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Remarks for the Celebration of the Life of Robert L. Bernstein

July 3, 2019

[Translated by Human Rights in China]

As one of the first dissidents allowed by the Communist Party of China to leave China for the United States, I learned about the efforts made by Human Rights Watch in softening the attitude of the CPC.  Human Rights Watch achieved this by playing its unique role and exerting its influence, as an international human rights organization, in persuading governments of democratic countries, led by the United States, and mobilizing the enormous efforts of the media.

It is important to recognize that prior to that, the CPC had for several decades closed all the entryways into mainland China, and killed dissidents with guns or treated them in ways that made them wish they were dead. Its modus operandi is based on its enemy mentality and its unspoken operational principle of “shock-and-awe” with regard to the people. To be capable of forcing the CPC to abandon this principle illustrates the unique role that Human Rights Watch played, and this has left me full of curiosity and admiration for the organization.

I also knew then that Bob was the founder of Human Rights Watch and that he went deep into the Soviet Union to develop a relationship with the Russian nuclear scientist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, and assisted him in exerting international influence to help bring about the end of the Soviet Union. These achievements demonstrated a human rights organization’s role in promoting human rights values and, at the same time, helping the world avoid the threat of a nuclear war between the East and the West.

Bob presided over my first meeting at Human Rights Watch. Before the meeting began, Xiao Qiang told me that Bob would definitely bring up the issue of money, and that Bob had the particular ability to connect all issues to money. Sure enough, money was one of the topics of Bob’s talk, and when he brought it up, the meeting erupted in knowing laughter. From his serious look, you could also tell that Bob was pleased. Bob was fully aware of the effect of his amusing talk: that through laughter, he was able to make his audience grasp something deeper.

Bob later said to me that money’s greatest advantage and significance were that it allowed you to do the things you wanted. He also once told me that the reason he was fully committed to the cause of international human rights was that he hoped his grandchildren’s generation would not have to live in fear of war and enslavement.

Looking at the history of the development and expansion of Human Rights in China, the millions of dollars Bob helped raise formed the foundation of the organization’s operation and strength. That Human Rights in China was once viewed by the CPC as the most troublesome and threatening organization of its kind clearly shows that HRIC’s work has hit the CPC where it hurts. This fact is inseparable from Bob’s leadership in raising awareness of human rights and, in particular, from the money he raised, which was the fuel for the organization’s continued existence and operation. Bob’s greatness stemmed not only from his clear-headed, prescient, and outstanding awareness of both human rights and leadership. Even more exemplary was how he firmly grasped the crux of any operation, converting human rights awareness into concrete and forceful human rights action.

As a human rights worker still among the living, I have the following among my wishes. I hope that in the not too distant future, I will be able to comfort Bob’s spirit in heaven: that his commitment to changing the human rights situation in China has already shown that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Liu Qing
Laguna Mountain Villa, June 10, 2019