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Top State official warns of 'human rights crises' across the globe

Top State official warns of 'human rights crises' across the globe

Human rights are under attack across the globe, a top Obama administration official testified before the Senate on Thursday.

“I try to remember that there is a lot of good stuff happening,” State Department Assistant Secretary Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiWashington's split with Turkey widens — but it is up to Turkey to heal the rift Democrats warn Waters censure move opens floodgates Overnight Defense: Top Pentagon nominee advances after Harris casts tie-breaker | Air Force general charged with sexual assault first to face court-martial | House passes bill to limit Saudi arms sales MORE told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “But there are days when it feels to me like the number of human rights crises is the greatest in recent history.”

Malinowski said that the crackdowns come from misguided attempts by foreign leaders to ensure their own security. And when authoritarian governments limit people's freedoms, he argued, they also make the globe less safe.

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“Most of our greatest national security threats come from places where people’s rights are being ignored,” Malinowski claimed.

“When Saudi counterterrorism sentences the blogger to 1,000 lashes, when Egypt uses the threat of counterterrorism to justify the prosecution of nonviolent opposition, when China prosecutes a Uighur scholar who promotes moderation among ethnic groups, it’s not just a blow for human rights — it is a setback for effective counterterrorism,” he added.

China and Russia pose particularly troublesome examples, he said, by consistently challenging universal human rights norms. That makes it easier for other countries to crack down on their own citizens.

“When authoritarian leaders around the world are challenged at home and abroad,” Malinowski explained, “they find it convenient to point to a model being displayed and promoted by influential world powers like Russia and China.”

Still, there are bright spots.

Malinowski pointed to peaceful protests in Ukraine and successful elections in countries from Afghanistan to Indonesia as evidence that the progress is being made in some corners of the globe. 

“The achievements that people working for democracy and human rights have made in the last year give us hope, even in this difficult period,” he said.

In order to fight back in support of human rights, Malinowski called for nations to fight corruption, use international security assistance to demand respect for human rights and issue financial sanctions in certain contexts.

A looming trade deal between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations represents a prime opportunity to fix these problems, lawmakers said.

“There should be consequences for places like Malaysia,” said the Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.).

The Southeast Asian nation is among the nations participating in Trans-Pacific Partnership talks but has been chided by human rights advocates for a horrific record of human trafficking and other abuses.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) touted a provision that he successfully fought to attach to June’s trade authority bill, which bars Tier 3 nations from benefiting from fast-track access to American markets. The State Department labels nations Tier 3 if they “do not fully comply with the minimum standards” on human trafficking."

Malaysia is currently a Tier 3 nation but is expected to be upgraded in the upcoming State Department's Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report. This tier change would eliminate a trade barrier between Malaysia and the United States.

On Wednesday, Menendez spearheaded a bipartisan Senate letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, which expressed grave concerns about the possibility of Malaysia's "unwarranted" ranking upgrade.

"Would it not have the consequence of undermining the veracity of the TIP report in a way that other countries would say, 'Huh, if I'm important enough to the United States for trade or some other reason then I don't have to really worry about if I'm in Tier 3 or not'?" Menendez asked the panel.