Monday, February 11, 2008

Human Rights USA Pays Tribute to Rep. Tom Lantos

Human Rights USA pays tribute to Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), who died of esophageal cancer on Monday, February 11, 2008. Lantos, a Holocaust survivor who twice escaped from forced labor prison camps, was one of Congress’s most outspoken advocates for the protection of human and civil rights.

Led by strong moral convictions and an unwavering devotion to justice, Lantos reached across the political aisle to inspire bipartisan cooperation on human rights issues. As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Lantos teamed up with Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) in his relentless pursuit of justice for two of Human Rights USA’s clients, Chinese free speech advocates Shi Tao and Wang Xiaoning, who are imprisoned as a result of the cooperation between U.S. internet giant Yahoo! and the Chinese government.

At a hearing on November 6, 2007, Lantos and Smith sharply questioned Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang for his company’s role in the arrest, imprisonment, and torture of Shi Tao and Wang Xiaoning. Lantos urged Yang to apologize to the detainees, and to “beg forgiveness” from the detainees’ families, who attended the hearing. Yang turned and bowed, and later acknowledged their responsibility. One week later, Yahoo! and the families settled the Alien Tort Claims Act/Torture Victims Protection Act lawsuit filed by Human Rights USA on behalf of Shi Tao and Wang Xiaoning, and stated its commitment to preventing further abuses of this type.

For the past twenty-four years, Lantos and his wife, Annette, sought to make human rights a more visible issue in Congress by establishing the Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC). The CHRC is designed to bring together members of Congress, Administration officials, and human rights experts to address human rights concerns and to bring them to the forefront of Congress’ work. Through Lantos’ leadership, the group has succeeded in drawing attention to issues concerning the rights of women and children, ethnic genocide, and disappearances, among many others.

Tom Lantos’ leadership, both as a member of Congress and as a loyal friend of the human rights community, will long be remembered.