Chinese pro-life activist awarded human rights fellowships

Chen Guangcheng speaks at Catholic University of America on October 2 2013 Credit Addie Mena CNA CNA 10 2 13 Chen Guangcheng announces his new Catholic University of America fellowship on October 2, 2013. | Addie Mena/CNA.

Chinese pro-life activist Chen Guangcheng has announced a new three-year partnership with the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., as well as with two other human rights groups.

The blind human rights advocate will also partner with the Witherspoon Institute, a non-profit organization focused on moral reasoning in a free society, and the Lantos Foundation, a human rights organization which promotes the advance of human rights in American foreign policy.

"I believe that human rights supersedes partisan politics and is greater than national borders as well," Chen said, adding that he looks forward to a "new starting point" and working for institutions "that are not intimidated by the powerful."

"The kinds of concerns that he expressed on human life issues are something that Americans really need to hear," Catholic University of America president John Garvey told CNA.

"The lack of concern for human life or respect that we have seen in the last 40 years in America reaches its highest form in places like where he's lived."

Chen, who has been blind since childhood, became a self-taught human rights lawyer while in China, speaking out in particular against forced abortions and sterilizations under the country's one-child policy.

His activism attracted the attention of the Chinese government, and Chen spent four years in prison for his advocacy. In September 2010, he was placed under house arrest with no formal charges, and has said that during this time he and his family were treated harshly, beaten and denied proper medical care.

In April 2012, Chen escaped from house arrest, seeking refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing. Attracting growing international attention and voicing concern for the safety of his family, Chen was offered a fellowship at New York University's law school in May 2012. The Chinese government agreed to allow him to travel with his immediate family to the U.S.

New York University announced in June that Chen's fellowship was ending, stating that the position was meant to be a temporary post. The pro-life activist claimed in a June 17 statement that the university ended his fellowship following "great, unrelenting pressure" from the Chinese government.

At the Oct. 2 press conference, the Witherspoon Institute and the Catholic University of America announced that Chen would begin this month in three-year prestigious human rights fellowships, and the Lantos Foundation said that the activist will take on the role of senior advisor.

Chen commented at the press conference, through a translator, that the opportunity to partner with these groups will "set up a platform from which I am able to speak up about facts and realities of the Chinese Communist Party's violation of human rights."

He thanked the American people for offering him refuge in the United States and voiced a desire to join with the organizations offering him fellowships and "work closely for all mankind."

"We will make concerted efforts to defend all mankind, including the Chinese people," Chen affirmed, adding that the new opportunity will help to "safeguard human dignity" for the most vulnerable.

Matthew Franck, director of the center at the Witherspoon Institute where Chen will be a senior fellow, told CNA that the organization wants to help Chen "bring visibility and greater public significance to the plight of freedom and democracy in China."

"Chen is a truth teller – it is our wish that he continue to tell the truth about human rights abuses in China."

Franck added during the press conference that the Witherspoon Institute "is devoted to freedoms, and among them religious freedom," both domestic and international.

Richard Nelson Swett, treasurer of the Lantos Foundation, remarked that "the fight for human rights transcends the prosaical political battles," and that the "spirit of independence" and concern for human rights that Chen embodies is shared with the foundation's namesake, the late congressman Tom Lantos.

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The organization looks forward to collaborating with the "active leader and voice on the behalf of literally tens of millions" of Chinese citizens, Swett said. He also expressed his pleasure that Chen's experiences would demonstrate that "care and concern for human rights" spreads beyond the "polarized politics of this world."

Garvey praised Chen's "value and advocacy for human rights in China" and his work in exposing the country's one child policy and forced abortions, and said he was "delighted to welcome Mr. Chen to our university."

He commented that this work of "protecting the rights of the poor and the vulnerable resonates with the mission of the Catholic University of America" and would benefit academic life at the college.

Chen's "enthusiastic support for his defense of human rights in China and around the world" will "be a witness" to the moral foundations that the university seeks to instill in its students as well, Garvey added.

"Chen's own witness, which has been very courageous," he told CNA, "is a wonderful model for our students to learn those virtues that he has exhibited in his fight against the difficulties he has experienced in China."

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