Universal Declaration of Human Rights Turns Sixty

Posted by David J. Kramer
December 10, 2008
Human Rights Poster in Manila

About the Author: David J. Kramer serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Today is International Human Rights Day, the date sixty years ago when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I have the privilege of serving as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, so this occasion is especially meaningful to me and to the men and women in my office. We see it as an opportunity to reflect on and rededicate ourselves to the work of protecting and promoting the rights enshrined in the Declaration. President Bush and Secretary Rice have made the promotion of human rights a priority not just for my bureau, but for the entire State Department and our embassies around the world.

Those who charge that the championing of international human rights standards is just an attempt to impose alien values on other countries or meddle in their internal affairs conveniently forget the words of the Universal Declaration: “Every individual and every organ of society … shall strive…to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance…”.

Earlier this week, Secretary Rice said: “The Universal Declaration is celebrated by men and women of every culture and creed, every race and religion, in countries large and small, developed and developing. The Declaration transcends political and ethnic differences and national boundaries, even as it embraces humanity in all of its diversity. The Declaration speaks directly to the desire inherent in every human heart for freedom.”

Across the globe, men and women have invoked the Declaration to press for their rights to be respected and their governments to be responsive. They have used it to demand that their voices be heard and their votes count, to advocate for just laws and justice for all. There also has been a growing recognition that democracy is the only form of government that protects the human rights and fundamental freedoms set forth in the Declaration.

I fully recognize that no democracy, including my own, is perfect. The United States’ national journey toward liberty and justice for all has been long and difficult, and it is still far from complete. Yet, over time, our independent branches of government, our free media, our vibrant civil society and our openness to the world have helped us keep faith with our Bill of Rights, our international obligations and the precepts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the international commission that produced the Declaration, emphasized that it was intended to be a tool placed in the hands of ordinary citizens to help them secure their liberty and dignity. And that is exactly what the Declaration has been for six decades.

Over the sixty years since the Declaration’s adoption, there have been remarkable gains on every continent for the rights that it enumerates. Yet, in every region of the globe, there are governments that respond to the growing demands for fundamental freedoms not by accepting their obligations to their people, but by oppressing them. In many countries, brave individuals who peacefully press for the rights of their fellow countrymen and women are targets of persecution and imprisonment by state authorities.

Since assuming my current position, I have traveled the globe and have had the privilege and honor to meet many of these courageous defenders of freedom and liberty. They are a true inspiration to all of us who advocate for basic, universal rights: inter alia, the right of every person to think, act, worship and shape his or her future without fear of repression. It is they whom we salute today.

On Monday, I participated in a ceremony hosted by Secretary Rice in commemoration of International Human Rights Day. Like others in the room – leaders of non-governmental human rights and democracy groups, the press and the men and women of the State Department – I was deeply moved when the Secretary recounted the experiences of the three people to whom she presented the annual Human Rights awards.

Two of the honorees were diplomats. Our Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee received an award “for his inspiring leadership in demonstrating U.S. and international solidarity with Zimbabwe’s besieged defenders of democracy as they bravely pressed a brutal regime to respect the rights of their fellow citizens.” And the chief of the political section at our embassy in Sri Lanka, Michael DeTar received an award “for his creative and compassionate work at Embassy Colombo, crafting strategies for exposing and ending human rights abuses, holding abusers to account and protecting the persecuted.”

The third award, the Freedom Defenders Award, went to Yulia Latynina, an independent journalist, writer and radio host from Russia, a country I know well from more than two decades of work in the area. It is a country in which members of the independent media have been the victims of violent – and even deadly – attacks committed by perpetrators, most of whom have yet to be brought to justice. Latynina received the award “for fearlessly using the power of her fiercely independent pen under conditions of great personal risk to report on serious human rights violations, expose gross abuses of authority, combat corruption and defend the silenced.”

The examples of the three outstanding award winners remind us that the Universal Declaration is much more than a catalogue of rights – it is a call to action. The most fitting way to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration is for all of us who are lucky to live in freedom to work in support of the courageous men and women across the globe who serve, and sacrifice for, the cause of human rights every day.

Comments

Comments

Kirk
|
Kentucky, USA
December 10, 2008

Kirk in Kentucky writes:

Happy 60th Birthday, Human Rights!

Let us remember that governments are constructed by the people, for the people, and it's up to the constituency, and no one else, to decided what its purpose for being is. If the Raison d'etre is to put our hands out to those who need help, then we will surely be a force of progress and hope for our fellow humans and the world as a whole.

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."

~ Dalai Lama

Syrian P.
|
Syria
December 10, 2008

SNP in Syria writes:

It is has been ratified by all the dictators and genocidal warmongers of the world Sixty years ago, when it will go into effect? Is there any chance the U.N. will put this charter to effects sometime in the next 3 decades.

Kirk
|
Kentucky, USA
December 11, 2008

Kirk in Kentucky writes:

Speaking of human rights, I encourage everyone interested in the democratic process of China to visit the website for the documentary "The Gate of Heavenly Peace."

More specifically, I suggest those interested to read the article "THAT HOLY WORD, "REVOLUTION" by the Chinese intellectual Liu Xiaobo, an acount of the Tiananmen Square massacare five years later. A deep and insightful look at the cultural and psychological factors behind a protest that may have been a few years too early.

JUST TWO DAYS AGO LIU XIAOBO WAS TAKEN INTO CUSTODY BY THE GOVERNMENT!

Kirk
|
Kentucky, USA
December 11, 2008

Kirk in Kentucky writes:

(addendum to previous statement)

I strongly encourage, insist, the U.S. Department of State to make a statement condemning this act of government terrorism!

If the administration could move forward unflinchingly in the face of global protests to attack Iraq, then now is the time, at the 60th anniversary of the human rights charter, to not cower in the shadow of our 2nd largest commercial trading partner, but to stand up and hold high the torch of Liberty to shine its bright rays of Justice upon the dark oppression that is happening RIGHT NOW!

Kirk
|
Kentucky, USA
December 11, 2008

Kirk in Kentucky writes:

Link to THAT HOLY WORD, "REVOLUTION"
by
Liu Xiaobo

http://tsquare.tv/themes/LiuXiaobo.html

Kirk
|
Kentucky, USA
December 12, 2008

Kirk in Kentucky writes:

"Press Statement
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 11, 2008

Harassment of Chinese Signatories to Charter '08

The United States is deeply concerned by reports that Chinese citizens have been detained, interrogated and harassed as they prepared to commemorate Human Rights Day and the 60th Anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are particularly concerned about the well being of Liu Xiaobo, a prominent dissident writer, who remains in the custody of authorities. We call on the government of China to release Liu Xiaobo and cease harassment of all Chinese citizens who peacefully express their desire for internationally-recognized fundamental freedoms."

Great!

I'm proud of our country for standing up for the rights of those who wish to bring positive changes to the world. China, who has historically sought to obscure their interior dealings from foreign eyes, must realize that their increased clout on the international scene entails a corresponding increase of international scrutiny. If they wish to be respected by the world at large they must retain a degree of moral authority that reflects international norms.

Zharkov
|
United States
December 12, 2008

Zharkov in U.S.A. writes:

How ironic that the Canadian Parliament has been suspended by the British Queen and her Governor General during our celebration of Human Rights.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
December 15, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Kirk, You'd think the Chinese gov. would take some example from its own history of European colonialism and not proceed to repeat that mistake in places like Tibet, and the Sudan.

It is a myopic foreign policy based on its own ecomomic needs, coming at the expense of human rights and a better world to live in, including the negative ecological aspects of their economic development.

These policies will hurt China in the long run as stability and security prove elusive, and the'll have only themselves to blame in the not so distant future for their failure to recognize the legacy they are creating for themselves today.

And for what it's worth, Iraqi's may throw shoes at the President and call him a "dog", but the bottom line is that they have a future free from Saddam, and the ability to make Iraq what they will of it, for better or worse.

But hey, no good deed goes unpunished, and it is often unappreciated.

Perhaps this is why some nations seem to have failed to uphold their "responsibility to protect".

.

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