Hillary Clinton: A lifetime of human rights advocacy

The brilliant Danish theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once wrote “Life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forwards” This week, the Lantos Foundation will honor with our highest award, a woman whose extraordinary life has been characterized by an unflagging, determination to live forward. Hillary Clinton’s remarkable commitment to build a better world has transformed our vision of what is possible, and what is essential, for people in every corner of the world. Hillary Clinton’s eyes remain firmly fixed on the future but this week the Lantos Foundation will take a moment to look backwards to honor a person whose devotion to the cause of human rights and justice for every human being , has made her one of the most consequential and ground-breaking leaders of our time.

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s dedication to the cause of women’s rights began early in her life and has never faltered. Whether as a stand-out young woman at Wellesley College, an attorney and advocate, First Lady of the United States, US Senator, or as Secretary of State, her banner has been held high.  The words on that banner have been simple, powerful, and inarguable. “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights, once and for all.” When Hillary Clinton uttered those words at the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women, the effect was electrifying. Never before had a woman of her prominence spoken out with such boldness and clarity on the appalling treatment of women around the world. And they certainly had not done it in China!

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But important and eloquent as her words have been, Hillary’s leadership has never been about her talk. On the contrary, this is one woman who is all about the “walk.” Hillary Rodham Clinton has never shied away from the hard work and pragmatic follow- through needed to make her bold visions a reality. She doesn’t take a break, she doesn’t drop the ball, and she doesn’t leave the job to others. Hillary Clinton rolls up her sleeves and gets to work making that vision real in the lives of ordinary people.

Another way in which Hillary’s vision of human rights has been focused on “living forward” has been her groundbreaking leadership on the emerging fight for global Internet freedom. This new frontier of human rights seeks to tear down the firewalls behind which closed societies seek to isolate their people. One need not look back far in history to see the clear analogy to another set of dictators who sought to imprison their people behind an Iron Curtain. Hillary Clinton has said to the dictators of the 21st century “tear down these walls.”  Under her leadership a multi-pronged strategy to advance Internet Freedom has become a key priority of American foreign policy.

The late Congressman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) shared Hillary Clinton’s unusual combination of vision and verve—or perhaps more aptly stated, vision and nerve. Tom Lantos was the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the Congress and he became one of its most forceful human rights advocates. Hillary Clinton and Tom Lantos shared an abiding belief in the importance of universal human rights but for them human rights has never been an abstract idea. Rather it is a call to action on behalf of real people who need a voice, a friend, a partner, an advocate and above all a chance. For her unparalleled and untiring leadership for human rights around the world, the Lantos Foundation is honored to present the 2013 Lantos Prize to Hillary Clinton. 

Lantos Swett established the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice in 2008 and serves as its president and CEO.

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