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Public Statements

Remarks At The Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize Award Ceremony

Location: Washington, D.C.

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) delivered the following remarks, as prepared for delivery, to The Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize Award Ceremony honoring His Holiness the Dalai Lama today, October 6, 2009 at 10:00 am ET in Washington, D.C.:

"I'm honored to be here and make a few remarks at this inaugural presentation of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize. It is very appropriate that His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, be the first recipient of the award named for the good man, who cared so deeply for the dignity of the people of Tibet and all people who are denied their God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

"Tom Lantos believed American leadership in opposition to human rights abuses, not silence, is the truest expression of our national character. He was born outside the United States and knew personally what evil human beings can do when they are ungoverned by respect for the inherent dignity of every human being and unmoved by a moral duty to defend them against oppression. His voice was among the clearest and most persuasive in our country urging Americans to experience assaults on anyone's dignity as an assault on our own conscience.

"When he died, we lost one of the better angels of our national conscience, and those of us who remain in positions of influence incurred a responsibility to echo the convictions that guided his work and life. We can't replace Tom's voice, but we can help ensure it is not forgotten whenever and wherever the rights of mankind are beset by the ambitions of despots.

"We are distinguished from other countries because we were conceived not in loyalty to land or tribe or from a particular race or creed, but in an idea, that liberty is the inalienable right of mankind and in accord with nature and nature's Creator. To accept the abridgement of that right for other societies should be no less false to the American heart than to accept its abridgement in our own society. Injustice and tyranny abroad should be as intolerable to Americans as they are intolerable here.

"Human rights are not an invention of America, nor do they reflect standards to which particular cultures or religions can opt out. They are universal, and recognized as such in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As long as reflective people have lived, they have identified those universal liberties that separate us from the animals.

"Those rights exist above the state and beyond history; they cannot be rescinded by one government any more than they can be granted by another. They inhabit the human heart, and from there, though they may be abridged, they can never be wrenched.

"His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, has spent his life in the passionate, tireless and non violent defense of his people's right to self-determination and dignity. For over half a century he has led their struggle; petitioning governments and people of conscience throughout the world to lend their voice to the just demands of Tibetans. He has endured the long, trying years and every setback for their cause with an unyielding determination that is singular because of the patience, humility and kindness that are its most admirable qualities.

"He is an inspiration to all people who possess a heartfelt sympathy for the suffering of their fellow human beings. He is a father to his people. And though he has been long exiled from their presence, he inhabits their hearts, as they inhabit his. He gives them hope, and he gives us an example of moral leadership to summon our own humanity.

"At the end of his Nobel Lecture, the Dalai Lama offered a prayer that spoke of the sense of shared humanity that the world's great religions all profess, and which has been his own abiding conviction.

‘For as long as space endures,
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I, too, abide
To dispel the misery of the world.'"

"I have long believed that the true worth of a person is measured by how faithfully we serve a cause greater than our self-interest, a cause which encompasses us but is not defined by our existence alone. The same holds true for the conduct of nations.

"Whenever people are imprisoned, brutalized, or murdered for demanding liberty and justice for themselves and their people or for peacefully exercising their faith it is not simply another tragedy in an imperfect and often cruel world. It is a call for action, one worthy of a country founded on the principle that every person, possessing inalienable rights, deserves to be free.

Should we be tempted to look away, to ignore the trials of those deprived of the rights we so safely enjoy, let us look to the example of the Dalai Lama, and his good and righteous friend, Tom Lantos, and accept the moral responsibility that will dignify our own life. Let us heed the words of the great poet, John Donne, who offered a 17th Century echo of His Holiness's prayer:

"‘Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.'"

"Thank you."

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