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Human Rights Summit Seeks Greater US Leadership

Leading human rights advocates gathered in Washington on the eve of Human Rights Day on Thursday to address the role of the United States as a force for progress in its ability to expose and undermine human rights abuses at home and abroad.

This year's "Human Rights First" summit centered on the global refugee crisis, the spread of violent extremism, and the rise of authoritarianism — challenges which the organization believes the U.S. must play an essential role.

"At Human Rights First, we believe that American leadership continues to be essential in the global struggle for human rights,” said Elisa Massimino, president and CEO of the organization. “That's why we press our government to live up to its ideals in its foreign policy and here at home."

Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, one of two U.S. congressman in attendance, said the challenges in the fight for human rights are global "but not insurmountable."

"Our ideals are universal values and there's broad global support for these values,” he said. “We will win this debate, and we will win by our actions. And I must tell you, I am optimistic."

Winning the fight, Cardin added, will mean a safer world for future generations.

This year's summit was one of multiple events in Washington commemorating the United Nations-sponsored Human Rights Day, observed every year on December 10. It celebrates the U.N. General Assembly's 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.