Tribute to Lantos

The Human Rights Leadership Coalition, comprising 12 human rights organizations, has paid tribute to the late Congressman Tom Lantos:

The human rights community mourns the loss of Tom Lantos, an extraordinary human rights leader and unwavering advocate for fundamental rights. As the Executive Directors of the twelve organizations that form the Human Rights Leadership Coalition, we are deeply grateful for Lantos’ countless contributions to justice and human rights around the world that rendered him a unique and steadfast ally to the human rights community. His remarkable and sustained efforts on behalf of vulnerable and otherwise voiceless people gave deep meaning to his almost three decades of public service in Washington, DC.

The only Holocaust survivor to be elected to Congress, Lantos had a unique voice and passion to make a difference in the lives of others. When he began his career in Congress in 1980, his first initiative was a human rights act: to extend honorary U.S. citizenship to Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved over 100,000 Jews from extermination during World War II. Wallenberg claimed Jews as Swedish citizens and saved them from the Holocaust. Tom Lantos was one of those Jews who were saved by Wallenberg. Lantos took to heart the example of Wallenberg, which was that one person, even in the face of unbearable obstacles, can make a difference.

In 1983, Congressman Lantos co-founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, to ensure every Member of Congress had the opportunity to speak out on behalf of those whose voices were quelled and to shed a light in the face of darkness. Among the first acts was to adopt the cases of individual Soviet Jews, Pentecostals and dissidents targeted by the Soviet regime. Many were released.

Through the Caucus, Lantos brought major concerns to the Congress, such as violence against women, killings in Darfur and the Congo, and curbing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He also advocated for internet company accountability for complicity in censorship and political persecution in China. Congressman Lantos shed a spotlight on lesser known causes, first bringing to light abuses against Tibetans, the Kurds, the Burmese, Uighurs, and indigenous people on every continent. He was a strong advocate against anti-Semitism and persecution of religious minorities, and also of abuses against gays and lesbians. During the dark periods of the dirty wars in Latin America, Lantos called for accountability and insisted on the declassification of documents revealing US involvement in abuses.

During his final public remarks at the United Nations on January 28, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, recalling his participation in the Durban World Conference against Racism and Related Intolerance and calling for renewed efforts to combat anti-Semitism and intolerance in any form, Tom Lantos urged the assembled world leaders to: “…let us rededicate ourselves to stopping current tragedies such as the genocide in Darfur…and to preventing such inhuman cruelty in the future. We must remember that the veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians and we can never rest…”

Congressman Lantos and his wife Annette have been our valuable partners in the human rights movement. Lantos’ example will continue to inspire human rights advocates throughout the world. We extend our deepest sympathy to his family and will carry on the human rights work that represents an important part of Congressman Lantos’ legacy. In this work, like Tom Lantos, we will never rest.

Ms. Felice D. Gaer, Director
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the
Advancement of Human Rights

Mr. Larry Cox, Executive Director
Amnesty International USA

Ms. Karin Ryan, Director
Human Rights Program, The Carter Center

Ms. Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director
Freedom House

Mr. Salih Booker, Executive Director
Global Rights

Ms. Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director
Human Rights First

Mr. Kenneth Roth, Executive Director
Human Rights Watch

Mr. Gary Haugen, President
International Justice Mission

Mr. Robert Arsenault, President
International League for Human Rights

Mr. Frank Donaghue, Chief Executive Officer
Physicians for Human Rights

Ms. Monika Kalra Varma, Director
Robert F Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

Ms. Robin Phillips, Executive Director
The Advocates for Human Rights

(Hat tip: Z Word.)