Mike on Human Rights

I am committed to defending human rights, here and throughout the world. I am deeply concerned by the persistence, in far too many places, of ethnic, religious, tribal and gender-based violence. We should do all we can to protect minorities and urge respect for individual rights in emerging democracies.

I believe the United States must use its influence to support human rights and I have opposed trade agreements, like Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China and CAFTA for Central America, in part because US negotiators did not insist on protections for human rights or the right to organize unions. I have paid particular attention to the human rights situation in China and worked for several years to help free Dr. Yang Jianli, a legal permanent resident living in Massachusetts, who was detained in China on April 26, 2002. I spoke personally to the President of the PRC about this case and he asked me why Americans were so obsessed with human rights. I told him he would never understand our nation if he did not recognize that individual freedom and dignity were fundamental to us. Dr. Yang was, I am glad to report, was finally able to return to his family after years of imprisonment. I have joined with Amnesty International in support of other prisoners of conscience around the world and with programs like "Scholars-at-Risk" at Harvard in defense of exiled dissidents. I have also intervened to help religious minorities, Tibetan Buddhists, Ahmaddiyah Muslims, Iranian Baha’is and Coptic Christians, who face persecution.

I work closely with the International Rescue Committee, the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights and the Political Asylum and Immigration Representation (PAIR) project to secure political asylum for survivors of torture and other atrocities, and to reunite refugees and asylees with their spouses and children. I have long been concerned about violence against women and the Boston Rape Crisis Center turned to me during the Kosovo War when relief agencies, coping with sexual trauma on a scale they had never seen, needed training materials in Albanian. I secured, for the first time in our history, an authorization for services for victims of rape as a crime of war.

We must ensure that those who come to the US from other countries are treated fairly. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, many Arab Americans and Muslim Americans faced discrimination based on their ethnicity and beliefs. I cosponsored legislation that condemned such bigotry and called for tolerance and acceptance.

As a firm believer in individual freedom, I oppose efforts to amend the Constitution to define marriage as being limited to a man and woman. If passed, the amendment would immediately supersede an individual's right to marry that is the law in Massachusetts and other states. I am pleased that the Supreme Court struck down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and respected the rights of the states to recognize marriage equality. I believe that the government's only role in a marriage should be recognition of the fact that it is a legal contract. If two consenting adults wish to enter into that contract, with all of its accompanying rights and responsibilities, then the government should not deny them that opportunity.

I have always believed that women’s rights are human rights, and have consistently defended equal opportunity for women. Upon taking office as Mayor of Somerville I found that women city employees were, in general, significantly less well paid than men. I negotiated across-the-board salary increases but also put in place career ladders for predominately female occupations such as nurses, librarians and clerical employees. This change meant that they could earn more for advanced degrees or special skills. My Administration also granted paid parental leave for mothers and fathers, as well as flextime and job-sharing. At a time when cell phones were rare, my Administration provided, at no public expense, phones programmed to call 911 for every woman in Somerville with a restraining order against an abusive partner.

I am pro-choice and have voted consistently to support that right. In Congress I have stood up for women’s rights at home and abroad. I supported reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. As noted above, I obtained a foreign aid appropriation to support services for survivors of rape as a crime of war. I am also deeply concerned about human trafficking, as an inter-state as well as an international problem. I have met with U.S. survivors supported by My Life, My Choice, in Boston.

I am committed to constituent services and have helped many refugee mothers reunite with their children. In the aftermath of civil war and genocide, I worked with the Law Library of Congress to authenticate “customary adoptions,” so that refugees could bring to safety orphan children for whom they had been caring.