Karen villagers in Myanmar displaced by recent attacks. Photo: Free Burma Rangers

New Legislation Introduced in U.S. Senate to Establish a Senate Human Rights Commission


The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and 21Wilberforce applaud the introduction of the Senate Resolution Establishing the Senate Human Rights Commission (S.Res.80) – fully institutionalizing the current Senate Human Rights Caucus and equipping it with the resources to support paid staff. At a time when it is critical to strengthen U.S. leadership on human rights, the Commission would provide a powerful platform for elevating efforts to protect and advance fundamental human rights globally.

The world faces myriad human rights challenges today – from the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities in Burma and China, to the suppression of free speech in Russia, to the rise of authoritarianism in countries around the globe. The U.S. Congress has always played an important role in addressing these challenges and providing global leadership on the most pressing human rights issues of the day, including lending its powerful voice on behalf of the oppressed. Such efforts, however, require a robust framework and dedicated resources.

In 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution to institutionalize the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, founded by Congressman Tom Lantos and Congressman John Porter in 1983, as a full entity in the House – the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and James Lankford (R-Okla.), who introduced the resolution, clearly recognize that it is time for the Senate to follow suit. The existing Senate Human Rights Caucus has provided a valuable forum for dialogue about human rights issues, but its lack of dedicated funding for staff members has long limited its capacity to fully respond to a growing and increasingly urgent set of human rights priorities. By creating a Senate Human Rights Commission with paid staff, the Senate will have the means and resources to strengthen the bipartisan human rights efforts of its Committees and offices through briefings, enhanced collaboration with the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and leadership on initiatives such as the Defending Freedoms Project to protect prisoners of conscience. The Commission will also bolster opportunities for collaboration between government and civil society on important international human rights priorities.

Dr. Randel Everett, President of 21Wilberforce, said, “The need for Congressional leadership to preserve and protect fundamental human rights around the world through U.S. foreign policy has never been more critical. A Senate Human Rights Commission would increase the volume and effectiveness of bipartisan work focused on human rights abuses across the world.”

Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation, said, “Global leadership on human rights requires more than words; it requires action and real engagement. My father understood that when he created the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, and I know he would be incredibly proud to see human rights elevated to the level of a Commission in both chambers. The resolution to create a Senate Human Rights Commission signals the Congress’ willingness to dedicate real resources to advancing the bipartisan cause of human rights and fighting against human rights abuses worldwide.”