Human Rights Issues

Are they a low priority under President Obama?
By Kenneth Jost, October 30, 2009

President Barack Obama reaffirmed U.S. support for human rights during an address to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 23. Two weeks later he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

Human rights advocates are voicing disappointment with what they have seen so far of President Obama's approach to human rights issues in forming U.S. foreign policy. They applaud Obama for working to restore U.S. influence on human rights by changing President George W. Bush's policies on interrogating and detaining terrorism suspects. But they also see evidence that the Obama administration is reluctant to challenge authoritarian governments for clamping down on political dissidents or rigging elections. As one example, these critics complain that Obama should not have tried to curry favor with the Chinese government by postponing a meeting with the Dalai Lama until after the president visits China in November. Administration officials insist Obama is devoted to human rights and democratization and cite among other moves the decision to join the United Nations Human Rights Council. Conservative critics, however, say the council is a flawed institution and the United States should have stayed out.

The Issues

* Is the Obama administration deemphasizing human rights in U.S. foreign policy?
* Is the Obama administration reducing U.S. support for democratization in other countries?
* Was President Obama right to have the United States join the United Nations Human Rights Council?

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