Human Rights Agenda for the 21st Century

Posted by DipNote Bloggers
December 15, 2009

Today, at Georgetown University, Secretary Clinton delivered remarks on the Obama Administration’s human rights agenda for the 21st century. The Secretary said:

"Our human rights agenda for the 21st century is to make human rights a human reality, and the first step is to see human rights in a broad context. Of course, people must be free from the oppression of tyranny, from torture, from discrimination, from the fear of leaders who will imprison or “disappear” them. But they also must be free from the oppression of want – want of food, want of health, want of education, and want of equality in law and in fact.

To fulfill their potential, people must be free to choose laws and leaders; to share and access information, to speak, criticize, and debate. They must be free to worship, associate, and to love in the way that they choose. And they must be free to pursue the dignity that comes with self-improvement and self-reliance, to build their minds and their skills, to bring their goods to the marketplace, and participate in the process of innovation. Human rights have both negative and positive requirements. People should be free from tyranny in whatever form, and they should also be free to seize the opportunities of a full life. That is why supporting democracy and fostering development are cornerstones of our 21st century human rights agenda.

This Administration, like others before us, will promote, support, and defend democracy. We will relinquish neither the word nor the idea to those who have used it too narrowly, or to justify unwise policies. We stand for democracy not because we want other countries to be like us, but because we want all people to enjoy the consistent protection of the rights that are naturally theirs, whether they were born in Tallahassee or Tehran. Democracy has proven the best political system for making human rights a human reality over the long term.

But it is crucial that we clarify what we mean when we talk about democracy, because democracy means not only elections to choose leaders, but also active citizens and a free press and an independent judiciary and transparent and responsive institutions that are accountable to all citizens and protect their rights equally and fairly. In democracies, respecting rights isn’t a choice leaders make day by day; it is the reason they govern. Democracies protect and respect citizens every day, not just on Election Day. And democracies demonstrate their greatness not by insisting they are perfect, but by using their institutions and their principles to make themselves and their union more perfect, just as our country continues to do after 233 years.

At the same time, human development must also be part of our human rights agenda. Because basic levels of well-being – food, shelter, health, and education – and of public common goods like environmental sustainability, protection against pandemic disease, provisions for refugees – are necessary for people to exercise their rights, and because human development and democracy are mutually reinforcing. Democratic governments are not likely to survive long if their citizens do not have the basic necessities of life. The desperation caused by poverty and disease often leads to violence that further imperils the rights of people and threatens the stability of governments. Democracies that deliver on rights, opportunities, and development for their people are stable, strong, and most likely to enable people to live up to their potential."Full Text



Virginia, USA
December 15, 2009

Jack in Virginia writes:

I appreciate Secretary Clinton's remarks, but I wonder: Is the U.S. stance on human rights more than just an aspirational one? I can't help but think of our close strategic relationship with a country like Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom discriminates against religious minorities, women, engages in torture, and is a far cry from a democracy. Yet, because our interests are not limited to the promotion of democracy alone, we tend to look past the failings of our strategic partners around the world.

I suppose it is a reality - maybe it's just the cost of doing business in this interconnected world - but I wish there were a way for the U.S. to take a stronger hand in places like Saudi Arabia. The other day I read an piece in the news about the flogging of a 75 year old Saudi woman. She is to be punished for being in the presence of a man that was not her blood relative.

That's somebody's mother. Heck, that's someone's grandmother, and a U.S. strategic partner in the Middle East has sentenced her to 40 lashes. Even one lash is unacceptable. While it certainly doesn't compare to the systematic rape of women in Conakry by the Guinean military or other more egregious human rights abuses around the world, it's still a barbaric punishment handed down from a government that has yet to respect human rights in any meaningful way.

I wish our global engagement were more black and white, but I fear it will forever be shades of gray.



Michael B.
California, USA
December 15, 2009

Michael B. in California writes:

Thank you, Secretary Clinton, for your stand against the Uganda Anti-homosexuality Bill and for your stand on Human Rights everywhere!

California, USA
December 15, 2009

Darlene in California writes:

Thank you Secretary Clinton for speaking out for universal equality and against the opression in Uganda against homosexual behavior. Human rights should be established in every country. Thanks for what you do for us here in the USA. As a lesbian, I am especially moved by your support.

Maryland, USA
December 15, 2009

Patrick in Maryland writes:

Hello, My Friends at The Department Of States. :)

How are things going, thats good. :)

Anyways, i liked Hillary's Universal Views on "Human Rights" for the 21st Century . The more we work to bring about a positive future for Human Rights on a global scale. The closer we get to a more secure and productive relationship with our global community.

.....Cya..Hillary.. & ..States People.....:)

Vesna V.
December 15, 2009

Vesna V. in Sweden writes:

Brilliant historical speech for the next generation.

Action on global level is the next step.

Let us organize local centers for human rights all over the world. Start continent Africa.

Baby boomer senior

United Kingdom
December 15, 2009

Paul in the United Kingdom writes:

Well, I've long been a fan of Hillary but this is rhetoric and a deal less visionary than JFK gave out. What I think may lead to the decline and fall of the American civilisation is the flaw that transcends the two main parties - this obsessive pursuit which never gives up and that has dragged the U.S. and other nations into wars, into huge expansion in military spending, and clinging onto nukes and that is manifest too in extraditions.

When it comes to tackling human rights, the defining move of the current administartion is the change in policy on Burma. Now here is a nation whose Junta has ruled illegally for half a century, imprisoning elected leaders and monks, ordering ongoing state rape of ethnic women, putting kids in the army, arresting all their citizens who they find are criticise them, imposing corrupt constitutions, organising sham elections, collaborating with drug suppliers, lining their own pockets and impoverishing their people in a land blessed with natural resources. And what does the U.S. Government do? Instead of going for total sanctions and embargoes covering arms and trade, they start talking to the Junta and of course no progress is made.

December 18, 2009

Hailing in China writes:

Why do Chinese doctors in major hospitals have the rights to murder their patients without any punishment?


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