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Why So Mum?

Ben Smith reports:

Human Rights advocates have been deeply disappointed — more than many will say publicly — by elements of Obama’s first year, as the White House has appeared to make the cause secondary in relationships from Turkey to Sudan and has avoided casting even conflicts, like Afghanistan, in the human rights terms George W. Bush often used.

China was an early red flag for some, as Secretary Clinton said in February that human rights wouldn’t be allowed to “interfere” with other issues, a remark she subsequently walked back. But human rights groups have been watching President Obama’s visit to China closely for a sense of how, and whether, he’ll publicly broach the question.

He notes that Amnesty International was pleased by Obama’s comments on censorship and religious freedom in Shanghai but says that the group’s director of international advocacy does “want him to speak more forcefully during the press conference [with President Hu] itself and also set some benchmarks.”

This raises the question of why these groups are saying one thing in private and another (or nothing much at all) in public. Are they in the business of blocking and tackling for Obama because they think he’s a swell liberal, or are they in the business of advocacy for human rights and democracy? Well, more the former, it seems. Given the administration’s rather putrid record on human rights over the past 10 months, one would expect these groups to be apoplectic, as certainly they would be if a Republican administration had shunned the Dalai Lama and downgraded human rights at every turn.

Maybe, like so many others, human-rights groups will begin to evaluate Obama both on what he does and what he says. And in that regard, they should have plenty to complain about.



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