“President Biden has committed to putting human rights back at the center of American foreign policy, and that’s a commitment that I and the entire Department of State take very seriously. We will bring to bear all the tools of our diplomacy to defend human rights and hold accountable perpetrators of abuse. The reports we’re releasing today are just one way to do that.”
In emphasizing that “one of the core principles of human rights is that they are universal” and “co-equal,” Blinken said he “decisively” repudiated the “unbalanced views” of the Secretary Pompeo-appointed Commission on Unalienable Rights: “There is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others. Past unbalanced statements suggest that such a hierarchy, including those offered by a recently disbanded State Department advisory committee, do not represent a guiding document for this administration.”
Also, noting that the previous administration had removed from the annual reports a section on reproductive health, Blinken announced that that section would be restored in the reports starting in 2021, and that an addendum covering that topic for each country for the year 2020 would be released later this year. He made clear that “women’s rights — including sexual and reproductive rights — are human rights.” Also, significantly, on the issue of human rights abuses in China, the new report officially reaffirmed support for the previous administration’s use of “genocide’ to describe China’s treatment of the minority Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
A recent example of how the new administration is standing up for human rights was the case of the disbarment of the Department’s 2020 International Women of Courage (IWOC) recipient Shahla Humbatova, a human rights defense lawyer in Azerbaijan, on the eve of International Women’s Day. In a March 26, 2021 statement, the Secretary said he was “disturbed” by the move: “Her work, and the work of other human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, should be celebrated, not punished, and we call on those responsible to expedite her reinstatement to the Azerbaijani bar.”
For the 2020 country reports prepared by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and the Secretary’s March 30, 2021 statement and press briefing, go to: state.gov/reports/2020-
For the controversial, 60-page draft report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, established in July, 2019 by then-Secretary Pompeo and chaired by Harvard Law Professor and former Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon to review the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy, go to: state.gov/wp-content/uploads/
2. “STOP ASIAN HATE” EFFORTS: President Biden has told the nation — and, therefore, the world — several times that “anti-Asian violence and xenophobia is wrong, it’s un-American, and it must stop.” Last week, he felt he had to publicly speak out yet again in response to the increase in acts of anti-Asian violence, and to advance safety, inclusion, and belonging for all Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.
The President announced additional measures, including:
- reinstating and reinvigorating the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, with initial focus on anti-Asian bias and violence;
- funding for AAPI survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault;
- establishing a COVID-19 Equity Task Force committee on addressing and ending xenophobia against Asian Americans;
- establishment of a Department of Justice cross-agency initiative to address anti-Asian violence;
- launching a virtual bookshelf of federally-funded projects that explore and celebrate Asian Americans’ contributions to the United States;
- and funding critical research to prevent and address bias and xenophobia against Asian American communities. For the March 30, 2021 White House fact sheet on the new actions, see: www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-
room/statements-releases/2021/ 03/30/fact-sheet-president- biden-announces-additional- actions-to-respond-to-anti- asian-violence-xenophobia-and- bias/.
In the wake of the Atlanta killings of eight Asian Americans and the rise in U.S.-China tensions, public diplomacy practitioners — and others — interested in effecting change and being part of the solution through communications should look not only at the President’s latest initiatives but also at private sector initiatives. For example, the “Stop Asian Hate” campaign has been started by the Association of National Advertisers’ Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM). Formed by a group of leading U.S. marketers, media, and advertising leaders, AIIM is concerned about all forms of hate, violence, and hate crimes, and — most recently — saddened by a rise in incidents and crimes against Asians and Asian Americans.
AIMM’s full-page open letter taking “a stand against hate and violence targeting the Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community” appeared in the March 26, 2021 editions of New York Times and USA Today. Committing “to not staying silent”, the group explained its purpose: “As an alliance, we commit to inform, educate, engage, and invest by driving actions to advance justice and support for the AAPI community.” One of its specific goals is to “acknowledge and celebrate Asian Americans as strong contributors to our nation and accurately portray and fully represent them in ads and programming.” The AIIM letter noted that AAP Heritage Month in the United States will be celebrated this coming May. To learn more about AIIM, go to www.anaaimm.net.
For a related new annual report on hate incidents against AAPI, go to stopaapihate.org/reports/. The “Stop AAPI Hate National Report” covered March 19, 2020-February 28, 2021 and was prepared by a coalition funded by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON), Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), and San Francisco State Asia American Studies (AAS).
Michael Heath, Charge D’Affaires, U.S. Embassy Bangkok, is a descendant of Japanese-American relatives who were sent to internment camps during WW II. For “Support the Asian American Community by Defending Our Values at Home and Abroad,” his March 29, 2021 views in DipNote, the official blog of the State Department, go to https://www.state.gov/dipnote-
For an analysis of how Asian Americans are stereotyped as the “model minority” and the “perpetual foreigner”, see the March 26, 2021 article in The Conversation by Angie Chuang, an associate professor of journalism, University of Colorado Boulder, at: https://theconversation.
3. GROWING U.S. CONCERN OVER UNREST IN BURMA: A clear indication that Burmese military attacks on civilians are increasing came in a three-paragraph March 27, 2021 Reuters report. Headlined “Shots Fired at U.S. Cultural Center in Myanmar — Embassy,” the brief news article quoted. Embassy spokesperson Aryani Manring as saying: “We can confirm that shots were fired at the American Center Yangoon on March 27. There were no injuries. We are investigating the incident.”
No other details about this “incident” are available, but clearly, the brutal military crackdown on anti-coup protesters and the turmoil have been intensifying. The military has even made good on its threat to shoot protestors in the back or head. By March 31, 2021, the United States had ordered all non-essential embassy staff to leave the country, and a “Level 4 Travel Advisory” was in effect advising U.S. citizens “not to travel to Burma or to leave as soon as it is safe to do so due to the greater likelihood of life-threatening risks.” U.S. Ambassador Thomas Vajda called the bloodshed “horrifying”, and the USTR announced “the suspension of all U.S engagement with Burma under the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) until a democratically-elected government was returned. (Earlier, the United States enacted various sanctions on individuals and entities affiliated with the Burmese military.)
The American Center, which is near the U.S. Embassy, has a long record of serving as an effective public diplomacy space in Burma, and we hope conditions in the country become safer so that normal, pre-pandemic programming at this important American Space can resume, and Burma can return to power the democratically-elected government. For official U.S. updates on the rapidly-changing situation, go to the Embassy Yangon website at: mm.usembassy.gov/. For the new State Department human rights report on Burma, go to: state.gov/reports/2020-
4. MUHAMMAD ALI CENTER LOOKS AHEAD: America is fortunate to have many dedicated, community-based organizations that support people-to-people ties and help U.S. public diplomacy work. One of these is the Ali Center, a 501(c)3 corporation, co-founded by the great athlete, humanitarian, and global citizen, Muhammad Ali, and his wife Lonnie in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. The Center is not only a museum popular with International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) participants and other visitors from around the world, but also a dynamic cultural center and venue for many programs, initiatives, and partnerships in education, gender equity and global citizenship. It also is formally associated with the United Nations Department of Global Communications.
Despite the pandemic, much has been happening recently at the Ali Center, which re-opened to the public on April 1, 2021. In 2020, it became a new stop on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. A nationwide search is underway for a new president and CEO since Donald Lassere, after nine years, resigned effective April 9, 2021 to return home to head the Chicago History Museum. The Center’s interim leader is Laura M. Douglas, past Board Chair, who is the first woman and first Black woman to lead the organization.
Many of the Center’s activities, events, and collaborative programs will interest the PD community because they engage officials, teachers, community leaders, and youth from all over the world. For example, the Center recently appointed its first-ever Muhammad Ali Global Peace Laureate to “amplify Ali’s message of peace respect, and mutual understanding” and “magnify, on a larger stage, the mission of the Muhammad Ali Center.” The first three-year appointment is held by an individual well-known to the State Department and PD professionals for her tireless Muslim outreach, youth engagement, and anti-extremism and pro-civility efforts — Farah Pandith.
From 2009-2014, Pandith traveled widely as the first-ever Senior Advisor for Muslim Engagement, serving under Secretaries Clinton and Kerry. One of her current duties is serving as a commissioner and advisor to the Ali Center’s bipartisan Commission on Civility and Compassion, which “aims to chart a bold vision for the future of U.S. leadership in civility and compassion at home (and abroad) by creating a road map to help heal our country on the local, state, and federal levels and by identifying global relationships that mirror both the Muhammad Ali Center’s mission and Mr. Ali’s message of peace.”
For more information about the Center, visit: https://alicenter.org/.
5. PRINCE HARRY JOINS ASPEN INSTITUTE’S COMMISSION ON INFORMATION DISORDER: Think-tanks — and governments — are setting up advisory commissions and study groups all the time, but this one sounds a bit different. On March 24, 2021, the Aspen Institute announced that — “amid rising challenges to truth, journalism, and democracy” — it will host a six-month commission to make actionable recommendations on how the country can respond to the “urgent mis- and disinformation challenge.” Its three co-chairs are journalist Katie Couric; cybersecurity expert Chris Krebs, Infrastructure Security Agency; and racial equity leader Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change.
Their 15 commissioners from across the political spectrum will include a member guaranteed to get the work of the Commission international attention: Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, who the Institute identifies as “a humanitarian, military veteran, mental wellness advocate, and environmentalist” and “cofounder of Archewell”, which currently includes Archewell’s Foundation, Productions, and Audio.
The other high-powered commissioners are such experts as former Texas Congressman Will Hurd; former CIA officer and national security leader Sue Gordon; Jameel Jaffer, Executive Director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University; Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble, Co-founder of the UNCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry; Alex Stamos, an accomplished hacker and tech security pioneer; Philanthropy Executive Kathryn Murdoch; and News Executive Amanda Zamora. For more information about the Commission, which is fully funded by Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the giving organization of the founder of craigslist, go to AspenInfoCommission.org.
Dr. Michael H. Anderson is a public diplomacy and Asian affairs specialist with nearly 30 years of Foreign Service experience serving in the US Department of State and the US Information Agency (USIA) and working in South Asia and Southeast Asia. His Public Affairs Officer (PAO) postings included New Delhi, Jakarta, Karachi, Singapore, Manila and Port Moresby. He also has been a journalist, a teacher, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, an information officer with UNICEF, and an East-West Center grantee. He is a member of the PDC Board.