The following obituary for Richard Holbrooke (1941-2010) was written by Ambassador Luis CdeBaca of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

 

“[E]nding this crime so monstrous is not a political issue; it is an American imperative, and a human responsibility.  This is why there are still modern-day abolitionists.  And this is why the rest of us should join them.”– Richard Holbrooke, 2008

At this week’s memorial service for the victims of the Tucson shootings, President Obama reminded us that we should strive to make our actions worthy of those who have fallen and those who – like Congresswoman Giffords – are still fighting for life.  Together, we mourned the loss of and commemorated the lives of a judge, committed citizens who had come to see their representative, and a precious child who embodied our hopes for the future.  As the President pointed out, the victims of last week’s shooting believed in the American ideal of open and responsive government in which honorable public servants work on behalf of an engaged citizenry.

This afternoon, many of us at the State Department attended a service to celebrate the life of a man who exemplified the best of public service – Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.  Many of you may be familiar with his storied history from Vietnam, his service as one of the youngest Assistant Secretaries in history and the only person to lead two different Regional Bureaus, his central role in ending the Balkan wars, or his recent work as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  But most people don’t know about Richard Holbrooke’s heartfelt commitment to fighting modern slavery.

Last year, Ambassador Holbrooke learned of a group of workers in Pakistan who were being held in debt bondage.  He did not write it off as a local dispute or beneath his notice.  He did not write it off to an entrenched social system in Pakistan, or fear that raising the issue would introduce a dischordant note into his critically important discussions with the Pakistani Government.  Rather, Ambassador Holbrooke did what he did best – a whirlwind of a week ensued with a combination of cajoling, working the phones, sending people off to meetings, and energizing the bureaucracies of two countries through sheer force of will.  The result?  Almost 200 people who had been held captive through force and threats are now free.  Because of Richard Holbrooke.

This was not an isolated incident.  Throughout his career, Ambassador Holbrooke saw not only the geopolitical stakes and the back and forth of negotiations, but the people that mattered, even in a hidden issue like modern slavery.  His own words express it best:

“One must never forget that slaves are first and foremost people.  Their lives are filled with sorrow and injustice – but also . . . they are touched with humor and joy.  Just like regular people.  Just like free people.”

Here at the State Department and at our embassies around the world, American diplomats strive to live up to his challenge, and his example.  Whether it is engagement with the host governments, support for civil society, or even uncovering and responding to trafficking cases, our diplomats are making a difference.  That’s how we strive to honor the memory of Ambassador Holbrooke.  That’s how we try to live up to the expectations of the public we serve.  We mourn for the fallen, and recommit ourselves to be worthy of their example.

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