Alfred Moses, Chairman of UN Watch, former U.S. Ambassador to Romania, Special Presidential Envoy for the Cyprus Conflict, and Special Counsel to President Jimmy Carter, delivers the concluding remarks for the 1st Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
Nazanin Afshin-Jam: Ambassador Alfred H. Moses, who is the chair of UN Watch, a human rights NGO in Geneva. He is a former partner and now senior counsel at the Washington law firm of Covington and Burling. He has served as US Ambassador to Romania, President Clinton’s special emissary for the Cyprus conflict, and is an honorary National President of the American Jewish Committee. Ambassador Moses, thank you.
Ambassador Alfred Moses: Thank you, Madam Chairman, thank all of you for staying so late after such an inspiring, long day. I don’t think, in the annals of history, anything we say here today, it’ll be said in Geneva over the next five days, will enter into the annals of history. What may be remembered by some, in my view, is the lost opportunity. We should not have to be here. It would have been far better, Mr. Ambassador, if France, the European Union, my country, the United States, Canada, Israel, and other like minded countries, they simply said, “No.”
Then we might have really seen something. Not looking for the albinos; there will always be injustice. But looking at the issue, which confronted us here today, and which we’ve known about for months, for years leading up to today. If we had stood together, if we had the courage to say, “No,” we could have turned this around. But we didn’t. My own country didn’t look at the issue until very late within the administration and did not engage. And the European Union looked at it and said, “There’s a future day, let’s pray.” And that simply isn’t good enough.
So what I say to you, and it’s my individual view, certainly not that of my government, I can’t even say it’s that of UN Watch, is that all we remembered from this week, is what we didn’t do and should have done. And had we done so we’d have had a far better result. I wish I could speak with the authenticity of Mohamed Sifaoui, but I can’t. I did not leave my country of origin. I did not take on [the] majority of my co-religionists; perhaps I was not brave enough, perhaps I didn’t have reason to. I lack his authenticity and the authenticity of many of you here today. My convictions are no less real. And my beliefs, no less a commitment on my part.
Let me visit with you a bit of a historical perspective, brief, put to the point. And in saying so, I think I can share with Floyd Abrams and some others here, when I say that the future struggle will not be ours, it will be yours. It is the generation, two below mine or two after mine, that’s going to have to carry on this struggle. We did not win. I hope you will win. Let’s remember it was in the flesh of the Allies’ victory in World War II that human rights was reborn. It was a time of liberation, emotionally and politically. With the defeat of the Axis powers, once again, everything was possible. Even when the Iron Curtain had descended over Europe, in the words of Winston Churchill, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, human rights prevailed.” The yearn for freedom continued. The creation of the Human Rights Commission in 1946 expressed that very yearning. The leaders, giants in their days, and persons who remained giants in our memories, were the heroes six decades ago, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rene Cassin, Reinhold Niebuhr. Later Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, followed by Nelson Mandela, and yes, Aung Bo Chi and Bo Ti. Those who died at Tiananmen square and those who are with us in Geneva and will be with us; the Eli Wiesels, the Bernard-Henri Lévys. Other persons of great distinction, we have heard from and we’ll hear from; Ahmad Batebi, Esther Mujawayo, great heroes, persons who have prevailed, have been repressed, and have survived to lead us.
But in recent decades, the cause of human rights has been hijacked in many places by oppressers who profess support for human rights for others, where it suits their political purposes, but not for their own citizens, whose freedom they fear. There are pervasive human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, Sudan, Tibet, Myanmar, and in much of the Islamic world, whose citizens are denied freedom of religion, gender equality, and the right to express political dissent. These regimes use human rights as a stick with the name, “respect for religion,” to attack others for allowing freedom of expression, while at the same time they deny this to their own citizens.
For too many, dreams of freedom have become nightmares of oppression. This is true in Cambodia and it’s true today in Iran and Libya. Pol Pot is no longer alive to order mass killings in Cambodia. But killing fields exist in both hemispheres, East and West. Tragically, for some, antiracism has become a shield emblazoned with outcries against historic racial injustices. Elsewhere, in an attempt to protect their own oppressive political fiefdoms, in the process, historic crime is placed on the ledger of the West is it that absolves non-western present day human rights abuses by violators who suppress all forms of human rights in their own countries. Make no mistake about it, we’re engaged in a battle that will endure as long as people care about the rights of those who differ in their religious practices or those who deny human rights, in an effort to preserve their own political power.
Our own indifference is an equal or perhaps even greater threat. Silence is not an option. Nor is inaction. We need to reemphasize the universality of human rights, that knows no borders, and is not faith or culture-based, but exists for all humanity. Humanity viewed as a family, without political borders, drawing on almost 4,000 years of human experience, giving meaning to human rights, that incorporates the rights of women not to be mutilated, that respects freedom of conscience and expression, that condemns torture and physical oppression, and bars discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, or gender.
To be heard, we need to speak out. To avail, we need to engage. Let’s go forward — from this convocation, from the inspiring words you’ve heard today — renewed in our commitment, not in the future, to be indifferent to those who oppress others, to be more than vigilant, to have the courage to say, “No,” and to walk away. Only then will we be heard. Only then will we see a change in conduct here in the United Nations. I thank you.