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  November 5, 2001

Sackler Lecture Focuses on Human Rights
in Post-September 11 Era

In the post-September 11 era, the eyes of the world are on America. The time is right to redouble our efforts to implement human rights, according to the Rev. Robert F. Drinan.

"There are 191 nations looking to us. All around the world they are saying 'What will America do?'" said Drinan, this year's speaker in the Sackler Distinguished Lecture Series on Human Rights.

Since the terrorist attacks, Americans are "praying and wondering 'What does God want me to do?'" he added. "We have to do something."

Drinan - a law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center who was once a leader in the movement to end the Vietnam War and a key figure in the move to impeach former President Nixon - was both staunchly patriotic and outspoken in his criticism of the United States' record on human rights.

Addressing a capacity audience, mostly of students, in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center Oct. 30, Drinan said the United States' record has been mixed. "Looking back over all these years, the United States has done some things to promote human rights but has also been very deficient in some areas," said Drinan, who in 1970 was the first Roman Catholic priest elected to Congress.

He said the U.S. should emulate its proud tradition and not walk away from organizations and measures designed to protect human rights.

He noted that the United States was a leader in framing the U.N. Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In 1945, the world was stunned by the loss of 35 million people in World War II, and was determined war would not happen again, he said. "The United Nations Charter was struck under the leadership of President Roosevelt. It was our creation," he said.

Three years later, the U.S. was one of the nations that pledged to enforce the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was written under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt. "We more than any other nation should take pride that we helped structure that," Drinan said.

Yet, he noted, the United States left UNESCO in the 1980s, and has not yet ratified conventions developed by the U.N. on the rights of women and children. The U.S. also has lost its seat on the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, because "people around the world wonder about our loyalty to the concept of human rights," he said.

"If we walk away from the United Nations," he added, "we abandon our own conscience and soul."

Drinan observed that the United States represents 4 percent of humanity but consumes 40 percent of the world's resources. "We're the wealthiest nation, but every other black child lives under the poverty line," he said.

Yet, he said, "we are capable of fantastic things as a nation." He noted that the Peace Corps recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. During the past 40 years, he said, it has sent 161,000 Americans to 131 countries.

"People in the Third World need us and we need them," Drinan said. "We need to understand we're privileged and rich."

Currently, he said, among the 23 donor nations that give aid, food, and capital to the Third World, the United States ranks 23rd.

Turning to the students in the audience, he advised them to "major in human rights in all aspects. Human rights is not one little topic," he said, "it's the whole world of what we should do."

He noted the acute needs around the world in the areas of refugee assistance, women's rights, children's rights, rejecting the death penalty, and alleviating world hunger and Third World debt.

"We have lots of things to do, that by our tradition, by our conscience, and by our Constitution we are required to do," he said. "How can we get enough indignation and drive to say 'I am working on this'?"

He noted that much of the discussion about human rights has centered on law, but the topic goes beyond the legal aspects.

"It all goes back not just to law but to love," he said. "Human rights and love is the center of it all."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu