Promoting American Values and Universal Human Rights

As Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has made clear in recent speeches, the United States is seen as a beacon of freedom and promoter of universal human rights around the globe. As a world leader, we have an obligation to challenge both our allies and adversaries when their behavior does not align with American values. And this is especially true in China, South Korea and Myanmar, where all these countries have been aggressively cracking down on free speech.

In Asia, China's repressive tactics used to suppress the majority Uighur Muslim population in Xinjiang province are fundamentally wrong. Amnesty International has strong criticized the local Chinese government officials for criminalizing "illegal religious" and "separatist activities" and clamping down on "peaceful expressions of cultural identity." The Chinese government has gone to great lengths to suppress free speech in Xinjiang province and erode the basic human rights of the local population. In the case of China, our political leaders need to speak out when any nation does not ahere to American values.

In South Korea, the situation is even worse. In February 2016, a large group of South Koreans led by Amnesty International took to the streets to condemn the crackdown on free speech by the administration of President Park Geun-hye, after requests to hold a peaceful rally were rejected. In November 2015, 70,000 people took to the streets in downtown Seoul to protest the government's push to pass union-busting laws, attempts to criminalize certain kinds of free speech and the incarceration of journalists. Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd, while 50 individuals were arrested for peacefully protesting.

South Korean President Park who is the daughter of General Park Chung-hee, South Korea's military dictator from 1961 to 1979, appears to be personifying some of the policies implemented by her father's autocratic regime. One of these tragic cases is that of South Korean author Park Yu-ha, a professor at Sejong University in Seoul.

Professor Park Yu-ha greatest mistake was speaking the truth and challenging the status quo in South Korean society. The eminent academic wrote a book, that contained a large volume of rich research and interviews with historical figures. Based on primary research, Professor Park Yu-ha raised some legitimate questions in her writings. Sadly, free speech is not tolerated in President Park's South Korea. The academic was immediately detained by South Korean security services, allegedly tortured in custody and then placed under house arrest. The soft spoken academic is being prosecuted for presenting a historical argument based on extensive research that does not align with the position being promoted publicly by political allies with ties to President Park's father. As history has taught us, any assault on freedom of speech is normally a first step towards greater crackdowns on free speech and a direct assault on human rights. South Korea is an American ally and our political leaders in the United States need to speak out when an American ally cracks down on free speech and does not adhere to American values.

In Myanmar, human rights abuses were once the worst in the world. Aung San Suu Kyi, the winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize for Peace was placed under house arrest for speaking out against crackdowns on freedom of speech and dictatorial rule. In 2010, after nearly 15 years under house arrest, the Nobel Peace Prize winner was released from custody as a result of the United States and our allies in international community standing up for freedom of expression and the promotion of universal human rights.

President Obama welcomed the release as "long overdue." In 2015, the Nobel Prize laureate led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a win in Myanmar's first openly contested election in 25 years. While improvements are now taking place in Myanmar, Amnesty International reports that security forces continue to commit human rights violations. The United States needs to continue our work to ensure that human rights reforms are fully implemented in Myanmar, South Korea and China.

Professor Park Yu-ha and Aung San Suu Ky are strong women who embody American values such as the right to free speech and democratic expression, both are sadly the victims of oppression. As another powerful woman, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has made clear the United States is committed "to the cause of making human rights a reality for millions of oppressed people around the world." As Americans we need to stand up, speak out and be a voice for the oppressed in China, South Korea, Myanmar and around the globe.