Students learn about human rights at the State Department

Students listen to Charles Blaha as he discusses human rights priorities at the State Department. (State Dept./Melissa Grannetino)

More than 80 international and domestic students gathered at the U.S. Department of State in Washington on June 29, to learn about human rights issues and how the State Department addresses humanitarian problems globally.

“There is no standard day working as a foreign service officer in embassies around the world,” said Charles Blaha, who has worked in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor since 2016 and for more than 30 years as a foreign service officer.

Charles Blaha speaks to a group of 80 U.S. and international students. (State Dept./Melissa Grannetino)

Blaha discussed his office’s duties, the widely read annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices — which his bureau publishes — and the Biden administration’s approach to human rights.

“President Biden has said — and Secretary Blinken has said — that human rights is at the center of U.S. foreign policy,” Blaha said, explaining how multiple State Department bureaus work with DRL to compile the document each year. “America’s values are reflected in our politics.”

The university students wanted to know how the State Department defines a human rights violation and how the United States works with other countries on human rights.

International students Dorottya Zsiborács (left) and Ernest Szymala (State Dept./Melissa Grannetino)

“I was already aware that human rights are an important ideal for every American, but I did not know that they are one of the cornerstones of U.S. foreign policy,” said Ernest Szymala, a student from Poland who wants to pursue a doctorate in the United States after he graduates from a university in China.

“It was only after reading several reports that I realized how much the U.S. does for human rights in the world and how scrupulously it studies the global situation,” he said.

Dorottya Zsiborács, a student from Hungary who is studying in London, agreed with Szymala.

“As [Blaha] said, not all human rights violations are that easy and clear to recognize, so making a decision to [have] humanitarian intervention is quite difficult,” she said after the event.