When the gov­ern­ment dis­cusses U.S. inter­ests in areas such as trade, mil­i­tary, or eco­nomic rela­tions with other coun­tries, human rights should be a major part of the con­ver­sa­tion, says U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-​​Mass. Too often, he said, this isn’t the case.

It’s my view that U.S. inter­ests are not served very well when you put human rights to the side,” McGovern said. “Because ulti­mately people who are oppressed end up revolting and demanding change. And when they do they not only remember who in their gov­ern­ment treated them badly, they also remember who enabled their government.”

McGovern, who rep­re­sents the Mass­a­chu­setts Second Con­gres­sional Dis­trict cov­ering most of Cen­tral Mass­a­chu­setts, spoke to about 70 people Friday after­noon in the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity School of Law’s Dockser Hall. The pro­gram was spon­sored by the law school’s Pro­gram on Human Rights and the Global Economy (also known as PHRGE) and the university’s Office of Gov­ern­ment Rela­tions.

In opening remarks, Jeremy Paul, dean of the law school, said in his opening remarks, com­mended McGovern for his com­mit­ment to these issues of con­science and for talking to the North­eastern com­mu­nity about his expe­ri­ences. His work aligns with the goals of PHRGE, the center of the School of Law’s human rights efforts and which works closely with scholars, insti­tu­tions, and advo­cates nation­ally and inter­na­tion­ally to address issues of human rights and eco­nomic development.

McGovern, for his part, is the co-​​chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Com­mis­sion, named for the only Holo­caust sur­vivor to serve in Con­gress, which aims to pro­mote, defend, and advo­cate inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized human rights in a non­par­tisan manner. McGovern said the com­mis­sion meets once a week to hear tes­ti­mony on global human rights issues.

The reason the com­mis­sion is so impor­tant is because the com­mit­tees of juris­dic­tion in Con­gress have let the oblig­a­tion to focus on human rights go by the way­side,” McGovern said.

For those assem­bled who wanted their rep­re­sen­ta­tives to get more involved in human rights issues, McGovern said advo­cates need to con­stantly talk to their elected offi­cials, get them to attend infor­ma­tion ses­sions in their dis­tricts, and join the Human Rights Com­mis­sion so they can learn more.

The Worcester native attrib­uted his pas­sion for human rights issues to the time he spent working for for South Dakota sen­ator and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date George McGovern and U.S. Rep. Joe Moakley of South Boston. “When I came to Con­gress, I made it a point to be engaged on these issues,” he said. McGovern described per­suading Pres­i­dent Bill Clinton to start the McGovern-​​Dole Inter­na­tional Food for Edu­ca­tion Pro­gram, which pro­vides poor chil­dren in devel­oping coun­tries with a nutri­tious meal during school hours.

As a staffer for Moakley in 1989, McGovern led a House task force that inves­ti­gated the mur­ders of six Jesuit priests and two women in El Sal­vador. The inves­ti­ga­tion found the Sal­vado­rian mil­i­tary com­mitted the mur­ders and as a result changes were made to U.S. policy with El Salvador.

During a Q-​​and-​​A fol­lowing his talk, McGovern was asked what the U.S. should be doing to help those affected by the civil war in Syria, which has claimed the lives of hun­dreds of thou­sands of people and forced mil­lions more to flee their homes.

It’s one of the worst-​​if not the worst-​​humanitarian crisis in the world right now,” McGovern said. “There ought to be greater pres­sure from the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity on the fac­tors that we can con­trol. And in terms of helping to resettle refugees, the U.S. needs to step up a little bit too.”