In the past week, human rights activism has been a large part of on-campus life. STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition, sponsored DarfurFAST, a 24-hour charity event that generates donations to aid refugees from the genocide in Darfur, last Wednesday. Last night, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a notable advocate of human rights worldwide, spoke at an event co-sponsored by STAND, SSTOP (Students Stopping the Trafficking of People) and THiNK (Truth and Human Rights in North Korea).

But as Georgetown students resolve to diminish human rights abuses, we remain skeptical of the White House’s commitment to this worthy cause.

In the aftermath of Abu Ghraib and CIA waterboarding, remaking our human rights policy is a top priority. Since January, Obama’s record on human rights has been questionable.

The foreign policy objectives of President Obama’s administration have largely focused on rebuilding America’s image abroad through multilateral cooperation and diplomatic engagement. These means are often effective, but there remain several aspects of Obama’s policies on human rights issues that leave us wanting more.

Human rights advocates first became concerned during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Asia, which included a stop in China – a notorious human rights violator. Her comments suggesting that U.S. concerns with human rights violations would not interfere with a broader, strategic partnership with China disturbed those fighting for a freer, more open Chinese society.

oreover, Obama’s decision not to meet with the Dalai Lama in October in order to appease China’s leaders places him directly at odds with statements he made in March 2008 urging then-President George W. Bush to “persuade the Chinese leadership . to make dramatic progress in resolving the Tibet issue.” This duplicitous stance is worrisome and could undermine America’s standing on human rights issues.

As the administration initiates its policy of engagement to curb nuclear proliferation in Iran, it has also turned a blind eye to the regime’s human rights violations. The Iranian presidential elections in June demonstrated to the international community the extent to which Iran’s sitting government will go to assure its power – at the price of human life and dignity. Obama did not comment on the situation in Iran for over a week, claiming that it was an “internal” issue. This was a weak demonstration of U.S. leadership at a time when freedom was at stake for Iranian protesters.

Last week, the administration publicly announced its new policy toward Sudan. The new policy essentially provides incentives and applies pressure on the regime of Omar al-Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes this year. This balanced approach is not enough for human rights advocates, particularly since it does not urge China to acknowledge its role in destabilizing the area due to its oil interests. Especially when compared to his campaign overtures, Obama’s policy seems to be a step in the wrong direction in the effort to end the conflict in Darfur. If anything, the “integrated” strategy reveals a conflict between election aspirations and Oval Office realities; now, various interest groups and factions within the administration are involved in shaping and implementing policy.

Bold leadership is critical when standing up for human rights. The Obama administration is off to a shaky start on human rights and has received lukewarm support from advocacy organizations. In its policy toward these countries, the administration has compromised its international human rights agenda in order to engage in negotiations with many of the countries in question. The effectiveness of this approach has yet to be seen. In the meantime, we can only hope that the Obama administration will begin to take a harder line on human rights.

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