Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today delivered the following remarks at a subcommittee hearing on human rights in South Asia:
“I want to welcome our witnesses and I thank you Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for calling this important hearing on human rights and democratic norms in South Asia.  I also want to thank our witnesses, Ambassador Wells and Assistant Secretary Destro, for their participation today, thank you both.
“Around the world – including South Asia – we are witnessing an alarming trend. Human rights are under assault.  Governments are closing space for civil society, stifling media and Internet freedom, censoring voices of opposition and dissent.  And this really should worry all of us.
"American leadership can be a powerful force in the world and when we are at our best, our foreign policy is rooted in our values—values like support for human rights and human dignity—a foreign policy that projects American leadership as a force for good in the world.
“So, as we’ve watched this President take U.S. foreign policy away from a focus on human rights, away from a focus on democratic principles, away from American values—we’ve seen the world respond in kind. 
“Throughout this Administration, my staff and I have heard far too many foreign officials express their delight that the U.S. doesn’t quote ‘interfere in internal matters’ unquote anymore. Let me translate that from diplomatic speak into plain English—the Trump Administration is giving a free pass when countries violate human rights or democratic norms.
“We saw this sentiment reflected in the State Department’s public statements in response to India’s revocation of article 370 of its Constitution.  And last year, we witnessed it again when no senior State Department official dealt with Sri Lanka’s constitutional crisis or the deeply problematic Bangladeshi elections.
“We see another example in press freedom.  A free and open press is critical to any just society—it reveals the plight of the oppressed and the marginalized and it shines a light on corruption and impunity. So, when President Trump paints journalists as the enemy and denounces any story he doesn’t like as fake news, he gives license to dictators and authoritarians around the world to do the same—or worse.
“We’ve seen a number of dictators adopt the President’s phrase of ‘fake news’ to justify retaliation and imprisonment of journalists and just last week, the Pakistani government barred the Deputy Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, from traveling to Pakistan to participate in human- in a human rights conference honoring the late Asma Jahangir.
“We also see women’s and girls’ rights hanging in the balance in Afghanistan—which I just got back from, so if I look tired I am, just got back a few hours ago—we see women’s and girls’ rights hanging in the balance in Afghanistan where the hard-won freedoms they’ve gained in the last eighteen years risk being ignored at the negotiation table. And we see this as over one million Rohingya refugees remain stranded in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar, their living conditions deteriorating and with no end in sight to their suffering.
“So, this hearing today is critical—and there are no shortage of questions about the challenges facing us at this time. What is leading to the deterioration of democratic and human rights norms in the region? How is the absence of a clearly articulated American policy supporting human rights affecting this decline?  How are the actions of regional powers like China and India impacting the situation?
“So, I thank you all for being here to discuss these critical topics.”
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