Dear Friends and Colleagues:
Yesterday, the world lost a true champion of human rights, democracy and the interests of vulnerable people, with the passing of former Representative Stephen J. Solarz. Steve, who was 70, passed away in Washington in the company of his family.
As many of you know, Steve served in the House of Representatives for nine terms, beginning in 1975, and throughout those 18 years, was one of the most active members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Early in his tenure, he chaired the Subcommittee on African Affairs, and then moved to the Chair of the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, which he occupied through most of his Congressional career. After leaving Congress in 1993, Steve remained very engaged on issues affecting vulnerable populations, perhaps most notably reflected in the key role he played in the development of the International Crisis Group.
Steve significantly influenced many of the major foreign policy issues of the 1980s and 1990s, and was a master at using all the instruments of Congressional power to promote positive change. He helped to shine bright lights on abuse of power in the Philippines and South Africa and effectively prodded his colleagues and several administrations to take action. When the George H.W. Bush Administration was reluctant to promote the idea of a UN transitional administration for Cambodia, Steve sold the idea to the Australian Foreign Minister, who secured its acceptance by the international community. And during consideration of U.S. support for new democracies in Eastern Europe, Steve successfully pressed his colleagues in the House to support high levels of assistance. As a Staff Consultant to his Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs between 1989 and 1993, I witnessed Steve’s effectiveness first hand.
Most importantly, Steve used his skills and energy to champion the rights of the most vulnerable – victims of conflict, of abuse and of neglect, whether they were from Burma, Mozambique, or Haiti. He defended the rights of refugees, and worked tirelessly to stem piracy in the Gulf of Thailand, rescue Vietnamese boat people, and safeguard the lives of displaced Africans, Central Americans, Poles, and many others. His persistent advocacy for the dispossessed and disenfranchised will forever be a model for those seeking to make the world a better place.
Though we at PRM mourn his passing, we are inspired by his example.
Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration