The School of Foreign Service’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy presented Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield with its annual Trainor Award.
Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (U.N.), received the J. Raymond “Jit” Trainor Award, which recognizes excellence in the field of diplomacy each year. Thomas-Greenfield retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 2017, joining the Georgetown University community as the Distinguished Resident Fellow in African Studies at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, a research organization affiliated with the School of Foreign Service that aims to foster discussion and enable developments in the field of international diplomatic relations.
Thomas-Greenfield previously served in various capacities within the federal government, including as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources, the American ambassador to Liberia and a foreign service officer posted in six countries on four different continents.
Thomas-Greenfield, who joins the ranks of presidents, ambassadors and military officers as a Trainor Award recipient, dedicated her acceptance speech to the pursuit of universal human rights and referenced an important anniversary for the issue.
“Seventy-five years ago, Eleanor Roosevelt stood in a room with diplomats from more than fifty other countries. They were preparing to vote on an unprecedented document, a document so sweeping, so powerful and so dramatic that it would impact every single person on earth. At three o’clock in the morning, after two years of intense negotiations, they adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Thomas-Greenfield said at the event.
Since her 2021 confirmation as only the second Black woman to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Thomas-Greenfield has stood up for marginalized groups worldwide, including the Uyghur Muslims in western China and the Tigray people in northern Ethiopia.
Thomas-Greenfield said the permanent presence of human rights violators like the Russian and Chinese governments should be a subject of concern for the powerful U.N. Security Council.
“Some of the planet’s most powerful countries are arguing that human rights are not universal, that instead they ought to be applied based on the local context,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “It is no coincidence that these same governments are some of the world’s worst abusers of human rights.”
Thomas-Greenfield said specific actions by both countries’ governments fly in the face of human rights guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“China has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs, and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “Russian forces have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.”
Before taking questions from student audience members, Thomas-Greenfield spoke with Anne Anderson, an Irish diplomat who served as Ireland’s ambassador to the United States and U.N.
Anderson asked Thomas-Greenfield about recent Chinese actions to increase China’s influence in the U.N., and Thomas-Greenfield said that diplomatic chaos during the Trump administration enabled China to gain a foothold and develop its relationship with Russia.
“There were a lot of gaps and a lot of space that we didn’t hold on to,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “China looked into action and started moving into empty spaces and they did start to flex their muscles. I wasn’t prepared, I will admit, for how close a relationship China and Russia have, despite the fact that there are differences.”
Both China and Russia hold permanent seats in the U.N. Security Council, despite their violations of human rights against minority groups — China continues to persecute the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang region while Russian soldiers have perpetuated atrocities against Ukrainians.
Thomas-Greenfield said America’s global influence is still prevalent and impactful when it is used to its fullest potential, even as concerning developments continue to emerge from Russia and China.
“We’re still the largest funder of the U.N. We still are the largest humanitarian donor. But we have to exert that power to give our voice the power,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
Thomas-Greenfield said she encourages Georgetown students to consider careers in public service, and to keep human rights in mind throughout their journeys.
“In each generation, the struggle continues,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “Soon it will be your turn, and standing still is not an option. Instead, as potential public servants, allow me to enlist you in this struggle. When we see abuses and violations, we must push, prod and fight for justice.”