On Friday, Oct. 15, President Joseph R. Biden spoke at an event titled “Human Rights for the Next Generation: A Dedication of the Dodd Center for Human Rights,” at the University of Connecticut.
Biden was invited to speak at this event because of the precedent set by former President Bill Clinton when the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center opened in 1995. Clinton spoke at the center’s opening then, so there may have been an expectation that Biden was to speak at the re-dedication now. Additionally, Biden and Chris Dodd, the namesake of the center, have known and worked with one another for a long time in the Senate.
Of course, there is also the general perception that being an acting U.S. President is synonymous with being an advocate for human rights. However, one thing was clear from Biden’s speech on Friday: His intent, in part, was to convince the audience of the great human rights work his administration is doing.
Just one example of this was a theatrical stretch of the speech in which Biden set the stage for his claims.
“As we look around the world today, we see human rights and democratic principles increasingly under assault. We feel the same charge of history upon our own shoulders to act,” Biden said.
He continued by whispering into the mic, “We have fewer democracies in the world today than we did 15 years ago.” He paused for a long moment before continuing while hitting the podium and yelling, “Not more. Fewer! That’s why from day one of my administration I’ve taken concrete steps to put human rights back at the center of our foreign policy and reassert our moral leadership on the global stage, with the power of our example, not the example of our power.”
But do Biden’s political decisions truly reflect these claims?
In his speech, Biden went through actions that his administration has taken to prove its dedication to human rights, such as rejoining the UN Human Rights Council and ending the Muslim ban – both undoing decisions made by former President Donald J. Trump. But just outside the security fences in which the event took place, protestors noted the hypocrisy of a U.S. politician being asked to speak on human rights, handing out flyers that detailed real human rights abuses Biden has perpetuated.
A few highlights on this flyer include: Biden’s private support of Israel’s 1982 bombing of Lebanon which killed at least 17,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, his support for an 1983 U.S. intervention in Grenada in which the U.S. bombed a civilian hospital and killed as many as 47 people and his vote to approve 1990’s bombings and sanctions on Iraq that killed as many as 500,000 people.
These protestors had a right to be angry. We should all be critical of U.S. politicians attempting to be perceived as humanitarians while simultaneously making militaristic decisions that prove otherwise. Biden himself spoke on Friday about facing and learning from atrocities like the Holocaust to prevent them from happening again, saying, “For only through acknowledging the truth can we prevent the repetition of atrocities.”
We ask for that acknowledgement from Biden now – and that in the future he does not take the stage at an event dedicated to the future of human rights work without continual acknowledgement and transparency.