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Public Statements

Human Rights Day

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. RUBIO. Mr. President, I come here on December 10, Human Rights Day. I want to briefly discuss human rights because, I would just say, while we have made great advances around the world in the cause of human rights, there are still a lot of roads to travel. Today is a good opportunity to take note of some of the struggles and challenges around the world with regard to human rights.

The first issue I want to talk about with regard to human rights is modern-day slavery. When people think about slavery they think about the historic nature of slavery in this country or around the world. It is hard to imagine that today, in the 21st century, that there are slaves in the world. It is even harder to believe there are slaves in the United States, but the fact is there are. It has been well documented that human trafficking around the world numbers in the millions.

Of course, sex trafficking is a big part of that, a grotesque part of that, and we are all aware that it is a very serious problem. So too is forced labor-type slavery, which we find around the world and even in the United States. In fact, there is no major city in the United States that does not have an element of human trafficking and human slavery within its confines. I think it is important to understand that exists, it is real, and it is happening.

To that extent, remember there are things we are trying to do in this legislative body, in the Senate, in Washington, to deal with this issue. One of the issues we are going to have a chance to deal with soon, I hope, is reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which was sponsored last year by Senator Brown and Senator Leahy. Hopefully, we can finish that before the end of this year, but if we cannot, I hope early in the next Congress we will address it.

As you know, there are also reports that the State Department does rank countries around the world on the efforts they are making to deal with human trafficking, and they actually rank them in three tiers, the third being the worst, those nations not doing enough. I hope we look at how we reform the process of giving some of these countries waivers. There are countries that are perpetually on the list of the worst possible places with regard to government policy toward human trafficking. Yet they are getting waivers from the implications and the consequences of being a tier 3 country. There are countries getting that waiver every single year.

I hope we will examine the process legislatively, of how we grant those waivers, so we can have more information as to exactly why it is our government is granting waivers to other governments and other nations that are not making any advances whatsoever on human slavery and trafficking.

Another aspect we should take some time to look at is some transparency from the business community, particularly large international companies that do business around the world. We should look for ways to encourage and incentivize companies to report voluntarily on their supply chains to ensure the products we use in the United States are not the product of human slavery, modern slavery around the world. We can do that as well.

Obviously, we do not want to put any more onerous costs on our businesses, and we will be careful how we approach it, but I think it is important that we know the products sold in the United States are not directly or indirectly benefiting from slavery around the world. That is something I hope we will remember; that human trafficking and human slavery is real, it exists all around the world, and exists in our own country. I hope we will continue making strides dealing with this issue.

One last point on that is a few months ago several of my colleagues and I sent a letter to the Village Voice, which is a newspaper in the United States, which actively--and unfortunately--advertises in its back pages, including in a site called backpage.com. It advertises the services of people being held against their will in those circumstances.

It is outrageous to believe a major American publication continues to advertise the services of young girls and young boys, some of whom are minors, and is doing so shamelessly. I hope they will heed our call to stop that from happening. It is a massive source of revenue for that company. It is outrageous, it is disgusting, it is grotesque, and I hope more of our colleagues will join us in writing a new letter to them in continuing to call attention to this because it is simply unacceptable.

Secondly, I want to turn to the issue of religious freedom, which is another human rights cause around the world. Sadly there is not enough advancement being made in that regard. We are seeing a step backward with regard to religious liberty and religious freedom around the world.

In April of this year the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its latest report with some very grim news. I want to go through some of it, but it is important to understand we are not talking about the countries, we are talking about the governments. There are some governments that are aiding and abetting the persecution of unprotected religious minorities. I want to highlight some of those countries and governments. The list is long, but these are a few I wanted to point to today that are truly unacceptable.

Let's start with the People's Republic of China, which is not exactly a beacon of hope for those who are looking for religious liberty. Of course we all know the situation in Tibet, which is not just a religious issue, it is a cultural issue. We see the self-immolation of folks who are willing to burn alive because of the effort of that government to wipe out their identity. What they are going through is intolerable.

It goes much deeper than that. Proselytizing Christians and the orthodox, ``nonpatriotic'' Catholic Church, face significant oppression. The Chinese Government actually authorizes who the leadership of the Catholic Church can be. It is truly unique that in all the world there is a government that will tell them who their bishops are and who will run their church. If they worship outside of that setting, they are persecuted.

There are others, of course, such as the Tibetan Buddhists whom I mentioned before. Here is a report that talks about that. It is not just the religious believers who are facing persecution in China. This is from the report:

The Chinese government also continues to harass, detain, intimidate, disbar, and forcibly disappear attorneys who defend vulnerable religious groups.

Again, we need to understand that we are not talking about the people of China; we are talking about the government of China which is aiding, abetting, and allowing this religious persecution to go on. We hope with the change in leadership in China that has taken place there will be a change in attitude.

The truth is that China has much to offer the world. We hope for a peaceful, prosperous rise for the people of China. We look forward to working together with them to make the world a better place. But China cannot assume that role as long as there is no respect for religious liberties as far as these practices that are happening in that country with the direction of its government.

Of course Egypt has been in the headlines lately. I think it has been well documented that violence particularly against orthodox Christians has been high. This is from the report:

In 2011, violent sectarian attacks, targeting primarily Coptic Orthodox Christians, have resulted in nearly 100 deaths, surpassing the death toll of the previous 10 years combined.

I think the Arab spring has a lot of promise, but I think it also brings with it some warning flags. One of those warning flags is the persecution of religious minorities in places such as Egypt. So as Egypt works its way forward--and we know it has problems it is facing in its own society with regard to what kind of government and powers it needs and should have--we should keep an eye on how the new constitution, the new laws, and the new government treat religious minorities, particularly Coptic Orthodox Christians who suffered the death of 100 of their members.

Iran does not have a sterling record on human rights. Its treatment of religious minorities is particularly egregious. The violations of religious freedoms in Iran include prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused. All religious minorities in Iran are at risk, but even the recognized non-Muslim religious minorities that are supposedly protected under their so-called Constitution, including Jews, Armenian, and Assyrian Christians, face increasing discrimination, arrests, and imprisonment, according to the report. So too are dissenting Muslims. They are basically Muslims who are not following the Shia line. They are being intimidated, harassed, and detained. That is the record of Iran, which has a terrible human rights record, but in particular with the issues of religious liberty.

Saudi Arabia bans any non-Muslim worship. Even private religious activities are suppressed if they are discovered. I think it is important to point that out as well.

Closer to home is the island of Cuba, which is a place, of course, because of my heritage which is close and near to our heart so we keep a close eye on what is happening there as well.

The report finds:

Serious religious freedom violations continue in Cuba ..... Violations by the Cuban government include: detention, sporadic arrests, and harassment of clergy and religious leaders, as well as interference in church affairs. The Cuban government also controls and monitors religious belief and practices through surveillance and legal restrictions.

In Russia the report finds:

The government increasingly used its anti-extremist law against peaceful religious groups and individuals, particularly Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslim readers of the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi.

Russia is a country that is beginning to backslide on religious liberty as well.

Finally, here in this hemisphere, just as in Cuba, Venezuela. The report finds that violations of religious liberty include:

The government's failure to investigate and hold accountable perpetrators of attacks on religious leaders and houses of worship, and virulent rhetoric president Hugo Chavez, government officials, state media, and pro-Chavez media directed at the Venezuelan Jewish and Christian communities.

I think sometimes we take for granted the religious liberties we have in this country, and we should never do so. The fact is we may have some cultural divisions in America when it comes to religion, and that is not tolerable either. But one of the great things we have had in this country since its inception is the belief in religious liberty and religious freedom enshrined in our governing Constitution. It is something that is the exception rather than the rule around the world. I think our example should inspire the world in that regard, but I think we should always use our voice, our power, and our example to lead the way around the world on this Human Rights Day on the issue of religious liberty.

Last but not least, the cause for women around the world is something that bears watching as well. Some of these issues are interrelated. When I talk about human trafficking and human slavery, a disproportionate number of those held in bondage around the world are young women and young girls.

On the issue of human rights with regard to women, there are a couple of parts of the world that are very troubling. Afghanistan comes to mind because just today we got the report that a senior advocate for women in Afghanistan was shot down by unknown gunmen on Monday. It is the latest assassination against women's rights activists in the country. Najia Seddiqi was headed to her office in the eastern Laghman province when she was shot and killed. She was the head of the Women's Affairs Department for the Laghman province. Her predecessor in that post was killed just 4 months ago. The Taliban, which many hold responsible for the attack, has not yet had a comment, but it comes just a week after a teenage girl who was volunteering at an anti-polio drive was fatally shot northeast of Kabul. The Taliban has targeted senior female officials in the past for working in the U.S.-backed Afghan Government. That is just one issue of a coordinated attack to go after women who dare to participate in the political life of the country. It goes beyond that.

There is this very troubling law in Afghanistan which the government claims to have tried to clear up. It is called running away. Basically some judges have interpreted running away as a crime. It has been used against young girls and women who run away from home because it is a home where they are being abused or a home where they are being forced to marry somebody.

There are some sad stories I want to share. A 17-year-old leapt from her roof to the streets of Kabul in an effort to avoid marriage ordained by her grandfather when she was only 9 years old. The judge who heard the case mentioned that Farima ruined her life. The judge stated in a court that the court is a place where a woman can plead for divorce or custody of her children only if and when she has five male witnesses and a husband or a fiance who condones the separation.

This is the 21st century we are talking about. We are not reading something from history. This is happening right now. Of course we all know the story of the brave little girl in Pakistan who was shot. We hear these cases every single day. It goes on and on. I could be here for 3 hours highlighting abuses against women, against religious liberty, the abuses of human trafficking and human slavery around the world. I think what is important today on December 10, Human Rights Day, is to take a moment and understand that the cause of human rights is not a partisan cause; it is not even a nationalist cause. It is a human cause that requires each and every one of us to raise our voice and to call attention to any time and any place where human rights are violated.

I want to congratulate the leading role this government has played in calling attention to those abuses around the world and in being honest with ourselves when these things are happening here at home. Of course, like anything else, we have to first set the example before we can lead, and that is why I think it is so important that on the issue of human trafficking and modern-day slavery that the United States have cutting-edge legislation which deals with an emerging problem that keeps changing and so the laws have to adapt to it. I hope we will take the first step in doing that by authorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as soon as possible.

I suggest the absence a quorum.

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