Friday, May 27, 2016

Patricia Derian (1929-2016)

Much of our history has been created by women whose names most people don't remember or never even knew. One of those women, Patricia Derian, died late last week.

Derian was Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs under President Jimmy Carter. She was the second person to hold that office, but the first to make it matter. Derian was noted for her willingness to speak truth to power, both in confronting dictators abroad and in addressing her colleagues within the U.S. government who were skeptical of the need for, or the wisdom of, a human rights policy. She once walked out of a dinner being hosted in her honor by Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos to go to the prison where Benigno Aquino, a Filipino democracy advocate, was being held. It is no exaggeration to say that thousands of people around the world owe their lives to Derian's insistence, sometimes over the opposition of more cautious officials in the State Department or the White House, on naming and shaming the leaders of repressive regimes.

On two recent research trips to the Carter Library, I have seen ample evidence of Ms. Derian's impact on U.S. foreign policy--and on world events. I have also seen evidence of the obstacles that she had to overcome in order to ensure that the United States was on the side of the oppressed rather than their oppressors. Patt Derian deserves to be remembered.