Category Archives: Current Events

News in Review – Cambodia

October 1, 2015

Cambodian garment workers have been striking and protesting since May, advocating for an increase in their current $128 USD monthly minimum wage.

The International Labor Organization, Human Rights Watch, and international human rights groups have raised concerns over workers being underpaid, overworked, sexually harassed, and discriminated against if pregnant. Moreover, thousands of garment workers have fainted on the job since 2011 due to malnourishment, overwork, and poor air circulation in the workplace. According to a Human Rights Watch report, workers have been ordered to fulfill daily quotas of 1500 clothing pieces, often working until 9 p.m. and receiving only 15 minutes to eat lunch.

Since 2013, workers have clashed with government forces while striking over wage disputes, forced overtime work, and prejudice against pregnant women. In 2014, five workers were fatally shot by Cambodian authorities during industry-wide protests. The firm DC Research recently conducted a survey examining garment workers’ expenses. Funded by the German Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Foundation, and international labor rights organizations IndustriALL Global Union and Solidarity Center, the survey was the first of its kind in six years. Union members interviewed 745 garment workers across Cambodia. Findings revealed that monthly expenditures, including remittances back to families in rural communities, averaged $207.50 USD per person. To keep up with expenses, many workers try to support themselves with second jobs and working overtime.

Cambodia’s 28-member Labor Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet this week to negotiate a newly proposed minimum wage for the country’s 700,000 garment workers. However, the committee’s seven union leaders cannot agree on a recommended wage. Given the recent survey findings, some leaders want to propose a $207 minimum wage, while others are more cautiously proposing an increase of only 10-15 percent. The Labor Ministry’s Spokesman Heng Sour claims that the unions will lose their right to negotiate if the seven members cannot agree on a single proposed rate.

Van Sou Ieng, chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), states that the only acceptable increase in wage would reflect the inflation rate, which is less than three percent. He insists that they cannot afford any further increase, given competition from other countries, notably Thailand and Vietnam. Cambodia’s garment industry makes up approximately one-third of its national GDP. He also claims that workers take home more than revealed in the survey and dismisses the survey and foreign involvement as malicious and “disruptive.” Labor rights advocates, including William Conklin, Country Director for Solidarity Center, anticipate that an $80 wage increase will not be accepted, especially when union leaders do not have a unified voice nationally. Moreover, it is expected that clothing brands themselves could best influence the wage debate. Representatives from brands such as H&M, Arcadia, and C&A were in the country last week discussing the wage increases, though no information has been released from their meetings. Advocates are concerned that even if the wage increases, landlords and stores in proximity to the garment factories will respond by raising prices.

The minimum wage issue reflects a deeper struggle in the working class, stemming back to the Khmer Rouge regime. During the regime, schools were closed and intellectuals eradicated, in attempts to achieve a classless, agrarian society. Today, half of Cambodia’s population is under the age of 25 and the vast portion of the working class remains undereducated and holds no professional working skills. Many workers, primarily women, migrate from rural towns into Phnom Penh to work in garment factories. These workers endure long, arduous working conditions, often with the priority to send money back to their families.

Negotiations between government, employers, and unions are slated to continue through the week.

Photo credit: World Bank

The views expressed by Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Interns are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the IPJ or of the University of San Diego.


Carmichael, Robert. “HRW: Cambodia Failing to Protect Garment Workers.” Voice of America. 12 Mar. 2014.

Carmichael, Robert. “Pilot Project to Boost Nutrition for Cambodian Garment Workers.” Voice of America. 14 Oct. 2014.

Cox, Jonathan. “Garment Workers Want More Pay to Cover Costs.” Khmer Times. 21 Sept. 2015.

Dara, Mech and Zsombor Peter, “Government Tells Unions to Pick a Minimum Wage or Lose Their Say.” The Cambodia Daily. 23 Sept. 2015.

Mony, Serey and Samean Yun. “Garment Workers Demand Cambodian Government Resolve Employment Issue.” Radio Free Asia. 21 Sept. 21, 2015.

Reaksmey, Hul. “Manufacturers Say They Can’t Raise Wage to $207 Per Month.” Voice of America, Cambodia: Khmer. 22 Sept. 2015.

Work Faster or Get Out: Labor Rights Abuses in Cambodia’s Garment Industry.” Human Rights Watch. 11 March 2015.

On the Ground in Kenya: Observing the Historic 2013 Elections

Kenya’s elections on March 4, 2013, took place in a climate of uncertainty as the country went to the polls for the first time under a new constitution and since the devastating violence of the 2007 elections which left over 1,200 dead and more then 300,000 displaced. IPJ Program Officer Zahra Ismail joined The Carter Center observer delegation, which included 60 observers from 29 countries tasked with providing an impartial and independent assessment of the electoral process.


In the sprawling central high school of Bungoma in western Kenya on March 3, throngs of polling station staff, election commission officials and security personnel moved about at a rapid pace, pulling together election materials, and readying them for transport to their specific polling stations. This was the scene across Kenya as officials prepared for the next day’s historic elections.


Observers Krzysztof Iwinski and IPJ Program Officer Zahra Ismail filling out observation checklist at a polling station

With 14 million registered voters, over 100,000 security personnel were deployed across the country for just over 31,000 polling stations — the logistics alone were daunting. Yet staff and officials were determined to be ready, many planning to spend the night at their stations to ensure nothing went wrong.


Each person we met greeted us with a smile, hearty handshake and the words Karibu Sana, meaning “you are very welcome” — an air of excitement for the arrival of the long-awaited day in their voices.


“We are ready for tomorrow, everything is set,” the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission official for Bungoma assured us. “We will not sleep, and have not for many nights, so as to ensure that this election goes smoothly, and our promises to the people are met.”




Election Day


We headed out to our first polling station at 5:30 in the morning amidst a still starry sky, and as we approached voters scurried to secure a place in the long lines surrounding us. Some had arrived as early as 4 a.m., eager to cast their ballots.


Line of voters at 6 a.m.

As the 6 o’clock opening time passed, our station struggled with technical issues over its electronic voter identification system, leading to a stir of impatience in the line. The polling staff, well-trained and ready to respond to these glitches, went out to explain the delay and then quickly moved to using the manual register. An hour later things were moving swiftly as voters were invited inside one by one.


At each station we visited, whether it was in a school classroom or under a tent, we found lines of voters anxious to have their say.


Sealed ballot boxes waiting to be counted at the county tally center

As we were leaving, people would call us over and ask, “How is everything? We are doing a good job?” Already nodding and smiling with clear approval of what they had been seeing. “We are being well informed this time,” one person shared. “We know what is happening.”


At the final station we visited, one of the polling staffers remarked, “I think you were impressed with the unity we showed as a country.” We were.


We were inspired. We were humbled. Over 12 million Kenyans peacefully went to the polls on March 4, 2013, reminding us of the beauty of the democratic process and serving as a testament to the will of a people who vowed, never again.

Changing Worlds through Media

The following is a reflection by IPJ Program Officer Debbie Martinez, following WorldLink’s 16th Annual Youth Town Meeting and the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.


“I believe that the full power of media has yet to be discovered, and we are the generation that is going to discover its fullest potential as a voice for activism and global change” — a bold statement I jotted down on the afternoon of January 24th. The speakers: Marian Dorst, from La Jolla High School, and Isaac Hortiales, from Instituto Mexico Americano Noroeste, as they stood in front of over 700 of their peers from all parts of San Diego and Baja Mexico at WorldLink’s 16th Annual Youth Town Meeting.


The topic of the day was “Changing Worlds: Media’s Power and Influence.” From the newspaper to the Internet, from photography to film, the potential of old and new media took center stage at this year’s WorldLink youth conference at the IPJ.


Zeta reporter Sergio Haro

Later that evening, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) Film Festival had its opening night at the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts. The festival featured several thought-provoking documentaries, including Reportero, a film that follows the dedicated staff from the Mexico-based newspaper Zeta. Contrary to other local papers, Zeta focuses on exposing the violent realities of oftentimes sensitive and controversial topics, such as the extraordinary rise in organized crime throughout the country. As a result, many Zeta journalists have been targeted and some killed.


As I sat listening to the question-and-answer period with Zeta reporter Sergio Haro following the film, I could not help but think of Marian and Isaac’s message. We are part of this powerful generation, and it is incredible to witness current acts of global education and activism through the use of various media outlets. As Jennifer Gigliotti, a master’s student in the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, commented, “I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of people that gathered to watch and support these films. It is wonderful to see that these are people educating themselves on the happenings of the world despite the discomfort this awareness can sometimes bring. … These are films everyone needs to see.”


Lt. Elle Helmer at the Vietnam War Memorial, U.S. Marine Corps

Throughout the weekend, the film festival featured other powerful and revealing documentaries, such as the Academy Award-nominated The Invisible War, which exposes the angst and trauma experienced by women in the U.S. armed forces who have survived rape and other forms of sexual violence committed by fellow service members. In the film, many of the brave women who came forward were met with an overwhelming absence of support and redress from the U.S. Department of Defense. In several cases, the perpetrators were not investigated or convicted, and many continued to rise through the military ranks.


Afarin Dadkhah Tehrani, another master’s student in the school, expressed, “It was an emotionally intense experience. I was both frustrated and heartbroken about what these women had gone through, and how it had severely affected their lives forever. … The documentary was very eye-opening for me personally in terms of the gravity of gender issues and the integration of gender-sensitive lenses in the development of peace.”


Echoing Afarin, watching the film was a difficult experience in itself. However, its impact was multiplied as members of the audience, including former and current servicemen and women, initiated a powerful debate about the “epidemic of rape” within the U.S. military. Although some audience members disagreed on specific aspects in the film, it was evident that the documentary successfully brought to light a global concern that often goes unaddressed.


As Marian and Isaac asserted, we are the generation that will utilize media and its strengths to not only educate others and ourselves on global issues, but also exploit its capacity to achieve actual social change and justice in the communities that surround each of us.


The IPJ co-sponsored the 2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival in San Diego, which also featured the documentaries Call Me Kuchu, Putin’s Kiss, Salaam Dunk and Brother Number One. To learn more, please visit  

Birthday Note from Sudan’s Arab Spring

 “Today is my birthday, I wish to dedicate this day to detainees in Sudan, jailed for fighting peacefully for their rights. I wish for a ‘happy birthday’ next year with you in the streets of a free Khartoum.”

—    Sudanese twitter activist Gihan Eltahir


Contrary to the denial of President Omar al-Bashir, the army general who has held power in Sudan since 1989, the Arab Spring may have finally come to Sudan.


Gihan Eltahir

Mass protests, which began on June 16th have continued over the last month. Pictures and videos from the ground show thousands of peaceful activists, journalists, university students and citizens being attacked, their homes, offices and dorm rooms raided. Over 2,000 have reportedly been arbitrarily detained in clandestine facilities. According to activists on the ground, the regime’s security has hired thugs and criminals called Rabata to attack protestors, identical to tactics used in Syria, Libya and Yemen.


While the protests have dwindled in the past weeks due to fear, many continue to be detained, arrested and, according to organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, subject to torture. In the worst spate of violence since the demonstrations began, peaceful protestors in Nyala-South Darfur were brutally attacked;  12 were killed and dozens injured, according to a list published by activists. Some of those killed were as young as 16 years old. The government is clearly worried.


The headlines should write themselves. Sudan has been at the center of conflict for decades, warfare being the regime’s main instrument of governance. It had been locked in continued fighting with South Sudan, which voted for independence last year following a 23-year civil war that claimed the lives of millions, and fighting has continued to erupt over the last eight months as the two countries continue to hammer out differences on oil and borders. The regime also waged a brutal war against rebels in its westernmost province of Darfur between 2003 and 2010, claiming the lives of an estimated 300,000.


Seven weeks after the first protests in Khartoum, law and order seem to have collapsed in many parts of Sudan, and clashes between government forces and citizens continue to persist.


Yet international media coverage has been poor, barely mentioning the demonstrations, the intimidation and the scores of activists and journalists languishing in secret prison cells at risk of torture. Foreign journalists are being detained and deported, their offices raided and their entry into the country denied. But this is no excuse for the lack of reporting or response. Sudanese tweeters and bloggers can provide the coverage. In fact, they already are.


Social media sites have blown up as media savvy bloggers and activists around the country attempt to spread the message, despite continued arrests, threats and intimidation. You can track all of this on twitter at #SudanRevolts, or at


So why isn’t civil unrest in Sudan receiving the same attention that other Arab Spring countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya or Syria inspired? More importantly, how can we support the efforts of activists such as Eltahir and honor her birthday request to stand with those in Sudan brave enough to work for change?


From Serbia to Georgia to the Arab Spring the media has been instrumental in mobilizing both internal and external forces for justice and democratic accountability. For decades, the international community has tried to contain the excesses of the al-Bashir regime through sanctions, threats of prosecution and the presence of U.N. military forces. This may be an historic opportunity for Sudanese themselves to transform this society that has suffered tremendously for decades — an opportunity we, in addition to the people of Sudan and East Africa, cannot afford to let pass.


Zahra Ismail is a program officer at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice at the University of San Diego.


A Victory for Women, a Reason to Celebrate

The following is an excerpt from an article in the March issue of Our Mindanao magazine. It was written by former IPJ Woman PeaceMaker Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus. For more information on the state of the peace process in Mindanao, please read the IPJ’s 2010 interview with Arnado.


The question that is frequently asked is “Why an All-Women Contingent of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus[1] in the Civilian Protection Component (CPC) of the International Monitoring Team (IMT)? Why women?” The knee-jerk reaction, albeit a nasty one, is: Why not? Why is women’s participation in any formal peace and security structure always put into question?


Mindanaoan women at a Bantay Ceasefire training in April 2010

After explaining the long litany of reasons why women should be part of the formal cease-fire mechanisms as mandated by U.N. Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, which has been there for more than 10 years already, the follow-up questions thrown to MPC are, “Are these women trained? Can they possibly do it? Will they be effective? Can they make a difference?”


I will not even belabour to answer these questions as I not only find them chauvinist and arrogant, but they are also posed as a booby trap for women. Why is it that women should bear the burden of proof of showing that they could make a difference while the men have long been making a total mess of our security situation? Again, the naughty answer can be, “Well, we don’t even have to make a difference. Like you, we have the right to be here. Period.”


For the women in Mindanao, especially in the conflict-affected areas, the All-Women Contingent in the CPC is a triumph of our decade’s old advocacy to operationalize UNSCR 1325, which calls upon all members of the United Nations to promote and recognize the participation of women in peace and security processes.


The entry of women in the CPC-IMT is unprecedented in the long and arduous history of the peace process in Mindanao. As Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles expressed in her keynote message during the launch of the All-Women Contingent, “Today, our civil society counterpart is launching an all-women peace-keeping force, most likely the first we ever had in our history of waging peace in the country. I have always been optimistic that gradually and one day, we would live to see ourselves go beyond the rhetoric and witness women really move to the front and center of the peace process. Today is one such day, yet still, I am caught up in amazement of it all.

Banner at a Bantay Ceasefire training - "Save Civilians"


As stated in the Agreed Framework on Civilian Protection, the CPC is tasked to monitor the compliance of both the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the following commitments:


a)      To monitor the safety and security of civilian communities in the conflict areas;

b)      To monitor and ensure that both Parties respect the sanctity of places of worship namely mosques, churches and religious places and social institutions including schools, madaris, hospitals and all places of civilian nature;

c)      To monitor the needs of the IDPs and the delivery of relief and rehabilitation support efforts in conflict affected areas in Mindanao;

d)      To strengthen ownership of the peace process by supporting and empowering communities to handle conflicts at the grassroots level;

e)      To monitor acts of violence against civilian in conflict affected areas; and

f)       To strengthen linkages and information-sharing between IMT and Peace Panels.


Two young Muslim women at a Bantay Ceasefire training

For Bencita Saliling, an Arumanen Manuvu who hails from Carmen, North Cotabato, her participation in the CPC is a hard-won achievement not only for women but also for the Arumanen Manuvu tribe. “Since childhood days, the only thing I know whenever there is fighting is to run away for safety in the evacuation centers. The thought of armed groups was already horrifying, how much more to monitor and report the violations they have committed against civilians. I could not even dare to face and talk to soldiers and rebels alike. That was then completely unimaginable. Seeing that as my new role now in the CPC signals the beginning of a process of genuine conflict resolution and transformation. Peace is now possible as the then unimaginable is already happening.”


For Rohanifa Atar, who is a young Moro woman from Lanao, her involvement in the CPC is a breakthrough. “I could not even bring myself to talking with men, how much more to military soldiers and rebels. But the presence of these brave and courageous women in the CPC had boosted my confidence. If people from other countries have left the comfort of their homes to help us here in Mindanao, if they are doing this to protect Bangsamoro civilians, how much more is expected of me as a Muslim woman?”


Dinah Montecillo, a Cebuana from Kauswagan and a wife of a pastor, is now accused by some of her neighbors as anti-Christian because she dared to visit Maranao communities in Lanao del Sur. “Being in dialogue with the Maranaos can be misconstrued as a betrayal in these highly polarized societies. I don’t mind these comments anymore even if sometimes I get deeply hurt. What is important is my faith that the peacemaking work that I am doing is very much pleasing to God. If that is anti-Christian to some people, so be it. I realized that we are all victims here whether you are a Muslim or Christian. And that is why I am working together with Muslim and indigenous women in the CPC so that altogether, we can stop our men from attacking civilian communities.”


Why women? Imagine a place without your mothers, grandmothers, wives, girlfriends, aunts, daughters and granddaughters? That is like missing the other half of the world. If we want to have a meaningful change on the way the peace process moves in Mindanao, we cannot continue to begrudge the women their rightful place in peace and security processes.


For more information on the IPJ’s work in Mindanao, please see our “In the Field – Philippines” page.


[1] Established in 2001, the Mindanao Peoples Caucus is an alliance of over 50 grassroots organizations from indigenous, settler and Bangsamoro communities which seeks to strengthen grassroots participation in peace talks between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front and works toward an inclusive political settlement of the armed conflict in Mindanao.

Don’t Downsize Democracy – Here or Abroad

A version of this article appeared in the Huffington Post on March 2, 2011

As the forces for democracy reverberate across the Middle East and North Africa, now is not the time to slash support for their efforts. From Tunisia and Egypt to Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, the region is alive with the makings of a fourth wave of democratic transitions, following Latin America, Eastern Europe and much of Africa and Asia. As Congress and the Obama administration consider tough budget choices, they should do everything they can to help democracy leaders ride the wave until it cleanses all shores – or we may see the wave crash before it even crests.


U.S. leadership is critical now, and it must reflect our own democratic values more than bolster repressive governments who have manipulated alliances with the United States to stay in power. Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama espoused powerful rhetoric for democracy in the region that was later criticized for not being followed up with decisive action. What have received less attention – and may be on the congressional cutting board even though they represent less than 1 percent of the federal budget – are the long-term international assistance programs that have supported justice reform and local civil society organizations struggling for rights and transparency across the Middle East and the world.


Many Americans may be unaware of the efforts of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Institute of Peace, the latter slated for elimination in the budgetary proposal that passed the House. But advocates for the democratic participation and rights of women and men around the globe have competed for and received U.S. support from these agencies.


Youth under the age of 30 comprise up to 65 percent of the population in the Middle East and North Africa. Their aspirations will determine the future of the region. The transparency and accountability of our democratic system, with its legacy of middle-class development and potential for economic growth and equity, resonates with them. Our record of shoring up some of the nastiest tyrants of the last 50 years – the Duvaliers in Haiti, the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua and Saddam Hussein in Iraq – does not. One young Egyptian told CNN that he knew the United States would be on the side of whoever prevailed in order to protect its “interests.”


That limited concept of our interests is being challenged by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, internationally minded Republicans like Senator Richard Lugar and U.S. policy advocates. Secretary Gates has called for a 3D approach to integrate defense, diplomacy and development for more balance in our strategic initiatives. A recent State Department review recommended greater focus on the security of people in foreign countries and stronger support for citizens working for accountability and resolution of social conflict. Lugar has questioned “a narrow, security-driven definition of success” in Afghanistan. U.S. advocacy groups have proposed that peacebuilding capacity be a focus area of a reformed Foreign Assistance Act.


Massive budget cuts in our capacity to support democracy – just when our government is finally developing a more balanced strategy to use the tools of peace and justice initiatives more effectively – could take the United States out of play just when the tipping point may have finally been reached. Foreign assistance to the democratically inclined citizens of countries that have waited far too long for this opportunity will continue to be crucial for their success. The United States cannot be perceived as keeping them waiting if we want to continue to exercise maximum leadership on the world stage.


Those who prefer the appearance of stability offered by non-democratic allies will point out that transforming our policies may lead to greater uncertainty. But if the choice is to go on supporting autocrats for short-term advantage, then we can be certain that our leverage in the world will decline. A better choice is to engage broadly, support with financial assistance and lead with a vision for democracy. That is the option that exemplifies our best political traditions and resonates with the democratic aspirations of the people who have challenged the status quo we have been helping to maintain.


Milburn Line is executive director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice at the University of San Diego


Eyes on the Prize in China

A version of this article appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune on January 22, 2011.

President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao met today in Washington, D.C, in the shadow of our celebration of America’s greatest civil rights leader. As they reset the U.S.-China relationship, they would do well to honor that legacy by considering the treatment of Chinese advocates for justice and democracy. Our own experience of the civil rights movement is a good starting point.

Beijing’s angry reaction to the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Liu Xiaobo masks a heated internal debate within the Communist Party about political reform, with leaders as high as Prime Minister Wen Jiabao issuing favorable signals. Now is the time for our president to begin to convince the Chinese political elite of the benefits of pluralism and accountability. Recognizing Liu Xiaobo as a Nobel laureate instead of a dissident might be a tipping point for democratic development, just as the civil rights movement was one for a more authentic democracy here in the United States.

During the Cold War the United States was defensive about international scrutiny of race relations. The Soviets highlighted the issue, and one could still see 1963 footage of police mistreating demonstrators in Birmingham, Ala., on the news in Moscow in 1987. Earlier on, human rights champion Eleanor Roosevelt threatened to resign from the NAACP Board in order to prevent it from pursuing a case at the United Nations criticizing treatment of African-Americans in the United States.

A half-century later, our president and officials at the highest levels of government are of African-American descent – something scarcely imaginable when racial segregation was the norm. Civil rights leaders were stigmatized as radicals and persecuted legally, not unlike many of China’s would-be reformers. Liu Xiaobo’s offense was to co-author “Charter ‘08,” which states:

After experiencing a prolonged period of human rights disasters and a tortuous struggle … Chinese citizens are increasingly and more clearly recognizing that freedom, equality and human rights are universal common values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, a republic and constitutionalism constitute the basic structural framework of modern governance. A “modernization” bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives humans of their rights, corrodes human nature and destroys human dignity.

In China, the combination of an expanding economy and a monopoly on political authority have led to corruption, environmental degradation and displacement following land expropriations – all of which have resulted in tens of thousands of public disturbances as local communities express their frustration. Prime Minister Wen has linked political reform to making the economic successes of the last 25 years sustainable. President Hu has not been convinced.

Like China, America’s economic surge in the 1950s led to greater prosperity, increased education levels and reflections on the justice of its political system. The civil rights movement was a painful struggle for the human rights of African-Americans, but the response of key leaders and institutions – including judicial decisions for desegregation, civil rights and voting rights legislation, and mobilizing federal law enforcement to ensure compliance at key moments – helped institutionalize a still incomplete path toward greater equality in the United States.

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the sit-ins that started in Greensboro, N.C., and challenged racial segregation across the south, it’s a good time to engage the Chinese not as critics, but as people whose “modernization” has struggled to overcome inequality and ensure human rights for all citizens. Who better than our president to convince the Chinese leadership that “dissidents” like Liu Xiaobo – like the once-vilified leaders of our civil rights movement – may be those most committed to a just and stable polity?

Milburn Line is executive director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice at the University of San Diego