(Washington, DC) Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-Miramar) received the “2009 Defenders of Freedom Award” from the Council for a Democratic Iran (CDI) for his lifetime of service and commitment to human rights, democracy, and freedom.
Please find below Hastings’ prepared remarks:
“I am honored to be here this afternoon to accept the “2009 Defenders of Freedom Award” with my colleague Senator Sam Brownback. As you may know, my work in the area of human rights began long before I came to Congress as a lawyer and then as a Judge.
“In April 2001, I was appointed to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission. I currently serve as its Co-Chairman. The Helsinki Commission is an independent government agency created in 1976 to monitor and encourage compliance with the landmark human rights and democracy-building accords signed in Helsinki, Finland the previous year. Additionally, I am the only American to have served as President of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly.
“I have always been a champion of human rights, freedom, and democracy – fighting for those whose voices have been silenced by regimes who do not respect the rights of their people.
“On July 21, I was reading the Washington Post and came across a powerful advertisement that your organization had placed in the newspaper. It posed a very real question to the world’s democracies: “What more do the people of Iran have to do to get your attention?” One thing is abundantly clear to me: the recent elections in Iran and its aftermath certainly got the world’s attention.
“I would like to take a moment of personal privilege to read an excerpt from this advertisement that I found to be quite telling. “Hundreds of thousands of Iranians – primarily young men and women, who make up 65 percent of Iran’s population – have demonstrated in the streets, many carrying signs written in English so their messages can be clearly understood. They have kept channels of communication open to the world, while foreign journalists are forbidden access. They have endured beatings by uniformed thugs bearing clubs and water hoses, tear gas, and guns. They have been dragged away in illegal arrests. They have risked their lives. Many have given their lives.”
“My friends, the struggle for freedom and democracy is never easy, especially when faced with a regime that has isolated itself and her people from the rest of the world. Those brave individuals who took to the streets sent a message to the international community that they seek change from the repression that has been inflicted upon them. Speaking out and standing up for the people of Iran is the best guarantee we have in preventing the present situation from unfolding any further. We must ensure that the courage and sacrifice of those fighting for democracy in Iran is not in vain.
“Last Congress, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I held a briefing entitled, “The Future Belarus: Democracy or Dictatorship?” that focused on the prospects for change in a country that is widely considered to have Europe’s worst record with respect to human rights and democracy. A young man from Belarus by the name of Zmitser Fedaruk, who is one of the leaders of the Young Front movement in Belarus, stated during the briefing, “We want to present a new generation of Belarusian youth which will join the Front, young people who believe in God and love their country, because such features were very usual for the people who also founded your country. So we have a good example before our eyes.” Not long after Mr. Fedaruk returned to Belearus, he was beaten by riot police during an otherwise peaceful demonstration. According to witnesses, Mr. Fedaruk was beaten and knocked unconscious by riot policemen, then rushed by ambulance to the hospital.
“Unfortunately, the intimidation and abuse by regimes who wish to oppress their people does not seem to be coming to an end any time soon. However, I believe that it is imperative that my colleagues in Congress and I stand with all people--young and old--struggling for freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights.
“The Iranian people are demanding genuine political accountability. The recent events in Iran reflect the systematic use of violence and intimidation in the place of dialogue and debate. I share your concerns that we cannot support electoral fraud, we cannot turn a blind eye to human rights violations against innocent Iranians, and we cannot permit civil liberties and political rights to be confiscated.
“It is clear to all of us that the Iranian regime has unleashed a fearsome brand of media manipulation and control—distorting the reality of events in Tehran. Now, I am not one to “Twitter” or “tweet” (although I did recently join Facebook), but I do think it’s appropriate to mention the impact of new information technology and social networking programs on the recent aftermath of the elections in Iran.
“We know these virtual communication venues are working—for instance, immediately after the Iranian elections, the Chinese government tried to shut down Twitter within their own country. We need a dedicated response by democratic countries to prevent these shut downs from happening.
“Political, racial, and religious hatred must be addressed forcefully by the world community. I will continue to dedicate my efforts toward eradicating all forms of hatred and zealously defending the fundamental freedoms and rights of all human beings. We have an obligation to speak up as a democracy against authoritarian regimes that are threatening the civil rights and liberties of its people.”
Congressman Alcee L. Hastings is Vice Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, a senior member of the House Rules Committee, and Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.