Senator John McCain

Senator John McCain is an American hero and one of the finest public servants our nation has ever had. Tom Lantos deeply admired his friend and colleague and it has been a great privilege for the Lantos Foundation to work with Senator McCain to advance human rights and justice around the world. He is still the brave fighter who served our country so many decades ago and we are praying that he will win this new battle in his life. 

Lantos Foundation condemns Russia's outrageous decision to ban Jehovah's Witnesses

"Russia's recent outrageous decision to ban the Jehovah's Witnesses from existing as a recognized faith community in Russia is a complete violation of the protections for freedom of religion and belief in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since Russia embarked on this unlawful path of destruction against a peaceful community of believers, Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia have experienced a 7 fold increase in incidents of violence and harassment directed at their community members. People of goodwill from all faith communities as well as all those who cherish freedom of conscience rights must stand in solidarity with the Jehovah's Witnesses of Russia. The Lantos Foundation calls upon leaders in Congress and the Trump Administration to take action on behalf of this small faith community and we once again call on the Trump Administration to move forward with the appointment of an Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom. As religious freedom abuses continue to occur around the world, it is vital that the United States government have a high level representative of our government in a position to advocate on behalf of persecuted people." - Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, President

The Passing of Liu Xiaobo

Today, we mourn the loss of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Liu Xiaobo. Earlier this month, the world received the news that Xiaobo was released from a Chinese prison, but what should have been joyous news was clouded with sadness as we learned that he was in the final stages of terminal liver cancer. He would take his last breath outside the prison walls, but his death would still be at the hands of China’s brutal regime.

In 2010 the Lantos Foundation was privileged to be part of a delegation of human rights activists, mostly Chinese dissidents, who were representing Liu Xiaobo when the imprisoned Laureate received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. We remember well the poignancy of the empty chair on the stage representing the absent honoree who was sitting in a Chinese prison. Tragically his chair will remain forever empty as Liu has become the first Nobel Laureate to die in state custody since the German pacifist, Carl von Ossietzky, died at the hands of his Nazi tormentors in 1938. What a shameful distinction for the Chinese government to share.

But while this peaceful defender of human rights has been silenced, his courageous life speaks volumes and his example and his words will continue to inspire his countrymen and those who fight for democracy and human rights in every corner of the world.

Liu’s death has been headline news around the world but in a very real sense he represents thousands of forgotten individuals who are imprisoned and tortured at the hands of brutal authoritarian regimes but whose stories are never covered in the media. If American advocacy for human rights and justice is to mean anything at all, our government must do more to support these political prisoners and to hold accountable the governments and individuals who so brazenly abuse their fundamental rights. One way of doing this is through the vigorous enforcement of the Global Magnitsky Act.  

In April, President Trump pledged the Administration’s commitment to the “robust and thorough enforcement” of the Global Magnistky Act, saying, “My Administration is actively identifying persons and entities to whom the Act may apply and are collecting the evidence to apply it.” The evidence in the case of Liu Xiaobo is clear and we call on the Administration to take action against the responsible parties under the Magnitsky Act.

Liu Xiaobo’s legacy of integrity, love, and sacrifice will far outlive the deeds of those who have persecuted and imprisoned him. Long after these persecutors have been forgotten on the ash heap of history, his life, words, and deeds will continue to light the way for future generations.

Lantos Foundation : "Don't Disrespect Congress' Only Holocaust Survivor" - Lantos Foundation calls on Trump Administration to fill post of Special envoy to combat Anti-Semitism

June 28, 2017
For Immediate Release
Contact: Denise L. Perron, Executive Director
(603) 226-3636

Lantos Foundation : "Don't Disrespect Congress' Only Holocaust Survivor"
Lantos Foundation calls on Trump Administration to fill post of Special envoy to combat Anti-Semitism

CONCORD, NH – On Tuesday, the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice once again called on the Trump Administration to appoint a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. In a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Lantos Foundation President Katrina Lantos Swett urged the appointment of a qualified individual to the post created via the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, a bill written and championed by her late father, Congressman Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the U.S. Congress.

The latest push for this crucial position comes in response to concerning statements from Secretary Tillerson and proposed budget cuts that will leave the office of the Special Envoy unstaffed as of the first of July.

Under questioning at a Congressional hearing last week, Secretary Tillerson disputed the need for the Special Envoy for anti-Semitism. He suggested that having a high level official focused on monitoring and combatting anti-Semitism could weaken such efforts by other personnel within the State Department. His testimony was met with bi-partisan skepticism and disagreement.

A broad group of lawmakers and various Jewish organizations have since stepped up efforts urging the Administration to appoint a Special Envoy and the Lantos Foundation urgently joins them in calling for swift action to fill this post. The Lantos Foundation also focused its 2017 Solidarity Sabbath efforts on pressuring the Administration to appoint both this position and the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.

 Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Foundation said;

“There is strong support across the political spectrum for the Trump Administration to fill this vital position as quickly as possible. Failure to do so sends a troubling message, to friend and foe alike, that the Administration is downgrading its focus on fighting anti-Semitism. 

While I agree that the fight against anti-Semitism should not be exclusive to one mission at the State Department, there absolutely must be a dedicated leader in this crucial fight. My father understood this better than anyone else. His deep understanding of these issues was unparalleled in the Congress, which is why he had the strong support of his colleagues for the legislation creating the Special Envoy post. 

I am baffled that the Administration would ignore the hard won wisdom and experience of Congress’ only Holocaust survivor and choose to leave this post vacant. This is disrespectful not only to the memory of my father, but to all those who have fought against anti-Semitism for so long.”

The Lantos Foundation was established in 2008 to carry on the human rights legacy of the late Congressman Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the U.S. Congress and a prominent advocate for human rights during his nearly three decades as a U.S. Representative. The mission of the Lantos Foundation is to be a vital voice standing up for the values of decency, dignity, freedom, and justice in every corner of the world.

Statement from Dr. Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation, on the release of Nobel Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo

"Today, the world received word that the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Liu Xiaobo was released from Chinese prison. What should have been an occasion of joy and celebration is instead a somber moment of reflection. It is reported that this brave human rights activist is suffering from terminal liver cancer. Following just a few days after the tragic death of Otto Warmbier at the hands of a brutal North Korean government, it is a stark reminder of the cruel indifference of regimes that maliciously and regularly trample on the most basic human rights.

Liu Xiaobo was an eloquent advocate for democracy and human rights in China. He received the highest recognition the world can bestow when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010 - the first Chinese citizen to be so honored. I was privileged to be there in Oslo for the ceremony when he received the Prize but sadly, Liu was languishing in a Chinese jail and the ceremony took place around his empty chair. Even his wife, Liu Xia was forbidden to travel to Norway to receive the prize for her husband and she has lived in complete isolation under house arrest for the past 7 years. 

There is no celebration at the release of this brave human rights hero. Only condemnation for a regime that despite its wealth, power, and size, shows itself to be a moral midget when it comes to honoring the fundamental rights of its citizens. We pray that Liu Xiaobo and his wife will be comforted in the knowledge that his courageous example is an inspiration to people around the world who are fighting for a more just and decent world. Our prayers are with him and the Chinese people on whose behalf he has made such a great sacrifice."

Lantos Foundation Welcomes Airing of Documentary Exposing Inconvenient Truths About Anti-Semitism in Europe

June 20, 2017

For Immediate Release

Contact: Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett

(603) 226-3636

Lantos Foundation Welcomes Airing of Documentary Exposing Inconvenient Truths About Anti-Semitism in Europe
Calls on German Television Channel Not to Attempt to Discredit this Important Film

The Lantos Foundation is pleased that Germany’s Channel 1 has responded to growing criticism and has agreed to air an important documentary film that exposes some powerful truths about the prevalence and nature anti-Semitism in Europe.

The acclaimed documentary, “Chosen and Excluded - Jew Hatred in Europe,” was commissioned and approved by the German public broadcaster WDR. The film illuminates the inconvenient truth that a significant component of the anti-Semitism in Europe is driven by rabid anti-Zionist and anti-Israel sentiment, much of it coming from the political left and from immigrant Muslim communities.

Initially, the documentary was censored for daring to tell these uncomfortable truths and there was an effort to keep the film from seeing the light of day. The German newspaper Bild obtained a pirated copy of the film and made it available on its website for 24 hours. As criticism over the effort to censor the film has mounted, Channel 1 has agreed to air the program on Wednesday, June 21st at 10:15 pm. 

Lantos Foundation President, Katrina Lantos Swett, whose father Tom Lantos was the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the U.S. Congress, said:

“The sad reality is that most contemporary European anti-Semitism seeks to masquerade as legitimate criticism of Israel. However, it is easily unmasked as the same old ugly racism and Jew hatred. This is unmistakably evidenced through its attempted demonization and de-legitimization of the Jewish state and the outrageous double standard  that is consistently applied only to Israel.”

Lantos Swett continued:

“This ugly anti-Semitism that is stalking much of Europe must be exposed, called out, and confronted.”

According to news reports, the screening of the documentary will be followed by a panel discussion addressing alleged “shortcomings” of the documentary. The filmmakers, Joachim Schroder and Sophie Hafner, have expressed concerns that this post broadcast panel will be stacked with critics who will attempt to put the film itself on trial in an effort to “whitewash” the initial decision to suppress the documentary.

The Lantos Foundation calls upon the German Broadcaster Channel 1 to guarantee that this will not be a “stacked tribunal” by including the filmmakers on the panel and ensuring that the other participants will represent a balanced cross section of participants.

As Lantos Swett said:

“Unless German television wants to ignite another round of outrage and criticism, they must invite the documentary filmmakers to be part of the proposed panel discussion and they must include critics as well as supporters of the film. Above all, they must include representatives of the Jewish community who clearly have the most authoritative and authentic understanding of the problem of anti-Semitism in Europe.”

The Lantos Foundation was established in 2008 to carry on the human rights legacy of the late Congressman Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the U.S. Congress and a prominent advocate for human rights during his nearly three decades as a U.S. Representative. The mission of the Lantos Foundation is to be a vital voice standing up for the values of decency, dignity, freedom, and justice in every corner of the world.

The Inconvenient Truth that Europe is Trying to Hide

After commissioning a documentary on European anti-Semitism, Arte, the Franco/German TV network that solicited the film has scandalously refused to air it. The acclaimed documentary has been censored because it dares to tell the truth - namely that there are shockingly high levels of anti-Semitism in Europe and that much of it is driven by rabid anti-Zionist and anti-Israel sentiment from the political Left and immigrant Muslim communities. These politically inconvenient truths must be confronted, not censored. The phony explanations from Arte's Program Director, Alain Le Diberder, for why they have refused to broadcast the film simply do not pass the "red face" test.

The sad reality is that most contemporary anti-Semitism seeks to masquerade as legitimate criticism of Israel. However, as the US State Department has identified, when that criticism is characterized by demonization and de-legitimization and the application of outrageous double standards, then the mask is ripped off and it is clear that it is the same old ugly, evil hatred of the Jewish people dressed up in a new costume.

This ugly racism and hatred is stalking much of Europe and it must be exposed, called out, and confronted. The Lantos Foundation commends the German newspaper Bild for broadcasting the film, "Chosen and Excluded- Jew Hatred in Europe", on its website for 24 hours but this is not enough.

The film must be screened and made available to the public and more importantly, the disturbing truths it reveals must be addressed by governments and civil society across the European continent.


Lantos Foundation Releases Open Letter to President Trump Urging Appointment of Key Envoys to Combat anti-Semitism and Advance International Religious Freedom

Lantos Foundation Releases Open Letter to President Trump Urging Appointment of Key Envoys to Combat anti-Semitism and Advance International Religious Freedom
Part of Solidarity Sabbath 2017 Initiatives.

Today, the Lantos Foundation released an open letter to President Trump, calling on his administration to act swiftly to appoint an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. The letter was co-signed by former Ambassadors-at-Large Robert Seiple and David Saperstein and former Special Envoys Hannah Rosenthal and Ira Forman along with Lantos Foundation President and former Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Katrina Lantos Swett.

The letter notes the grave threats facing numerous faith communities around the world from Egypt and Pakistan to Burma and Iran to China and Russia. It underscores the importance of filling these leadership positions promptly in order to maximize American leadership internationally on behalf of persecuted communities and individuals.

The letter reads in part;

“The perilous state of religious freedom around the globe confirms the wisdom of America’s leaders in creating a legal framework for addressing these abuses and ensuring that our foreign policy remains focused on protecting and advancing these fundamental rights. The positions of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting Anti-Semitism are absolutely critical components of the legal framework.”

The open letter to the Trump administration and related outreach encouraging quick action to fill these posts is being undertaken as part of the Lantos Foundation’s annual Solidarity Sabbath which each May shines a spotlight on embattled faith communities.

Lantos Foundation Statement - Russia Jehovah's Witness Ruling

Today's ruling against the Jehovah's Witnesses by Russia's Supreme Court effectively bans this peaceful religious community from being able to legally exist. It is an outrageous violation of the fundamental right to freedom of religion, conscience, and belief and more evidence of the deterioration of democracy, human rights, and civil society in Putin's Russia. What began as a ban on distributing literature has now escalated into an all out assault on the right of this community of over 170,000 faithful believers to function at all. There is a significant risk that if this appalling ruling is allowed to take effect, that Jehovah's Witnesses could face criminal prosecution and prison.

The Lantos Foundation urges faith leaders from all communities to stand in solidarity with the Jehovah's Witnesses of Russia and we call upon the Russian government to uphold the religious freedom rights of all people.     

Her Father’s Daughter - World Magazine

Democrat Katrina Lantos Swett is an advocate for human rights regardless of which party she offends

by J.C. Derrick

CONCORD, N.H., and WASHINGTON, D.C.—On a February morning at the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers, ambassadors, and advocates gathered to award the Lantos Human Rights Prize to Vian Dakhil, a young, articulate member of Iraq’s parliament whose 2014 cries for help drew the world’s attention to ISIS atrocities.

Dakhil’s advocacy for fellow Yazidis had made her ISIS’ most wanted woman, but her nationality almost kept her from attending the event in her honor: As an Iraqi national, she was barred from entering the United States under President Donald Trump’s recently issued travel ban.

Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation, later called it “the height of irony” that the ban would block “one of ISIS’ most effective and ardent foes.” Dakhil eventually received a waiver to attend the event—a process the administration created to address situations like her’s—but Swett urged event attendees to consider what an “America First” policy could mean for human rights.

Some conservative observers might dismiss Swett’s Trump criticism, since she’s a Democrat, but Swett has crafted a reputation as a forceful and fiercely independent advocate for human rights—and specifically international religious freedom. Swett spent the Obama years often urging the administration to be more active and challenging congressional Democrats to do the same.

“There’s no Republican position and there is no Democratic position on international religious freedom,” said Swett, age 61, who served on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) from 2012 to 2016. “It absolutely transcends party lines.”

As some Democrats de-emphasize traditional human rights—often in favor of LGBT concerns—and Republicans face pressure not to criticize a GOP White House, Swett’s example of independence shows it is possible to put policy over politics.

“She was the very opposite of a partisan or an ideologue,” said conservative Princeton University professor Robert P. George, who served as the USCIRF chairman in alternating years with Swett. “I did not have a different vision from Katrina, and she didn’t have a different vision from me. We were the same.”

HARROWING FAMILY HISTORY cultivated Swett’s passion for human rights. Her Hungarian parents, Tom and Annette Lantos, both lost most of their families in the Holocaust. After escaping a slave labor camp, her father hid in a safe house established by Raoul Wallenberg, the famed Swedish diplomat who saved as many as 100,000 Hungarian Jews. Her mother slipped out of Hungary with a “protective passport”—another Wallenberg rescue effort. The couple reconnected after the war, married in 1950, and settled in California.

The Lantoses regularly took their two daughters abroad and, often around the dinner table, instilled a sense of optimism about life and a conviction that one person can make a difference. This produced tangible results: Katrina and her sister Annette took it upon themselves to rebuild the family and had a combined 17 children.

Swett attributes her “double education” at home and school for rapidly preparing her for college. After skipping high school, she earned a political science degree from Yale University at age 18, graduated from law school 2½ years later, and landed on the staff of then-Sen. Joe Biden at age 21.

Four years later, Tom Lantos became the first and only Holocaust survivor to win a seat in Congress. He would go on to help found the Congressional Human Rights Caucus—renamed the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission after his death—and chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Her father was a great man,” said Elliott Abrams, a former Reagan administration official who frequently worked with Lantos on human rights issues.

Step into Swett’s office in downtown Concord, N.H., and it takes only seconds to see how much the legacies of father and daughter intertwine. Atop a bookcase sit separate photos of her father shaking hands with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—near a photo of her smiling parents with Condoleezza Rice. Her mother’s Holocaust-era ID card sits on a shelf. On the wall hangs a painted portrait of her father casting an adoring glance at his wife.

Swett flashed one of her frequent smiles and said she has her father “looking down on me from every corner of my office. He keeps me flying straight.”

Following her father’s 2008 death, Swett, her mother, and her sister launched the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice to continue advancing causes around the globe. The foundation uses three primary means to do so: The Lantos Congressional Fellows program provides mentoring and support for about 10 young human rights activists each year; the Front Line Fund awards grants to small organizations and individuals doing unheralded work; the Lantos Prize for Human Rights annually honors a person for outstanding advocacy—like Vian Dakhil.

“We like to think we punch above our weight,” Swett said before taking me on a tour of her orderly office. She explained her father’s love for animals and the significance of the Wallenberg portrait hanging beside her desk and read a framed letter Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent to recognize a Lantos statue unveiled last year in Israel.

The family’s political connections have aided the foundation’s growth, but Swett’s persistent work has swiftly turned the organization into a respected human rights institution.

FOR MANY YEARS Democrats took a strong role in advocating for human rights—both at home and abroad. Among his many international battles, Lantos frequently criticized abuses in China, spoke out against Communism, and steadfastly supported Israel. On the domestic front, Democratic Rep. Chuck Schumer—now the Senate minority leader—introduced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which President Bill Clinton later signed into law.

The tide turned after 9/11, when wars in Iraq and Afghanistan created a fear of over-engagement, especially among Democrats. During the Obama presidency, Republicans more often championed traditional human rights, while many Democrats seemed to pull back from them.

Some observers cite a reluctance to criticize one’s own president as the prime cause for the shift, but Swett sees issues that won’t be solved with a Republican in the White House. She said the Iraq War and the rise of LGBT activism have caused some to back away from global human rights issues—especially religious freedom. “Sometimes,” she said, “Democrats hear religious freedom and they transpose it into this domestic context where they may feel that religious freedom claims conflict with what they view as robust protection of civil rights for everybody in our society.”  

Swett argues the hesitancy on international issues is unnecessary: Democrats and Republicans can and should agree on, among other things, the danger of blasphemy laws and the economic and security benefits of promoting freedom of speech, religion, and conscience. She said the Obama administration often took the right positions, but then didn’t back them up with policies.

“Rhetoric is always easier than policy,” Swett said. She named Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as consistent advocates, but said, “It pains me that in some instances leaders in my party are not leading the charge any longer on human rights.”

Swett would know. USCIRF’s mandate requires it to collect facts and offer independent policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state, and Congress on religious freedom issues—putting commissioners in close contact with policymakers.

Swett charted an aggressive course on the issues, calling out oppressive governments and even joining with six other commissioners who each offered to take 100 of the 1,000 lashes the Saudi Arabian government sentenced to a liberal blogger. In 2015, Swett supported USCIRF’s call for the U.S. government to recognize ISIS genocide against all affected groups—in the face of pressure to name only Yazidis.

Her independence at times ran afoul of other Democratic-appointed commissioners who wanted to mitigate criticism of the Obama administration and move USCIRF from nonpartisan to bipartisan—including Republican and Democratic staffs. Swett was at times the lone Democrat voting with four Republicans on the nine-member commission.

“Katrina wouldn’t have it—she just wouldn’t vote a party line,” Abrams said. “She voted her conscience all the time.”

Principled stands don’t come without risk: As a political appointee, Swett could be less likely to receive a future appointment. (Her husband, former U.S. Rep. Richard Swett, was a Clinton-appointed ambassador to Denmark.) But Swett said she didn’t find it difficult: “If I felt it was the right thing to do, it never bothered me to ally with Republican colleagues.”

Some international religious freedom advocates credit Swett with saving the commission. They say the reforms she helped defeat would have rendered the body impotent.

Former U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, who served for 27 years with Lantos, wrote the 1998 legislation that created USCIRF and called Swett one of the best commissioners the body has ever had: “She’s a tribute to her dad. I think her father would be very proud.”

An advocate’s religion

Katrina Lantos Swett recalls her father as a proud and patriotic Hungarian before his country turned against him. After watching his mother and close friends die in the Holocaust—at the hands of both Nazis and Hungarian sympathizers—Lantos became a religious agnostic upon his immigration to the United States.

“He had become a hunted animal because he was a young Jewish man,” Swett said. He later rediscovered his Jewish identity but was “not eager to raise his two daughters in any particular religion.”

One day, young Katrina sent chills up her mother’s spine when she wished the family happy new year—in the fall. Her parents explained it wasn’t a new year, but the little girl insisted otherwise. That day was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year no one had ever told Katrina existed.

Mother Annette Lantos eventually joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She read Bible stories to her daughters but showed deference to her husband’s wishes.

As a young adult, Swett also became a Mormon and went on to raise her seven children in both religious traditions. —J.C.D.

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