Dear Martha and Anderson,
As an American citizen born in South Africa and a global human rights leader, I laud you, your respective networks — ABC and CNN — and the Commission on Presidential Debates for inviting the public to submit questions for both presidential candidates, who will debate each other for a second time at Washington University in St. Louis on October 9th. While you, the networks and the commission are likely to ask the questions that win the most votes online, I urge you to ask the questions that will highlight the differences between the candidates about matters that rarely get the attention they deserve.
As I travel the globe and meet people who are living with poverty, violence and injustice and are working to build a better world, I learn about their lives and struggles. It is the questions that they would ask, that I offer here for you to consider when questioning Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton Sunday evening:
- For Nixon Boumba, my colleague who works in Haiti and has spent the past week helping the poorest communities begin to recover from the most powerful hurricane to hit Haiti in half a century, I ask: How will you move the world from a focus on “climate change” to pursuing “climate justice” for the poor in developing countries that are disproportionately affected by droughts, powerful storms and epidemics exacerbated by climate change? As president, what would you do to aid those who are forced to flee their homes along coastlines submerged by rising sea levels and farmlands parched by droughts?
- For Shital, a young woman in India who is organizing other young girls to end the practice of child marriage in her country — where nearly 50 percent of all girls are married each year before the age of 18 — I ask: What would you — as the leader of the United States and each of you a parent — do to ensure that girls and women can choose if, when and whom they will marry?
- For my late colleague Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental activist brutally murdered in her own home last spring, I ask: What would you do as president to ensure the safety of environmental activists around the world who are being killed simply for opposing massive dams and mines that are destroying the very land and water local people depend on for survival? How will you ensure that it is not a crime to stand up for our planet? More broadly, what would you do as president to ensure the safety of activists around the world who are being killed simply for opposing corruption, speaking truth to power and insisting that the poor and the vulnerable not be silenced, harmed or ignored? How will you ensure that it is not a crime to stand up for human rights?
- For Felix Marcel, who has lived in the Dominican Republic his entire life but whose citizenship rights were stripped by his government three years ago, I ask: What you will do for families like his, who are targeted simply because of their Haitian heritage, suddenly unable to go to school or work, access health care services, get married or register the birth of their children? How will you, as the most influential and powerful leader in the world, let the leaders of the Dominican Republic know that they must stop this kind of oppression based on ethnicity?
- Finally, I ask a question for the thousands of advocates I have met while traveling in the developing world who are struggling in countries such as India, Uganda and Nicaragua, which have placed severe limits on the ability to organize, speak out and accept support from international organizations and charities. What would you do as president to persuade leaders of other countries to allow their citizens to exercise their rights to free speech without fear of being raided, shut down or silenced?
Yes, Martha and Anderson, these may not be the most popular questions, but they are important ones. By probing the candidates’ stances on critical human rights challenges, we can starkly illuminate where they agree and disagree and address real issues that global citizens care about.