stability,” they wrote. “Governments who respect human rights also serve as more capable and reliable partners when facing common security threats, and they help provide business climates in which bilateral trade and investment interests grow.”

‘We need your voice’

McCain and Cardin wrote their letter on the eve of International Human Rights Day, which commemorates the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948.

Activists from Egypt and other countries around the world attended OutRight Action International’s annual conference in New York that coincides with the International Human Rights Day. Tamara Adrián, a transgender woman who was elected to the Venezuelan National Assembly in 2015, gay Irish Sen. Jerry Buttimer and Guatemalan Congresswoman Sandra Morán are among the hundreds of people who attended the Victory Institute’s International LGBTQ Leaders Conference that took place in D.C. from Dec. 6-9.

From left; Venezuela National Assemblywoman Tamara Adrián, Peruvian Congressman Alberto de Belaunde, Guatemalan Congresswoman Sandra Morán and Brazilian Congressman Jean Wyllys take part in a panel at the Victory Institute’s International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 8, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Tillerson on Sunday in his International Human Rights Day statement said the U.S. renews “our commitment to our core democratic values and to advocating for the human rights, freedom and dignity of all people.” Tillerson did not specifically mention LGBTI rights in his statement, even though the U.S. has continued to promote them abroad since Trump took office.

“The United States urges all nations to respect their commitments enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and apply them equally to all,” said Tillerson. ” The world is safer when every person can live up to his or her full potential, and every nation is free from tyranny.”

Trump has yet to publicly acknowledge International Human Rights Day.

“As president, we need your voice in strongly asserting our country’s respect for human rights at home and abroad,” wrote McCain and Cardin in their letter. “We ask that you use the upcoming anniversary of the Universal Declaration to reaffirm that no government can be legitimate if it abuses the people it is meant to serve — and that this rule is universal, without exception.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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