About the Author: Michael H. Posner serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Today, December 10, 2010, is International Human Rights Day. This annual celebration commemorates the United Nations General Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. On Human Rights Day we reflect on the inalienable rights we cherish, enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, and we recommit ourselves to advancing those rights and freedoms, echoed in the Universal Declaration, both at home and around the world.
In the history of the United States, leaders, activists and citizens have played an indispensable role in the protection of these fundamental rights, and we count them as partners in helping to achieve a "more perfect union." Last month, I had the privilege of co-leading the United States delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for the presentation of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UPR was a review of our human rights record, during which the United States government came together with civil society organizations to examine our performance against the universal human rights standards we have pledged to enforce.
By holding ourselves accountable to the universal standards that we advocate around the world, we reinforce our moral authority to demand that other governments do the same. We also provide an example of the gains that countries can achieve by working with human rights advocates instead of against them.
Human rights activists around the world operate in an extremely challenging environment. An increasing number of governments are imposing new and crippling restrictions on civil society organizations working to protect human rights, uphold accountability, or simply help people in need. Despite these challenges, we remain committed to supporting civil society at home and abroad because we know that doing so is essential to advancing human rights and democracy.
Today, I am excited to join my colleagues at the State Department in celebrating Human Rights Day with several events focused on supporting and encouraging civil society. Secretary Clinton and I will award the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award, first presented by President Clinton in 1998, to three individuals -- Louis Henkin, Wade Henderson, and Sarah Cleto Rial -- who have dedicated their lives to advancing the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. Later, I will be joined by Legal Advisor Harold Koh and Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley, in a town hall meeting with civil society activists. The Secretary has encouraged all embassies to similarly open their doors to civil society and will stop by the town hall event to speak to our invited guests.