On Friday, we were honored to host the President of the United States Joe Biden at the University of Connecticut where he joined students, faculty, staff, supporters, the Dodd family, and leaders from across our state for the dedication of The Dodd Center for Human Rights. As leaders of the human rights program here at UConn, we offer these reflections on President Biden’s address, which is among the most significant of his presidency with respect to human rights.
The President reaffirmed the US commitment to a rules-based international order and to working multi-laterally and peacefully to promote human rights and the rule of law. President Biden said he has placed human rights “back at the center of our foreign policy.” He committed to speaking out, to “our friends and our adversaries alike,” whenever “we see our fellow humans being dehumanized.” He drew this lesson from the International Military Tribunals at Nuremberg, after World War II: “Your silence is complicity.”
The President’s commitment to Holocaust and genocide education was communicated with a forceful personal touch: “… [W]hen each of my children and now my grandchildren turn the age of 15, the first thing I’ve done, my word as a Biden, is put them on an aircraft and fly to Dachau. One at a time, at age 15 … Nuremberg was unlike anything that ever came before. It was not about vengeance; it was about accountability. For only acknowledging the truth can we prevent the repetition of atrocities that are happening now in other parts of the world.”
While addressing this critical lesson of Nuremberg – that only by facing history can we hope to overcome it – the President also acknowledged that our own past is one of unfulfilled promises in realizing the human rights of all. “We have never,” the President said, “fully lived up to that animating American ideal.” Only by facing that truth can we continue the work of bending the arc “closer and closer to justice.”
Critically, President Biden recognized that human rights begin at home: “Today we know that our efforts to defend human rights around the world are strong because we recognize our own historic challenges as part of the same fight.” Racial and gender equity, equal justice, and protecting “the sacred right to vote in free, fair, and secure elections” are all human rights challenges we must address. Beyond civil and political rights, the President noted that the fight against child poverty in the United States must be seen in the context of “our mission to defend human rights and dignity at home and around the world.” These efforts are what he describes as “leading by the power of our example, rather than the example of our power.”
Near the end of his remarks, President Biden made clear the historic stakes of our current moment. “[H]uman rights and democratic principles are increasingly under assault” at home and abroad. “Nothing about our democracy is assured,” the President said, “Nothing about our freedom is guaranteed. We have to work for it.”
The Human Rights Institute is prepared for that work. As much as the day recognized the achievements of our programs since the original dedication of the Dodd Center in 1995, it also marked the beginning of the next chapter of human rights at UConn. Our faculty are conducting research and teaching courses that address the most pressing human rights challenges from a broad range of disciplinary perspectives. Our students are developing the knowledge, skills, and values necessary for human rights practice in a variety of professions. And we are engaged in collaboration with community partners across Connecticut and around the world to build a broader culture of human rights. We hope you will join this work of human rights for the next generation.
Kathryn Libal, Director, Human Rights Institute
Glenn Mitoma, Director, Dodd Human Rights Impact, Human Rights Institute
Daniel Weiner, Vice President for Global Affairs
Richard Wilson, Gladstein Distinguished Chair and Founding Director of the Human Rights Institute