Sen. Ayotte on Global Human Rights: ‘The United States Cannot and Must Not Be a Passive Observer’

By Elizabeth Harrington | January 29, 2013 | 4:23 PM EST

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) (AP)

( – Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said Tuesday that the United States “cannot and must not be a passive observer” when it comes to human rights abuses around the world.

At a ceremony on Capitol Hill honoring the blind Chinese dissident and human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, Ayotte said America has a role to play in advancing freedom across the globe.

“With American leadership, as well as global support for courageous individuals like Mr. Chen, energized popular movements around the world can help secure another wave of democratization and human rights progress,” she said. “Absent that leadership and international support, the coming years could witness a tragic authoritarian resurgence.

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“The people of the world who are struggling to secure universal human rights we enjoy here in America are looking for our leadership, our support and our moral clarity on these issues,” Ayotte said.

“Persecuted people from around the world need to know that the United States cares about them, understands and appreciates their suffering, and we will do everything we can to stand with them and to help them,” she said.

“When a dissident is imprisoned in China—as Mr. Chen has been—when a woman is persecuted in the Middle East, when a pastor is jailed in Iran, the United States cannot and must not be a passive observer,” she said. “When scholars and United States leaders discuss America’s foreign policy, they often speak in terms of interests, suggesting that we must choose between our national security interests and our democratic values.”

“Let there be no confusion: to suggest that we must choose between our interests and our values is a false choice,” Ayotte said.

Chen was awarded the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize for his work against China’s one-child population control policy.

A self-taught lawyer, Chen had endured seven years of prison and house arrest before escaping to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing last April. He now lives in New York, with his wife and two children, after NYU offered him status as a visiting scholar.

Ayotte said she was proud that Chen sought refuge in the United States.

“I cannot think of a more appropriate place then the United States Capitol, the great seed of American democracy, to join with people from around the world to advance the cause of democracy, human rights and the rule of law and to recognize someone who has bravely stood up in the face of oppression, who bravely stood up for women, for all people, to make sure that they could have universal rights,” she said.

“You know it’s one thing to talk about respect for human rights. It’s another thing to put your life on the line, to stand up for others who are forced to undergo the horrific things like forced abortions and forced sterilization,” Ayotte added.

“And we are all grateful to Mr. Chen for everything that he has done, not only for the Chinese people but for the symbol that he is around the world of what one person can do and what one family—because I know that he’s been greatly supported by his family—can do in the face of oppression and tyranny,” she said.

“I’m very proud that our country stands as a beacon of hope for oppressed people who live in the cold shadow of tyranny,” Ayotte said.