For people exhausted from two years of COVID-19, a vacation dream is to lie on a distant beach or explore an exotic country. The more we are barricaded at home, the more the bucket list grows. But when choosing a destination when the world reopens, should travelers take into account the human rights situation in that country?
Sam Brownback, former U.S. Goodwill Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, thinks so. “Are you leaving your heart at home?” Did you leave your soul at home? he asks.
Whether travelers should commit or find another destination rather than human rights has been the subject of debate for years. But like other issues (overtourism, anyone?), The question of how travelers should approach human rights has remained on the back burner thanks to the global implosion caused by COVID-19. (Here is a list of the ten countries that are said to care the most about human rights and the ten that care the least.)
Brownback says, âI am generally in favor of the engagement, but there are times where it is glaring. What is an example of a country travelers should boycott? âThe situation in North Korea is glaring. “
In the days of British Columbia (before COVID), tourism and human rights were regularly discussed. In 2019, the NY Times Style Magazine featured seven travel writers on “When, if ever, is it unethical to visit a country?” The introduction read: “Even the occasional traveler faces an ethical dilemma when choosing where to visit. What about the treatment of minorities by a country? What about his freedom of expression or the transparency of his government? And if we go to a country ruled by a despot or a military junta, will our currency benefit the citizens of the nation or only the regime that oppresses them? “
âIf you fly to Cuba, you are helping the government,â says Brownback. âBut why not go to a church service there? Find out who is standing up to the government and visit, if it is safe for you and the people you see.
We spoke to Brownback, who served as Goodwill Ambassador from February 2018 to January 2021, on United Nations Human Rights Day. Brownback was previously Governor of Kansas and US Senator from that state.
Human Rights Day marks the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UN calls it “a milestone document, which proclaims the inalienable rights to which everyone is entitled as a human being – regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political opinion. or other, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
The thirty articles of the UDHR include the right to education, to participate in government directly or to selected representatives in depth, to peaceful assembly and association, and to freedom of opinion and expression. An article states: âNo one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade are prohibited in all their forms.
As a senator, Brownback co-sponsored anti-sex trafficking legislation with the late Paul Wellstone. He called this trafficking a ânew modern form of slaveryâ.
Sadly, Brownback says, âThe human rights project has been in decline for the past two decades. According to Hillel Neuer, executive director of United Nations Watch, “on January 1, 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Council will be 68.1% made up of dictatorships and other non-democracies,” the worst in history. “. Current members include Venezuela, Pakistan, Somalia, Russia, Eritrea, China, Libya and Cuba. On January 1, Qatar, Malaysia and Kazakhstan will join.
Today, Brownback says he is “pushing to bring down the Iron Curtain that limits religious freedom – it is a key element of individual dignity and yet we are letting the world community trample it.”
Article 18 of the UDHR states: âEveryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes the freedom to change religion or belief, and the freedom, alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest one’s religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
The plight of Uyghurs in China, as well as the Taliban’s human rights abuses, are of major concern to Brownback. He is currently working on a book on what he calls China’s “war on faith” and is working to bring religious minorities out of Afghanistan. Previously, with the Soviet Union and its âpersecuted religious communities,â says Brownback, âpeople have been sneaking around Bibles for years. In 1977, we went to a Baptist service in downtown Moscow – people were standing for two hours. I felt I was on duty.
On Human Rights Day, the United States joined Britain and Canada in imposing sanctions and visa limitations on human rights violators including Russia, Myanmar, Uganda, China, Belarus, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Mexico. We asked Brownback if there were individuals who could be influencing as well.
NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom “has done a great job defending human rights,” Brownback said. While applauding the American diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, he adds: âWhat if our athletes made a statement? Or if they bore the name of an imprisoned person? He notes that the Women’s Tennis Association “has withdrawn its tournaments” from China, adding that “I have joined a group of people calling for a boycott of advertising if they do not close Uyghur camps.”
I joked that he sounded “pretty radical”. Brownback replied that he found it “liberating” to no longer be in office.
The question of China, both a tourist destination and a major trading partner of the United States, is thorny for Brownback. He cites the fate of “Uighurs, Christians and Hong Kong”, where the last memorial on Chinese soil to the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre has just been demolished.
For Brownback, the issues are as personal as they are political. âI was banned from China even though I have an adopted Chinese daughter,â he said.
âI don’t want people to go to jail on my advice,â says Brownback, but he believes there are ways to engage in countries with human rights issues. As they say: “It is not the people, it is the government”.
âI advocated an experience vacation, where the main thing is what you do. There is a positive power in making your dollar. If you’ve got that in you, make it a better vacation.