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The United Nations Human Rights Commission is a group of delegates representing countries from around the globe that convenes to examine human-rights violations. They examine very difficult cases, including those that involve the trafficking in women or children, child prostitution, or children soldiers (like forcing 13- and 14-year-olds to take up arms in places like Sierra Leon and Sudan).
The job for the Human Rights Commission is to identify those countries that continue to violate human rights and introduce and debate resolutions condemning them for this behavior. It is a way, in the world’s-eye view, to shed an intense spotlight on countries’ abuses of human rights in hopes that these debates, international embarrassment, or even moral suasion will influence the perpetrators to do the right thing and stop all human-rights violations.
These violations can be as physical as torture or selling children into prostitution, or they could be more indirect, such as denying freedom of speech or freedom of demonstration.
The Human Rights Commission’s charter, as part of the United Nations, is to convene, review, debate, expose, and pass resolutions condemning the behavior of these countries in committing or allowing these human rights violations to be committed.
President Bill Clinton appointed me to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 2000 and I participated again in 2003. I spent six weeks in Geneva examining abuses and violations, and helping to draft some of the resolutions condemning violations by certain countries, the timeliest of which was one criticizing Russia for their invasion of Chechnya. Although there were unfortunately many other cases we reviewed, the experience was very rewarding, particularly when our ruling had a visible impact.
I was proud that the United States was a real leader, not only in investigating violations, but also in drafting strong resolutions in condemnation of countries that were denying civil and human rights around the world.
The International Drive corridor is very densely developed with resorts and attractions. One of its biggest problems was transportation up and down the corridor. The businesses were having a hard time accommodating guests and the local transit service simply could not meet their needs.
A group of businesses along International Drive, under the name ETC (Efficient Transportation Coalition) of Central Florida, brought me in to consult on public relations, governmental affairs and public policy. I represented the corridor on transit issues dealing with proposed high-speed rail systems and Maglev transportation systems.
Working with the businesses, I came up with a proposal to work with the local governments to pass what is called a Municipal Service Benefit Assessment (MSBA) that would be used to assess a very low property tax while attracting substantial state, local and federal matching money. It was the first taxing district created for transit in the State of Florida. In addition to working with governments, I also sought out local property owners, who had to be convinced that a self-imposed assessment tax was in their best interest as well. The idea was unprecedented. Through my efforts, we matched that revenue with some federal money from the Urban Mass Transit Authority and secured a local match from the both the city and county governments.
Ultimately, we succeeded on all levels. The trolleys are still going up and down International Drive today, alleviating some of the congestion.
In the following years, I was hired to represent six local governments to work to secure transit funding. I identified a lobbyist in Washington who had some experience in securing funding and worked with Congresswoman Corrine Brown and Congressman John Mica to secure $600 million in appropriations for a light rail system that, unfortunately, was voted down by two county commissioners. Otherwise, it would also be in place today, providing transportation services from Universal Studios to Downtown Orlando.
President Bill Clinton appointed me to serve as a member of the “Presidential Delegation to Observe the Elections in South Africa” in 1994. It was a very small delegation, representing the White House in the first free election in which majority blacks were allowed to vote in South Africa. There were other election observers too, including delegations from the United Nations and non-profits from around the world. But we were not only observers. We were there to meet with Nelson Mandela, the man who was to be the next president of South Africa.
As an observer, my job was to observe the elections, to go to polling places to be sure people were allowed to vote without being harassed or denied access to the polls. It was extremely rewarding. I met and spoke to people in line, ranging from South Africans who were in their 80s who had never been allowed by law to vote to 18-year-olds who would also cast ballots for their first time. The lines were extremely long, but with the trans-generational pride about being able to vote, it was a very exciting time.