President Joe Biden delivered sweeping remarks Friday about human rights, zeroing in on ongoing human rights abuses around the world and underscoring the importance of truth in a time of disinformation.
Biden spoke at the Dodd Center for Human Rights at the University of Connecticut, named after Nuremberg prosecutor and former US Sen. Thomas Dodd and his son, former US Sen. Chris Dodd – Biden’s longtime friend and peer in the Senate. The center holds a collection of papers dating back to the Nuremberg trials, during which Nazi war criminals were brought to justice in Germany between 1945 and 1949.
The President spent a great deal of his speech discussing the horrors of the Holocaust, as well as the elder Dodd’s efforts to preserve the truth through Nuremberg. Biden asserted that the lesson “at the heart of the Nuremberg trials was “finding truth, documenting it – so it could never be denied.”
“(Thomas) Dodd built a case fact by fact, using the Nazis’ own meticulous records of crimes and shocking human evidence to pin down Nazi leaders, who tried to deny their complicity and feign ignorance,” the President said. “And even more important, it denied the entire German policy – the ability to feign ignorance. To deal with the past you must face the truth.”
The President also pointed to Holocaust deniers, calling continual denial of the events by some “an evil that we still have to guard against to this day.” He also later said that “in an age of increasing misinformation and disinformation, we must not grow complacent.”
“Attacks on truth are still a harbinger of tyranny. Nothing in our democracy is assured … nothing about our freedom is guaranteed. We have to work for it,” he said.
Biden discussed the importance of exposing complicity in human rights abuses, saying that when each of his children and grandchildren turn 15 years old, he sends them to see the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.
“I want them to see the lovely homes that were right up against the fence line, with their beautiful roofs. People living in there rationalized that ‘It’s not me. I’m not doing this. And I don’t know, really, what’s going on in there,’” Biden emphasized. “I wanted them to see the ability of the human mind to rationalize cannot be underestimated.”
Atrocities, he noted, are “happening now in other parts of the world” and “we see human rights and democratic principles increasingly under assault.”
“We feel the same charge of history upon our own shoulders to act,” the President continued. “We have fewer democracies in the world today than we did 15 years ago. Fewer – not more. Fewer!”
The President pointed to actions by his administration to put human rights at the forefront of US policy, saying that “leading by example means taking action at home to renew and defend our own democracy, to advance equity and promote justice, to defend the sacred right to vote in free, fair and secure elections.”
“Leading by example means not pretending that our history has been perfect, but demonstrating how strong nations speak honestly about the past and uphold the truth to strive to improve,” he continued.
The US has “never” lived up to its guiding principle that all men and women are created equal, Biden said.
“We have never lived up to it. We have never, until very recently, walked away from it. The arc has always bent closer and closer to the justice and inclusion. The moment we stop, the moment we rest, is the moment that our influence diminishes,” he continued.
Biden’s speech came a day after the US formally rejoined the United Nations Human Rights Council. During his speech on Friday, the President expressed astonishment over the Trump administration’s previous decision to leave the council.
“(M)ass atrocities, crimes against humanity do not happen by accident. They don’t happen by accident. They’re the result of choices, choices made by individual human beings and world leaders and sadly, when you look around the world today, we cannot say that the specter of atrocity is behind us,” the President said, pointing to human rights abuses against Uyghurs in China, the Rohingya in Myanmar and civilians in northern Ethiopia.
He said he’s raised these issues with world leaders, later underscoring that “silence is complicity.”