Statements and Speeches

Who Can Do This

  • Any member of the House or Senate

Difficulty: Easy


Public statements are important both for the purposes of transparency – to let constituents know where the member stands on an issue – and for building alliances, momentum and consensus. Often, members who have not yet taken sides or who have been hesitant to come out publicly with their views will feel more comfortable following behind someone they trust and respect.


Official statements can be written or oral and can occur in a variety of settings: on the House or Senate floor during legislative debate, during morning business or special orders, at hearings from the dais or as testimony, inserted in the Congressional Record, or on the member’s website. Members can arrange to speak on a rights-related topic to a policy audience (such as a think tank, NGO or business conference) or to a constituent group, or simply include remarks about rights and freedoms in speeches about other topics. At the most basic entry level, members can re-tweet relevant messages to indicate their support for particular human rights causes or issues.

Good Practices

  • One-minute and five-minute speeches on the House floor are an excellent opportunity to make statements at a convenient time for the member.
  • Make a public statement about victims of repression and human rights defenders the member met on a trip. Telling stories about real-life cases will inspire people and often provide an extra level of protection to those who took risks to meet the member. Be sure to send copies of the statement to those mentioned.
  • Sign up in advance with the Majority Leader or Whip to make statements during Morning Hour or to arrange or be part of a Special Order.
  • Amplify statements through social media, sharing them on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Recognize individual constituents, as well as organizations based in the district, that have performed exemplary service in support of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • A member may request to testify before any committee, or to have his or her written statement be made part of the hearing record, although there is no obligation upon the chair to grant this request.
  • Use releases of independent human rights reports as an opportunity to make speeches and statements – increasing the visibility of the report and its authors, as well as establishing your member’s connection to the issue.
  • National holidays around the world, as well as International Days observed by the United Nations, are excellent opportunities to make floor statements focusing on freedom, democracy, and human rights.
  • Urge the State Department to include human rights references in its own “National Day” statements, rather than issuing pro forma, congratulatory messages.

Instructive Examples

  1. Daily Speeches Lead to Ratification of the Genocide Convention. From 1967 to 1986, Sen. William Proxmire spoke daily on the Senate floor in support of the Genocide Convention, which had been adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and submitted to the Senate for advice and consent the following year. After a total of 3,211 Proxmire speeches, the Senate voted to ratify the convention in 1986, and passed implementing legislation known as “the Proxmire Act” in 1988.
  2. Keeper of the Flame. In March 1985, the chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press, Terry Anderson, was kidnapped by Hezbollah in Beirut. Each of the 2,454 days Anderson was held in captivity, until his release in 1991, Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan made a statement on the Senate floor, sometimes just a single sentence, reminding his colleagues how long Anderson had been held hostage.
  3. Breaking with the President. In 1985 Sen. Richard Lugar helped turn the tide toward congressionally-mandated sanctions when he broke from the Reagen administration and sponsored the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 (PL 99-440), which was eventually enacted over the President’s veto. Lugar’s floor statement on August 14, 1986, as the Senate began consideration of the committee-reported measure, laid out the background and the rationale for moving ahead over the President’s objections.