Human Rights

Lantos Foundation Statement on World Refugee Day

Today we commemorate World Refugee Day which marks the historic adoption of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status Of Refugees. This global treaty recognized in international law the moral duty of nations towards those who face cruel persecution in their countries as well as individuals who find themselves driven from their homes due to war, famine, or natural disasters. This treaty represented a giant step along humanity's road to building a more just and decent world for all people. And yet the principles underlying this treaty are ancient, venerable, and live in the hearts of people of goodwill in every nation and culture. 

The ethical and religious call to welcome the stranger, give help to the widow and the fatherless, and to be our brother's keeper, truly speaks to the "better angels of our nature" and in 2018 it calls to us more insistently than ever. The United Nations estimates that 68.5 million people are currently displaced from their homes due to persecution, war, poverty, and other causes. This staggering figure represents the largest global refugee population since the 2nd World War. How individual nations meet this challenge will be a test to not only our resilience and generosity, but in the deepest sense, our national character. 

On this World Refugee Day, the Lantos Foundation calls upon governments and citizens to reject the siren call of ultra-nationalism and xenophobia. We urge nations to remember the lessons of history; that we can not and must not avert our eyes from the terrible crises afflicting our fellow human beings. We must remember that if we ignore the suffering of our brothers and sisters, their tragedies will, in time, find their way to our doorsteps. For reasons of both compassion and self-interest we must engage our hearts, minds, and strength to alleviate the refugee crisis across the globe. We should also remember that grateful and talented refugees have immeasurably strengthened the lands that have welcomed them. The late Congressman Tom Lantos, a most eloquent and passionate advocate for human rights, was one such immigrant to America and his gratitude and contributions to his adopted country were both larger than life. In the spirit of Congressman Lantos, we commemorate World Refugee Day and proclaim the shared humanity of all people and our solemn duty to stand with those who have been driven from their homes.   

Lantos Foundation Statement on Withdrawal from UN Human Rights Council


The Trump administration's decision to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), sends the terrible signal that America is abdicating its global leadership on human rights at a time when we can ill afford to do so. Our nation's leadership on human rights is already being called into question as President Trump has expressed admiration for the brutal dictator of North Korea and a new zero tolerance policy at the southern border has led to the intolerable separation of young children from their parents.

The Lantos Foundation agrees with Ambassador Haley that the Council has shown an unconscionable and chronic bias against Israel and too often its actions have, in her words, made "a mockery of human rights." Nonetheless, we believe that we can accomplish more to advance the noble cause of human rights by keeping our place at the table and not simply walking away from it.  Only by remaining engaged can the United States use its influence to push back against the abuses of the UNHRC and defend vital human rights in countries ranging from Iran and North Korea to Myanmar and Syria.

In 2006, Congressman Tom Lantos called on the Bush Administration to refrain from boycotting the newly established Human Rights Council, saying the decision to do so, would be a "self-inflicted wound." At the time, he wrote that American diplomats should leverage the tools of the Council to "dismantle the myth of moral equivalency among states that has long polluted the UN human rights efforts."  We think Congressman Lantos had it right and are following his legacy in urging the Trump administration to reconsider his decision to withdraw the United States from the UNHRC.

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."

Statement on President Trump's Meeting With Egyptian President

"While we recognize that every American administration must, to some extent, deal with so-called "Friendly Tyrants" as they pursue America's complex interests abroad, we nonetheless believe that  we betray both our values and our interests when we give authoritarian regimes a "free pass" on their outrageous abuses of human rights. This is particularly true in the case of a country like Egypt which has been the recipient of vast sums of foreign aid from the United States for over 4 decades. We must use our leverage with the Egyptian government to encourage greater respect for international human rights and the fundamental principles of rule of law. A good place to begin would be by demanding that the Egyptian government release the American prisoners it is holding. Human rights organizations, congressional leaders, and legal experts have all agreed that individuals like Aya Hijazi have been unfairly targeted with outrageous and false charges. It is time for our government to stand up and demand their release."

Solidarity Sabbath - Spotlight on China

Advance the Freedom of Religion, Conscience, and Belief

Religious and spiritual believers in today’s China are being persecuted in ways not seen since Mao's Cultural Revolution 40 years ago. On the weekend of May 20-22, 2016, religious and spiritual communities around the world will join together in the 2016 Solidarity Sabbath to highlight the strength and bravery of Chinese citizens who courageously live out their faith despite threats of harassment, imprisonment, and even torture by the ruling Communist Party.

Freedom of religion, conscience, and belief is a vital human rights issue for all global citizens, and you have a chance to help highlight the plight of the millions of Chinese denied this basic entitlement. Whether it is encouraging your faith community’s leadership to participate in the Solidarity Sabbath or petitioning your government to take part, there are so many ways to make a difference.

Learn more at

Lantos Foundation Joins Organizations in Statement Regarding Obama & Vietnamese President

Joint Statement of Human Rights Organizations Regarding the Upcoming Meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang: 

The upcoming visit to the United States by President Truong Tan Sang of Vietnam presents an opportunity for U.S. President Barack Obama to reiterate his Administration’s position that Vietnam’s “backsliding” on human rights is a stumbling block to expanded trade and security collaboration between the two countries. Likewise, this is an opportunity for the Vietnamese leadership to demonstrate their commitment to internationally recognized human rights.

We, the undersigned organizations, would like to see expanded U.S.-Vietnam partnership in the context of greater respect for human rights. We strongly believe that President Obama should insist on the full release of all Vietnamese political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience. At the same time we call on the Vietnamese government to agree to the following steps as milestones:

(1) Immediate and unconditional release of Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu, independent journalist Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay), and blogger Ta Phong Tan.

Dr. Vu, a constitutional scholar who fought for environmental justice and the rights of indigenous peoples, is serving a seven-year sentence for "propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam". He suffers congenital heart problems, acute migraine, unstable blood pressure, high cholesterol, and persistent skin rashes. Dr. Vu needs medical treatment and round-the-clock care. Last month he held a 25-day hunger strike to protest the abject prison conditions.

Last year the U.S. State Department highlighted Dieu Cay’s courage, making his case the first in a series of profiles of bloggers and journalists honored on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day. Speaking on that occasion, President Obama specifically called on the international community to not forget Dieu Cay. He is serving a 12-year sentence for "disseminating anti-state information and materials." He is on hunger strike to protest the abject prison conditions.

On International Women’s Day of this year the U.S. First Lady and Secretary of State John Kerry jointly honored blogger Ta Phong Tan as a woman of courage. She started a blog called Truth and Justice to expose corruption in the Vietnamese legal system. She was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to ten years in prison.

The release of these three prominent prisoners of conscience would be viewed as a positive development and a significant effort toward improving human rights practices in Vietnam. We are confident that this will set a positive tone for President Sang's upcoming meeting with President Obama.

(2) Release of all known Vietnamese political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience prior to the upcoming ASEAN Summit in Brunei, where U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly will hold a side meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

International human rights organizations have documented at least 150 political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience. The Vietnamese government should release all such prisoners unconditionally before the upcoming ASEAN Summit.

Reports of several hundred other such prisoners, particularly among ethnic and religious minorities in highland areas, have been difficult to confirm because the government severely restricts access to these areas.

As the confirmation process may take time, the government of Vietnam should agree to a timeline for verification, which is to start immediately. Verified political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience should then be gradually released from prison in groups and no later than the end of this year.

(3) Prison visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross, UN agencies, and international human rights organizations to inspect the conditions in Vietnamese prisons and detention centers.

We urge the Vietnamese government to end the arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention of people who peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religious belief.

The government should ensure that all detained suspects and prisoners are treated in accordance with international human rights standards. Detainees should have prompt access to a lawyer of their choice, be promptly brought before a court, and not be subject to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

We also urge the government to fully apply international standards on the treatment of prisoners and conditions of detention, in particular by enacting into legislation and adhering to the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Regular and unhindered prison visits by credible parties such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and international human rights organizations will help verify such adherence.

Signed by: 
Boat People SOS (BPSOS) 
Burma Partnership
Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam
Con Dau Parishioners Association
Council for Human Rights in Vietnam
Environmental Defense Law Center
Hmong National Development
Human Rights Watch
ICT Watch Philippines
International Office of Champa
The Lantos Foundation
Vietnamese Committee on Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Statement on International Day Against Homophobia

The advance and expansion of the scope of human rights has been one of the important good news stories of the past half century. In nation after nation we are seeing basic respect, dignity, and justice being extended to communities that, for far too long, were forced to live on the margins of their societies. This has certainly been true of the LGBT community. On this International Day Against Homophobia, we must not only celebrate the advances that have been made, but also renew our vigilance and our determination to extend fundamental human rights to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.


CONCORD, NH – October 11th, 2012 marks the first annual International Day of the Girl, which was established by a United Nations Resolution in December 2011. The resolution stated that the purpose of the day was “to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.”

Lantos Foundation President Katrina Lantos Swett issued the following statement in recognition of this important milestone:

“Today we celebrate the very first International Day of the Girl, which was established to promote gender equality and better opportunities for girls everywhere.

While women in many countries have made great strides and become incredible role models for young girls, there are still too many inequalities in the world. Just this week the international community collectively gasped when a 14 year old girl’s education rights activist, Malala Yousafzai, was brutally targeted and attacked by extremists in Pakistan. There continue to be untold numbers of reports of sex trafficking, gendercide, and mutilation in all corners of the world. We must all work together to end this rash of violence against girls and provide them the tools they need to flourish and succeed.”