Oct 15, 2021
Joe Biden Human Rights Speech Transcript University of Connecticut
President Joe Biden spoke at the University of Connecticut on October 15, 2021 about human rights and the Build Back Better agenda. Read the transcript of the speech remarks here.
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President Joe Biden: (00:22)
Thank you Senator. My name is Joe Biden. I am Jill Biden’s husband. I’m delighted to be here. Thank you. Thank you.
President Joe Biden: (00:30)
It is truly, it’s not hyperbole suggests, it’s a great honor to be here, a genuine honor. And at this great public university, celebrating the life and legacy of not one, but two proud sons of Connecticut, Senator Thomas Dodd and my good friend, and we truly are really good, close friends, Senator Chris Dodd. Chris and I have known each other for a long time, but if you’ll excuse the point of personal privileges, we used to say in the Senate, I saw up close how he fought for human rights and human dignity in the Senate. Do you know my measure Madame Ambassador, Ambassador Kenned, you know what my measure is? People who tell me they care about people and then disrespect a waitress or a waiter. People who tell me they care about how in fact people are entitled to be treated with dignity and walk by someone at a shoe-side stand and doesn’t say hello. People who do not do the just simply, decent things for ordinary people. That’s the real measure.
President Joe Biden: (01:48)
I’ve never seen Chris figuratively or speaking walk by anybody. I’ve never seen him nor his wife nor his two brilliant, beautiful daughters. I remember the passion and eloquence that you brought to the floor, Chris, whether you were fighting for American families or serving as the Senate leader, leading voice on engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean, and your brother, the ambassador did a pretty good job as well. I think that the work this Senator’s doing to be bring human rights to the forefront and public understanding is making a real and immediate impact for all young people today. I think it’s going to rate high among your family’s many great and lasting contributions to the country, Chris. And I know this is truly a family commitment for the Dodds. So, thank you for inviting me to be part of this. I think it’s a… I really mean it, it’s an honor to be able to be here.
President Joe Biden: (02:52)
Of course, I owe Chris. I remember, whereas he pointed out when we were both running for president back in 2007, with almost no cash in either of our campaigns. You let me hop a ride with you in a twin-engine, prop plane, true story, from our Senate vote in DC to a democratic debate in New Hampshire. We were on our way to the debate one other time, but the whole way up, we just laughed and told stories before we were debating one another.
President Joe Biden: (03:23)
And then, the next day to get back to the Senate to vote, we had to flag down a young… You remember this? We had to flag down a young Senator named Barack Obama to get to [inaudible 00:03:38] an open airport. God’s truth. Remember that, Chris? Here, he’d just been there two years. He was on my foreign relations committee. I was chairman. I said, “Can you get the airport open for us?” I used to, I kid Barack. I couldn’t understand why he’s so soundly defeated me in that primary. And then I realized when he’d be introduced, he’d be introduced by the voice of God. I get introduced by Johnny Scanafrani, so it took a while for me to figure all this out. Luckily, Chris, I got to travel on a much I for playing these days. And it’s yours to travel in any time you would like.
President Joe Biden: (04:32)
And I want to thank a few more proud Connecticut leaders, who’ve been spending time with me today, Governor Lamont. You’ve been, you’re one of the finest governors in the country. I’m not being solicitous. Exceeded only by your wife. The Senator Blumenthal, who I mentioned earlier today. I apologize for repeating this, but my son, Beau Biden, who’s the one that should be standing here talking to you. My son, Beau Biden, was the attorney general of the state of Delaware. One of the people he went to and sought advice from, for real, was that attorney general, Blumenthal. They became friends and my son was a great admirer. And I think the Senator knows that.
President Joe Biden: (05:22)
And Senator Murphy, if I have to someone in the foxhole with me, I want Murph with me, man. No, I’m serious. This guy knows as much about foreign policy as anybody does and his failure to remain silent has meant a great deal to me because he’s spoken up on so much. And Representative Courtney, I thank you, thank for your help and your support. And Rosa DeLauro, Rosa, I don’t owe as much as Chris does to Rosa, but I owe a hell of lot to her.
President Joe Biden: (05:56)
My son, he was married and it was his second year of law school and he transferred to Yale Law School. And Rosa heard that I was coming up with him, and the apartment he rented was less than ideal. And the whole thing had to be painted. My brother, Jimmy fixes everything. My brother Jimmy’s with us and we went down and bought about 28 gallons of paint. I don’t know. But for real, it was hot as hell, as well. And I’m up on a eight-foot ladder painting the crown molding and sweating like a the proverbial you know what.
President Joe Biden: (06:34)
And I here, the door. I said, “Come in.” And the then Alderman, is it Alderman or Councilman at the time? Alderman, Alderman DeLauro walked in and her mom and she said, “Where’s Biden? I said, “I’m here.” She, “No, stop fooling with me, son, where’s Biden?” I said, “No, no, I’m Biden, I’m Biden.” And she came, she said, “I just want to come over and introduce myself and tell you your son’ll be taken care of.” And in walks the chief of police, I thought holy God, what did I do? She said, “You have nothing to worry about. You have nothing to worry about.” Talk about constituent service, Rosie, you come by it, honestly.
President Joe Biden: (07:25)
And Rosa, we’ve all, I’m not being solicitous again, using that word twice now. We’ve all learned a great deal from you I want to thank you for your long-standing dedication relating to the well-being of children and families and for championing and expanding the child tax credit, which is a gigantic middle class tax credit for working families. That we finally got passed in the American Rescue Plan, which we were able to get done immediately upon being elected. And Rosa will not tell you, but she’s the first person I called to ask for her help as to how I should do this. And that put money in the pockets of families all across this country, even as we speak. It’s how we’re going to cut child poverty in this country. And we’ve already cut it in nearly in half. And none of us should lose sight of what it meant to American families when we think about our mission to defend human rights and dignity at home and around the world.
President Joe Biden: (08:25)
26 years ago today, another United States Senator, a United States President, who I just spoke to Chris, literally, an hour and a half ago, Bill Clinton, he sends his best by the way, visited this University to dedicate the Thomas J Dodd Research Center, a library and archives of papers, that amount to incredible first person, first draft of history. And let me say, they’re all thinking about President Clinton today as his sending him his good wishes of speed of recovery. He’s always been a comeback kid. He’s getting out of the hospital…
President Joe Biden: (09:03)
He’s always been a comeback kid. He’s getting out of the hospital. I mean, he’s been going well, but he wanted to send his best. As a young lawyer, Tom Dodd had already built a record of fighting hatred by prosecuting the KKK in the south, but when in 1945 he left behind his beloved Grace and this five young children, a young Christopher just 14 months old at the time, to travel to the bombed out cities of Europe to document the shocking atrocities still fresh in their horror to question and cross examine some of history’s most notorious villains, that’s not hyperbole, some of history’s most notorious villains, and to expose beyond question the depravity and the crimes against humanity that the Nazi regime committed.
President Joe Biden: (09:57)
Tom Dodd dedicated his intellect and his moral passion and his resolute sense of right and wrong to making the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial a testament to justice, and that’s what it was, a testament to justice. Nothing like it ever happened before, and all a while he was writing letters to his Grace lamenting their separation, but recognizing the momentous weight of history that rested on his shoulders. And Chris, I came up the same sentence from your book. “Someday,” he wrote, “it will be recognized as a great landmark in the struggle of mankind for peace. Never before has such a record been written and men will read it for 1,000 years in amazement and wonder how it ever happened.”
President Joe Biden: (10:59)
When President Clinton spoke at this first dedication, he ended on a pointed reminder. He said and I quote “The road to tyranny we must never forget begins with the destruction of truth. The rise to tyranny begins with the destruction of truth.” In my view, that was the lesson at the heart of the Nuremberg trials, finding truth, documenting it so it could never be denied. In court, Tom Dodd build a case fact by fact using the Nazis own meticulous records of crimes and shocking human evidence to pin down Nazi leaders who tried to deny their complicity and feign ignorance. And even more important, it denied the entire German policy the ability to feign ignorance. To deal with the past, you must face the truth. Whether it’s Dachau, [inaudible 00:12:09], Auschwitz or other camps, millions of Jews rounded up along with members of other minority, groups thrown into camps, abused, used as forced labor, medical experimentation.
President Joe Biden: (12:26)
Six million Jews murdered including so many who met their ultimate faith in the gas chamber. He made sure no one could deny their own eyes and what they saw. He preserved the truth ugly and as traumatic as it was for all of history so that the horrors of the Holocaust could never be diminished or denied and evil that we still have to guard against to this day has to be watched. Chris, as you heard me say many times before because you got to meet my dad, my dad was a well read high school educated fellow who’s greatest regret was he never went to college. But he cared deeply about human dignity. At our dinner table, our dad was what many would call a righteous Christian. He happened to be a Catholic, but he was a righteous Christian. And growing up, my dad would come home for dinner before he went back to close the business he managed, and the dinner table was a place where we sat down to have conversation and incidentally eat.
President Joe Biden: (13:52)
I’m serious. My dad used to talk about as a student of the Holocaust what a tragedy it was that we didn’t bomb the railroad tracks toward the end of the war, how wrong it was that we turned away the St. Louis, a ship full of Jewish refugees from Europe. He believed passionately the only way we could make real the promise of never again was to keep reminding ourselves of what had happened and how so many people otherwise thought themselves decent people rationalized that it really wasn’t happening. ” We didn’t know what was going on.” Because they weren’t turning on the gas valve they had no responsibility. That’s why, if you’ll again excuse the point of personal privilege, when each of my children and now my grandchildren turn the age of 15, the first thing I’ve done, my word as a Biden, is put them on an aircraft and fly to Dachau one at a time at age 15.
President Joe Biden: (15:05)
Work sets you free as you go through the entrance, but that’s not what I wanted them to see. I wanted them to see the lovely homes that were right up against the fence line with their beautiful roofs, people living in there rationalized that, “It’s not me. I’m not doing this. And I don’t know really what’s going on in there.” I wanted them to see the ability of a human mind to rationalize cannot be underestimated. I would say parenthetically the reason why Germany has been able to turn it around unlike other countries is because they faced it head on, acknowledged. So let me say it again, Nuremberg was unlike anything that ever came before. It was not about vengeance. It was about accountability. Only by acknowledging the truth can we prevent the repetition of atrocities, which are happening now in other parts of the world.
President Joe Biden: (16:37)
It elevated our conception, as Chris said, of the rule of law. It set a marker for the future of justice. It uplifted the importance of human rights in international affairs. We see it in the Nuremberg tribunals, the blueprint we see in those tribunals, the blueprint for future United Nations tribunals that would help deliver justice after atrocities committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. We see it in the values championed at Nuremberg in the antecedents of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the foundation of a rules based international order built out of the records of two wars, world wars. Not just to prevent us from destroying ourselves, but to actively build a better future. We see in the passion of a young prosecutor a commitment is prioritizing the human impacts of policies, a commitment carried through in his son’s career of public-
President Joe Biden: (18:03)
… commitment carried through in his son’s career of public service by all the students of this institute been inspired by the example. We need you, we need you badly.
President Joe Biden: (18:19)
And as we look around the world today, we see human rights and democratic principles increasingly under assault. We feel the same charge of history upon our own shoulders to act. We have fewer democracies in the world today than we did 15 years ago, fewer, not more, fewer. Cannot be sustained. That’s why from day one of my administration, I’ve taken concrete steps to put human rights back at the center of our foreign policy and reassert our moral leadership on the global stage, to lead as Chris has so often heard me say, with the power of our example, not the example of our power.
President Joe Biden: (19:16)
Chris and I’ve served in the foreign relations committee. We excoriated abuses elsewhere in the world and call for action overseas. Human rights in some ways, stood apart from the domestic struggle of civil rights and civil liberties and equal justice here at home.
President Joe Biden: (19:40)
Today, we know that our efforts to defend human rights around the world are stronger, because we recognize our own historic challenges as part of that same fight. Leading by example means taking action at home, to renew and defend our own democracy, to advance equity and promote justice, to defend the sacred right to vote in free, fair and secure elections. Leading by example means not pretending our history has been perfect, but demonstrating how strong nations speak honestly about the past and uphold the truth, strive to improve.
President Joe Biden: (20:35)
We make the best case for gender equality, racial justice and equity, religious freedom, the rights of the LGBTQ Plus peoples and other marginalized communities around the world, by practicing what we preach.
President Joe Biden: (20:58)
First 10 minutes I was office, I ended the Muslim ban, advancing racial equity through the federal government, overturning the ban on transgender individuals serving openly in the United States military, establishing the White House Gender Policy Council. Demonstrating that our commitment human rights begins at home is among the most powerful and persuasive tools in our foreign policy kit. And as we defend human rights beyond our shores, they’re more effective when we work together, allies and partners in our shared values.
President Joe Biden: (21:45)
America as a nation is unique in all history. Not because we’re inherently better, because the basis upon which we are organized. Virtually every ever nation is organized based on ethnicity, religion, geography, color. We’re unique in all the world. We’re based on one guiding principle. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
President Joe Biden: (22:29)
We have never lived up to it. We have never until very recently walked away from it. Arc has always bent closer and closer to justice and inclusion. The moment we stopped, the moment we rest is the moment that our influence diminishes.
President Joe Biden: (22:57)
So we’re reengaging multilaterally and rallying the world to advance university human rights and fundamental freedoms, to prove that democracies can still deliver in an age of fast-moving cross-cutting challenges. We have rejoined the UN Human Rights Council, which we walked away from. The United States of America didn’t want to be part.
President Joe Biden: (23:21)
I mean, just yesterday we won an election. It’s a new three-year term that begins in January [inaudible 00:23:33]. We had to fight to get back on it, because the world wondered, do we mean it still? United States of America. Do we mean it?
President Joe Biden: (23:46)
In December, the United States will host a virtual summit, a summit of democracies, to bring together world leaders, to make concrete commitments, to defend democratic values and push back against advancing authoritarianism. Not war, but important words. You can’t return to a world where might is right and strong nations abuse weak, or oppress individual rights to impunity.
President Joe Biden: (24:19)
Nuremberg forced us look closely at the evil of humankind and what we’re capable of perpetrating, to see mass atrocities. Crimes against humanity do not happen by accident. They don’t happen by accident. There is only choices, choices made by individual human beings and world leaders. And sadly, when we look around the world today, we cannot say that the specter of atrocity is behind us.
President Joe Biden: (24:51)
We see today the patterns, the choices, playing out around the world, even as we speak, the oppression and use of forced labor for the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, treatment the Rohingya by the military [inaudible 00:25:10] in Burma, the rampant abuses, including the use of starvation and sexual violence to terrorize civilian populations in Northern Ethiopia.
President Joe Biden: (25:24)
Whenever we hear that kind of poisonous hatred where we ever we see our fellow human beings being dehumanized, doesn’t mean go to war, but we must speak out. Silence, as my dad would remind me, silence is complicity. Silence is complicity. That’s what Nuremberg said. Your silence is complicity.
President Joe Biden: (25:59)
I’ve raised these issues personally with leaders around the world, our friends and adversaries alike. And I made it clear that no US president should stand by when human rights are under attack and maintain their legitimacy. Those who we are, that’s who we are as Americans. It’s part of our DNA. We fought, we marched, we sacrificed to ensure the rights are not reserved to just the wealthy or the powerful. They’re a God-given inheritance of every person on this planet by virtue of our shared humanity.
President Joe Biden: (26:37)
As I said to the Supreme Court justice, who I disagreed with in the hearing, “We have a different … You think I have my rights because the Constitution granted to me.” I possess my rights because I was born, and I gave up some of my rights in the Constitution. That’s the radical idea at the core of the founding of our …
President Joe Biden: (27:03)
That’s the radical idea at the core of the founding of our nation, as I said, that all men and women are created equal. We really are endowed by a creator with certain unalienable rights and those rights don’t flow from the power of the government. These rights exist for every individual, period. It’s the job of government to protect them, to uphold them equally for all people. We’ve never, as I’ve said, fully lived up to that animated American ideal but we’ve never turned our backs on it. In all the years, since our founding, that idea has been our nation’s steady North Star drawing us back on course, a constant struggle to live up to our highest domestic democratic principles to self-correct has made us a beacon of hope for the rest of the world. It’s also made us strong, resilient, innovative, dynamic.
President Joe Biden: (28:07)
As I said, I repeat, I apologize, America’s the only nation founded of an idea, the single most powerful idea in human history. It sparked our revolution that helped ignite the wave of change around the world, the success of generations that built on it, expanding our understanding and extending protections to an ever wider circle. We must never forget just how fragile the principle of universal human rights still is, how easily bruised often sacrificed in human battles for power and personal enrichment. In an age of increasing misinformation and disinformation, we must not grow complacent in our defense of the democratic values would have been the firm foundation for an era of peace and prosperity unprecedented in human history. A tax on truth are still the harbinger of tyranny. Nothing about our democracy is assured, as I’m sure you’ve all become to realize lately. Nothing about our freedom is guaranteed. We have to work for it.
President Joe Biden: (29:20)
And those letters from Tom Dodd to his dear wife Grace reflecting his service at Nuremberg he wrote, “Sometimes a man knows his duty so clearly, so surely he cannot hesitate and he dare not refuse it.” Tom Dodd lived a life with a clarity of purpose. He brought it to his service as U.S. Senator, leading the floor fights with the Kennedys on civil rights legislation in the 60s, advocating for gun safety in a state that was a major gun manufacturer, legislation that was ahead of its time fighting always for human rights and democracy against the forces of oppression and injustice. He passed that passion onto his children and through his son. Chris carried forward his father’s mantel in the United States Senate. He uses it to fight for all American children and families, passing the first childcare act we’ve seen this country since World War Two passing the Family Medical Leave Act.
President Joe Biden: (30:35)
Chris rallied against policies that militarized the relationships in Latin America and argued instead to recognize and invest in the people in our hemisphere. He spoke out when he saw the legacy of justice that his father had fought for in Nuremberg being wrapped in the excesses of a war on terror. And he helped to create this center, growing it over the years from an archival repository for the truth into a leading center for the study and promotion of human rights at home and abroad into a widely respected academic institution training the next generation of human rights defenders and passing the torch to those of you who will carry the fight on into the future for the truth. So as we rededicate the Dodd Center for Human Rights to honor the legacies of both father and son let’s also dedicate it to the future of generations, to the students here in the audience today who discover and defend human rights is the passion and purpose of our life.
President Joe Biden: (31:43)
So let us be dedicated to expanding our shared understanding that we can never fully realize the freedom we wish for ourselves, but also helping ensure that liberty and justice for everyone. And let’s dedicate it the unending fight to bring our own nation, our own world closer to a future in which every human being is free to pursue the highest dreams and unleash their full potential. And for you students that are here, undergraduates at this great institution, there’s no reason why you will not be doing what I’m doing as President of the United States standing here speaking to audiences to now. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I was taught, I came from very modest means, no [inaudible 00:32:36] story, but very modest means, that you can be anything you set your mind to if you work at it.
President Joe Biden: (32:46)
So many of you in this audience, especially in the second tier there, are the people that my grandchildren will be looking to. There’s not a single reason why, not a single reason why, we can’t do this. Not a single reason. As I’ve told every world leader that I’ve gotten to know, and I’ve met many, many of them, it’s never been a good bet to bet against the American people. God bless you all and may God protect our troops. Thank you.