E-NEWS - 2009

Senator Kennedy: A Human Rights Champion

August 26, 2009 -

We are deeply saddened by the news that Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) passed away last night. Among the less heralded but most important of Senator Kennedy's accomplishments was his work on behalf of the most vulnerable members of society: inmates. His moral outrage and determination were key to Congress' unanimous passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in 2003.

Senator Kennedy's support for PREA illustrated his ability to reach across the aisle and mobilize bipartisan support for fundamental human rights issues. Working side-by-side as co-sponsors of PREA, Senator Kennedy and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) ensured that a notoriously partisan Congress rallied to end prisoner rape. They did so by boiling down the complex and seemingly intractable problem of sexual violence in detention to a matter of essential values - the government must take responsibility for those it imprisons, and rape is an abomination that violates human dignity.

By setting aside their many differences on other issues, Kennedy, Sessions, and other members of Congress were able to stimulate serious corrections reform. While the work to end sexual abuse of detainees is far from done, it is in no small part because of Senator Kennedy's effort that this devastating form of violence is finally being treated as the crime and human rights violation that it is.

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