Ten questions for Colorado’s U.S. Senate candidates on human rights – The Denver Post


Much of the world is on fire: wars, famine, genocide. Being a U.S. Senator makes you one of the most powerful people in the world and requires knowledge of foreign policy. The upcoming debates between Democratic incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican challenger Joe O’Dea, hosted by Colorado Public Radio on October 25 and by 9News on October 28, are rare chances to discuss global human rights, especially issues that, unlike Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, are not always in the top headlines. Here are 10 questions that we would ask the candidates.

Question #1: How should the U.S. stop the ongoing carnage in Tigray?

Background: U.S. Senators should be aware that the war in northern Ethiopia is considered the deadliest ongoing war. In Tigray alone, the estimate of civilian deaths is in excess of 500,000, with five times more internally displaced. The human rights reports have detailed weaponized hunger, daily bombings, forced-conscription, sexual slavery, and the longest recorded communications blackout in history perpetrated by the Ethiopian central government against the Tigray region. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair has called the assault on Tigray a genocide. Relevant legislation includes the Ethiopian Peace Bills: S.3199 and H.R.6600. Sen. Bennet is not a cosponsor.

Question #2: Should Washington, after years of bypassing its own sanctions, finally withhold military assistance to Azerbaijan?

Background: U.S. Senators should be familiar with the history in the region, including the fact that in 2020 Azerbaijan launched a 44-day war against the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh republic, an Armenian-populated region. Many were killed as the invading forces engaged in ethnic cleansing and other crimes. There were no repercussions then, which is likely why last month Turkey-backed Azerbaijan launched an invasion of the sovereign territory of democratic Armenia, prompting diplomatic intervention from Washington. Senators from both parties that are determined to protect Armenians from war criminals have recently introduced S.Res.797 and the National Defense Authorization Act’s amendment #5752 to repeal the White House’s waiver of Section 907, a 1990s U.S. law that bans military aid to Azerbaijan. Sen. Bennet is not a cosponsor of either measure.

Question # 3: Should America support women’s rights everywhere, regardless of geopolitical considerations?

Background: Women in Iran and Afghanistan, among other places, are currently fighting for their rights, be it the right to choose what they wear or what they learn at school. Since Iran is a U.S. adversary, there has been more attention to the issue of women’s rights in Iran, and somewhat less to the struggles of girls in Afghanistan fighting for education.

Question # 4: Should the U.S. disengage from the Saudi-led coalition against rebels in Yemen?

Background: According to the BBC, “Thousands of civilian deaths [in the ongoing civil war in Yemen] have reportedly been the result of Saudi-led coalition air strikes” against Iran-supported rebels. The U.S. supports Saudi Arabia, and a bipartisan congressional effort is calling for the removal of U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities in Yemen. The ongoing civil war in Yemen has had dire consequences, including an ongoing crisis of food insecurity for 17 million Yemenis.

Question # 5: Should America welcome all refugees, regardless of race or country of origin?

Background: One of the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a large number of Ukrainian refugees, some of whom are moving to Colorado. This may be an exceptional case when welcoming refugees is, thankfully, not politically controversial. Nevertheless, refugee and migrant issues, especially those associated with places like Central America, Haiti, Libya, and Syria, do not receive such public solidarity.

Question # 6: What can the U.S. do to curtail gun trafficking to the Caribbean?

Background: In recent months, U.S. authorities have observed an increase in weapons smuggling to the Caribbean, which is particularly devastating for gang violence-torn Haiti, where in one town alone nearly 500 people were killed in just over a week during a summer turf battle.

Question # 7: Should Washington prioritize the safety of journalists across the world?

Background: So far, at least 63 journalists have been arrested or killed in Ethiopia, a dozen journalists have been murdered in Ukraine, and possibly more than that in Mexico, the world’s deadliest place for reporters. According to the Congressional Research Service, “Congress… may examine whether… conditions on foreign assistance, sanctions, or legislation, could be used to improve the situation [on violence against journalists].”

Question # 8: What would you do in the U.S. Senate to prevent or end mass atrocities, including genocide, regardless of where it happens, around the world?

Background: Stateless peoples, like Assyrians, Hazaras, Rohingyas, Uyghurs, and Yezidis, among others, have been suffering from ethnic cleansing and genocide in recent years. Some of these victims, like Uyghurs in China, receive more public rhetoric, but not necessarily tangible help, than others.

Question # 9: Have you been to a Colorado public space that memorializes a crime against humanity? What was that experience like?

Background: U.S. Senators from Colorado should be familiar with at least one of these public sites in metro Denver associated, directly or indirectly, with genocide: the Colorado State Capitol Armenian Genocide memorial that commemorates the victims of all crimes against humanity, the Babi Yar Park in honor of primarily Kyiv-based Jewish victims of the Holocaust; and the City of Axum Park that celebrates the historic place that Ethiopia is currently bombing in its genocidal onslaught on Tigray. Colorado also has public spaces associated with our own crimes against humanity, such as the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site and the Amache [Japanese Internment] National Historic Site.

Question #10: Share an interaction that you have had with a refugee community in Colorado.

Millete Birhanemaskel has spent more than two decades fighting for social justice as a trained journalist and business owner of Denver’s only activist and social justice café, Whittier Café. She traveled to Sudan to interview Tigrayan refugees and has met with dozens of senators and representatives to advocate for an end to the war. She has lost nine family members in the Tigray Genocide.

Simon Maghakyan is a Visiting Scholar at Tufts University, a PhD student in Heritage Crime at Cranfield University, and a leader in Colorado’s Armenian community. He is best known for his lifelong investigative research into Azerbaijan’s ongoing erasure of sacred Armenian monuments, one of which was recreated at the Colorado State Capitol as a genocide memorial. 

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