Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission

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Current logo of the Commission

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (formerly known as the Congressional Human Rights Caucus) is a bipartisan caucus of the United States House of Representatives. Its stated mission is "to promote, defend and advocate internationally recognized human rights norms in a nonpartisan manner, both within and outside of Congress, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments."[1]

The Commission was originally founded as the Human Rights Caucus in 1983 by Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, and John Edward Porter, an Illinois Republican.[1] Lantos was Hungarian by birth and had the distinction of being the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in the Congress.[2]

Cases[edit]

Tom Lantos, co-founder of the original Congressional Human Rights Caucus

In 1987, the Caucus invited the 14th Dalai Lama to speak about the situation of Tibet. It was the first formal invitation to the Dalai Lama from a U.S. government organization.[3] Lantos later alleged that two Tibetan nationalists were executed by China in retaliation for this visit.[4]

On 31 October 2005, Lantos and the Caucus helped arrange for Shan Burmese activist Charm Tong to visit the White House to discuss the Burmese political situation with President George W. Bush, National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley, and other senior officials.[5][6] Charm Tong spoke with Bush about war rape and other women's rights issues in her home of Shan State. Following the meeting, Lantos predicted that Charm Tong's 50 minutes with Bush "would reverberate around the world".[5] The Irrawaddy wrote in December of that year that lobbyists were attributing Bush's subsequent "outspokenness on Burma" to "the Charm Tong Effect".[7][8]

In 2006, the Caucus held hearings on the alleged collaboration of Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Cisco with Internet censorship in the People's Republic of China.[9] Members of the Caucus asserted that the companies had agreed to block "politically sensitive terms" from their search engines.[9] The companies refused to attend the hearings.[9] A year later, Lantos excoriated CEO Jerry Yang for Yahoo's aiding the Chinese government in the arrest of dissident journalist Shi Tao, calling Yang and other executives "[moral] pygmies".[10]

"Nurse Nayirah" incident[edit]

See also: Nurse Nayirah

Lantos was a strong supporter of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. During the run-up to the war, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus hosted a young Kuwaiti woman identified only as "Nurse Nayirah", who told of horrific abuses by Iraqi soldiers, including the killing of Kuwaiti babies by taking them out of their incubators and leaving them to die on the cold floor of the hospital. Nayirah's testimony was widely publicized.[11] That night, portions of the testimony aired on ABC's Nightline and NBC Nightly News reaching an estimated audience between 35 and 53 million Americans.[12][13] Seven senators cited Nayirah's testimony in their speeches backing the use of force.[11] President George Bush repeated the story at least ten times in the following weeks,[11] and Lantos himself argued that Nayirah's account of the atrocities helped to stir American opinion in favor of participation in the Gulf War.[14]

The girl's account was later challenged by independent human rights monitors.[14] "Nurse Nayirah" later turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States.[14] Asked about his having allowed the girl to give testimony without identifying herself, and without her story having been corroborated, Lantos replied, "The notion that any of the witnesses brought to the caucus through the Kuwaiti Embassy would not be credible did not cross my mind... I have no basis for assuming that her story is not true, but the point goes beyond that. If one hypothesizes that the woman's story is fictitious from A to Z, that in no way diminishes the avalanche of human rights violations."[14]

Lantos and John R. MacArthur, the foremost critic of the Nayirah issue, each had op-eds in The New York Times, in which each accused the other of distortion.[15] MacArthur suggested that Lantos may have materially benefited from his having accommodated Nayirah.[16] Nayirah was later revealed to have connections to lobbying firm Hill & Knowlton in the employ of Kuwaiti activist group Citizens for a Free Kuwait, a lobbying firm which also rented space to the Human Rights Caucus at a "reduced rate".[16] The New York Times condemned Lantos's "lack of candor and lapse of judgment" in presenting her testimony without giving these facts as context, and called for a hearing by the House Ethics Committee.[16]

Renaming as "Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission"[edit]

James P. McGovern, current co-chair
Frank R. Wolf, current co-chair

Following Lantos's death from cancer in 2008,[17] House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initiated a bill to reform the caucus as the "Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission"; the bill passed unanimously.[1] Democrat James P. McGovern and Republican Frank R. Wolf currently co-chair the commission.[1] Topics on which the commission heard testimony in 2011 included sectarian violence in Iraq, women's rights in Afghanistan, water and sanitation issues, rights of indigenous African peoples, and the Bahraini uprising.[1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "About the Committee". Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Retrieved 21 May 2011. 
  2. ^ Louis Sandy Maisel et al. (2001). Jews in American Politics. Rowman & Littlefield. Retrieved May 21, 2011.  "The only Holocaust survivor to serve in the United States Congress, Tom Lantos was born February 1, 1928, in Budapest. Just 16 years old when the Nazis invaded Hungary, Lantos was active in the underground resistance before he was imprisoned in a Nazi labor camp in Hungary." p. 370.
  3. ^ "Dalai Lama briefs US House groups on China, human rights". savetibet.org. 23 October 2009. Retrieved May 21, 2011. 
  4. ^ Edward A. Gargan (October 1, 1987). "Chinese Report Protest By Lamas to Free Tibet". New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Warren Vieth (13 November 2005). "Personal Tales of Struggle Resonate With President". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 May 2011. 
  6. ^ Photograph of Charm Tong meeting George W. Bush
  7. ^ "The Faces of Burma 2005". The Irrawaddy. December 2005. Retrieved 2 May 2011. 
  8. ^ "US to Intensify Pressure on Burma". The Irrawaddy. January 2006. Retrieved 2 May 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c "Internet firms 'bowed to Beijing'". BBC News. February 2, 2006. Retrieved May 21, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Yahoo Criticized in Case of Jailed Dissident". New York Times. Associated Press. November 7, 2007. Retrieved 2009-04-19. 'While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies,' Tom Lantos, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said angrily after hearing from the two executives, Jerry Yang, the chief executive, and Michael J. Callahan, the general counsel. 
  11. ^ a b c Walton, Douglas (1995). "Appeal to pity: A case study of theargumentum ad misericordiam". Argumentation 9 (5): 769–784. doi:10.1007/BF00744757. ISSN 0920-427X. 
  12. ^ Sriramesh, Krishnamurthy (January 10, 2009). The global public relations handbook: theory, research, and practice. Taylor & Francis. pp. 864–865. ISBN 978-0-415-99513-9. 
  13. ^ Rowse, Ted (September 1992). "Kuwaitgate - killing of Kuwaiti babies by Iraqi soldiers exaggerated". The Washington Monthly. 
  14. ^ a b c d Krauss, Clifford (January 12, 1992). "Congressman Says Girl Was Credible". The New York Times. 
  15. ^ Kuwaiti Gave Consistent Account of Atrocities, The New York Times. January 27, 1992
  16. ^ a b c Deception on Capitol Hill, The New York Times. January 15, 1992
  17. ^ "– Rep. Tom Lantos of California dies at 80". Cnn.com. 2008-02-11. Retrieved 2010-06-15.