A leading champion of human rights in Asia died suddenly last week in Washington. Mike Jendrzejczyk was the Washington director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. He was 53-years-old. People in government and business join human rights advocates in praising Mike Jendrzejczyk's contributions to the promotion of human rights.
His energy and his passion, those are the two qualities most often mentioned when people are asked about Mike Jendrzejczyk.
For the past 13 years, he worked for Human Rights Watch, a private monitoring organization based in New York. As Washington director of the group's Asia division, Mr. Jendrzejczyk traveled extensively in the region, met with government officials and political dissidents, pressed legislators to change laws, and corporate executives to alter their business practices.
Sharon Hom is executive director of Human Rights in China, another monitoring group based in New York. "He was tireless," she said. "He was committed. He just had such a grasp of issues. And, of course, that fast gift of gab [ability to talk] of just being able to articulate, to be incredibly articulate in all the different settings."
Ms. Hom says Mike Jendrzejczyk regularly helped Chinese dissidents who were released from prison and sent into exile. She says he would personally introduce them to policymakers in Washington.
Ms. Hom says Mr. Jendrzejczyk did this for the president of her group, Liu Qing, when he was released in 1992, after 11 years in a Chinese prison. "And Liu Qing always remembers how expert and how wonderful a guy Mike was, and how encouraging and supportive he was," said Sharon Hom.
Mr. Jendrzejczyk urged that the Chinese government be held accountable for the army crackdown on the Tiananmen protest movement in 1989. In addition to presenting the case for human rights in the halls of Congress and at the State Department, he wrote numerous newspaper commentaries and gave countless television and radio interviews.
In an interview with VOA marking Human Rights Day last December, Mr. Jendrzejczyk spoke about China's new leaders. "While the current regime is committed to maintaining, it says, China's commitments to the World Trade Organization, we have not seen the same kind of commitment to respecting international human rights in the areas of labor rights, freedom of expression, controls on the Internet, and of course, treatment of ethnic minorities, especially in Tibet and in the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang," he said.
Mr. Jendrzejczyk often joined with other human rights groups to press Congress on issues such as most-favored nation trade treatment for China, and to urge U.S. action on China at U.N. Human Rights Commission meetings in Geneva.
John Foarde, the staff director of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, remembers Mike's dedication, and says his death leaves a big hole in the human rights community. "Mike was such a gifted intellect and such an energetic advocate for human rights that his contribution on the [Capitol] Hill was really being a catalyst in putting people together, sometimes from different political parties who cared about individual cases or cared about human rights issues generally and not just in China, although China was certainly a focus, but in other countries in Asia," said John Foarde.
Mike Jendrzejczyk also spoke out about abuses in Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma. Mr. Foarde says members of Congress and congressional staff members were impressed by his tact, his passion for the issues, and his practicality. In Mr. Foarde's words, you always knew the conversation would be a good one, even if you disagreed with him.
Robert Kapp, the president of the U.S.-China Business Council, at times did not agree with the positions taken by Mr. Jendrzejczyk and Human Rights Watch. But Mr. Kapp considered him a friend, and praises his ability to work within the policy-making process in Washington. "Mike was, in many ways, a consummate insider," he said. "He knew how to work the system, and he did a great job at it."
Mr. Kapp and Mr. Jendrzejczyk met periodically for lunch to discuss issues of common interest. He remembers one meeting in 1995 when they did not see eye-to-eye. "Human Rights Watch brought out a blistering and staggeringly shocking story in the form of a book on the situation that they perceived within the orphanages of China," remembered Robert Kapp. "Mike and I and the author of that particular study had an evening; we sat around over a drink, and talked about the study just before it was made public. Their concern was to shine the light of public scrutiny on human rights abuses wherever they found them, and that this in itself represented a sort of sum total of responsibility. I had trouble with that. I was concerned about the spin-off effects of that ... way of working. It was a case where we were not exactly of one mind, but our friendship grew, and it really blossomed thereafter. " Mary Beth Markey, executive director of the International Campaign for Tibet, says Mr. Jendrzejczyk embodied an idea often raised by the Tibetan leader in exile. "And that is something his holiness, the Dalai Lama, often says, and that is that, in order to be effective, you must have compassion and wisdom," she said. "And Mike certainly had both of those, and was certainly a very effective advocate on behalf of millions and millions of people."
In her tribute to Mike Jendrzejczyk, the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, says many famous dissidents have been released from prison because of him. And she adds, there are tens of thousands of ordinary people, whose names we will never know, whose lives were improved by his work.