GW Amnesty International: A new way to advocate

This op-ed was written by the GW Amnesty International executive board.

As the executive board of GW’s chapter of Amnesty International, we have always been concerned with abuses of human rights across the globe. But as the world continues to develop and modernize, human rights abuses have only become more prevalent.

A greater human ability to disseminate the ideals of a free world via technology has failed to overcome a seemingly innate desire for wealth, power and dominion. The realities of world poverty and the oppression of tyrannical governments are central to the international human rights problem and to the debate over what the Western world can or should do. We are not deaf to this debate, but we wonder about the efficacy of our advocacy.

As the presidential election looms ever closer, we have reformulated our strategy for human rights advocacy. The unparalleled visibility of the elections has aroused both the purest pride in the promise of our democratic ideals and the most profound shame that our country has too often fallen far short of them in its dealings with the world.

During this momentous electoral season, the GW chapter of Amnesty International is focusing on advocating for the human rights of everyday Americans and the protection of those rights by our government.

This American focus is based on a profound belief that human rights must be protected in the United States before they can be guarded by our government abroad, that we must “practice what we preach.”

On the surface it seems both simple and simply idealistic. On careful inspection, however, these issues are central to preserving America’s diplomatic capital. As we weaken American ideals – for example, through the torture of prisoners, the flouting of international standards of war and the secret wiretapping of American citizens – America’s diplomatic standing in the world is weakened along with them. Failing to enact the ideals of our democratic and free society damages our relations with the world and our national security.

How can America hope to condemn Russia’s invasion of Georgia if it has itself broken the internationally accepted standards of waging war? How can the U.S. encourage democratic reforms in China as we promote trade policies that keep us in the debt of the very government that opposes such reforms with violence? It is not simply a moral imperative to protect human rights, it is an economic and strategic one as well.

The ideals of the inherent rights and dignity of humankind transcend nation, party and creed. However, we recognize that its concrete policy expressions often do not. As such, GW Amnesty International’s intention is to raise awareness about the protection of human rights in the U.S. by hearing from student representatives of both parties. We believe in the imperative of addressing these issues with the force of the public behind us, and because the involvement of the public in political ends is best elicited through political means, we are hosting a debate between GW’s College Democrats and Georgetown’s Students for McCain-Palin.

In “Choosing a New America: Human Rights in the Presidential Elections,” we offer a forum for interested student activist groups to pose questions to prominent college supporters of Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and John McCain, R-Ariz., about the human rights policies of their respective candidates.

We ask the GW community to attend with the belief that ideas matter and that we as students and citizens can have an impact. In this election year, we hope that the student voice will ring loud and clear from our actions on campus, in the community and, with your help, in the larger world.

“Choosing a New America: Human Rights in the Presidential Elections” will be held Monday at 8 p.m. in the Marvin Center Continental Ballroom.

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