Despite news of terrorist acts, beheadings and the persecution of religious minorities, former President Bill Clinton said Thursday there are still a lot good things happening in parts of the world where there's been a focus on improving human rights.
In places where people have choices and rights, Clinton said, chances improve for stopping war, human trafficking and other abuses.
"If you don't have those choices, then chances that you'll become either a victim or a victimizer will go up," said Clinton, adding how human rights are more important than ever in an increasingly linked world where positive and negative forces are "bumping up against one another" in a contest that "will determine the world that our grandchildren live in."
The former two-term Democratic president appeared at the University of Connecticut's Storrs campus to accept the Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights, named after the late Connecticut U.S. senator, who was a leading prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. Clinton shared the prize with Tostan, a Senegal-based human rights group that promotes literacy and community engagement in mostly rural areas of Africa.
Clinton praised Tostan, a member of the Clinton Global Initiative, for working on the grassroots level to improve human rights and for empowering people and communities to help themselves and change their lives with an understanding of human rights and responsibilities. Empowerment of people, he said, is the most important human right that can be provided to people.
Tostan founder Molly Melching said her group's efforts have led to 7,375 communities in eight countries announcing their intentions to stop female genital mutilation and forced child marriage.
"It's possible to remake the rules of society when they lead to better health and well-being," she said.
Thursday's event marked the 20th anniversary of the UConn research center named after Dodd, father of former Connecticut U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd. Twenty years ago, Clinton was on hand to dedicate the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, which is committed to the theme of improving human rights.
The center awards a prize every other year to a leader or group that has advanced human rights. Tostan will receive the $100,000 in prize money.
Past recipients have included Tony Blair, the former prime minster of Great Britain; Bertie Ahern, the former prime minister of Ireland; Louise Arbour, the former United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights; and Justice Richard J. Gladstone, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
Chris Dodd, a longtime friend of Clinton's, said the former president has worked throughout his life to improve human rights. Most recently, he credited the former president's foundation with changing the lives of millions of people by providing affordable HIV and AIDS medications, teaching thousands of African farmers smart agricultural practices and helping thousands of Haitians and millions of people in southeast Asia rebuild their lives.