Tom Malinowski is unknown to Americans who don’t follow or labor in the human rights field. But Malinowski needs rescuing.
A liberal and an executive with Human Rights Watch, he has joined with conservative human rights activists to implore the administration to act in Egypt and Syria to stem the two regimes’ repression and murder of civilians. He has not, like many on the left, pulled his punches out of partisan loyalty to the president. In July, he was nominated for assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. Human rights advocates, especially those on the right who’ve been tearing their hair out with the Obama administration, could not have gotten a better pick in this administration.
At the time, Sens. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) praised the pick in a statement: “Tom is widely respected for the indispensable role he has played in defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms, from ending torture to advancing democracy and the rule of law. Tom is the right choice to help lead America’s support of its values, and we hope the Senate will move forward to confirm him as soon as possible. We look forward to working with him as the newest member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.” (The commission is charged with “advancing comprehensive security through promotion of human rights,” and is made up of three administration officials and nine members from each party in Congress.)
He received wide support from Democrats and Republicans who have been united in their criticism of the administration’s lax, indeed indifferent, attitude toward human rights. In a December letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), human-rights experts (many of whom served in the Reagan and Bush administrations) pleaded for movement on Malinowski’s nomination and that of the undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights. They wrote: “The extended vacancy in these two key positions risks casting doubt on the United States’ commitment and capacity to promote human rights and democratic values around the world. The absence of senior leaders on human rights inside the U.S. government handicaps our diplomacy in crucial arenas like Tibet, Burma, Ukraine, Cuba and Russia. . . . All in all, it sends a terrible message to allow these positions to remain unfilled into the next calendar year. Voting on nominees for these critical positions should be a high priority for the Senate, given the continuing turmoil in the Arab world, from Syria to Egypt to Libya to Bahrain; given the attacks on civil society from Russia to China to Cuba to Vietnam; given the ongoing mass violence against civilians from Sudan to the Central African Republic; and given the crucial debates now underway threatening free expression on the internet.”
That is even truer today, with Ukraine and Venezuela in turmoil and Syria’s bloodbath nearing the three-year mark. It is dicey to criticize the administration’s abominable human rights record when it has nominated a capable advocate who remains mired in the Senate.
So what’s going on? Minority and majority staff on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee confirm that he passed by voice vote unanimously on Jan. 15. He (along with about 40 nominees passed out of committee) is now in limbo, a casualty of the nuclear option and the GOP blowback that now denies unanimous consent to move nominees to the floor.
Republicans have good reason to strike back at Reid’s power grab, but to do so indiscriminately harms conservative causes and the country’s national security. It’s no favor to the administration to get Malinowski on the job (goodness knows he’ll be a thorn in the side of administration officials hostile to the advancement of U.S. interests), but he would be a valuable ally to democracy advocates in Syria, Egypt, Venezuela, Ukraine and Russia. If anything, pushing him through despite the partisan roadblock would signal that the U.S. Senate takes human rights and Vladimir Putin’s campaign of aggression seriously.
So, to Sens. Reid and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) we can say: Free Tom Malinowski!