Looking Back at the First Human Rights Day

Posted by Esther Brimmer
December 10, 2010

About the Author: Esther Brimmer is the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs.

As the world marks Human Rights Day today, I'm reminded of the moment 62 years ago when Eleanor Roosevelt rose to address the UN General Assembly to mark the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I thought I'd take time to reflect on that moment that perfectly captures the United States enduring commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights around the world.

There was a sense of excitement in the General Assembly that day. You can hear the applause from the audience as the United States delegate and former First Lady rose to speak on that unprecedented occasion.

Clearly, we still have work to do to make real her prediction that the Universal Declaration "may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere," but we are much further down that road because of the leadership that the United States showed in the multilateral arena on human rights issues over a half century ago.

I keep a picture of Eleanor Roosevelt holding the Universal Declaration in my office, and it reminds me of the importance and significance of American leadership in the international system on the promotion and protection of human rights around the world.

Six decades later, the United States continues to accept this call, as is demonstrated in our tireless efforts to strengthen the UN's response to human rights concerns and mainstream human rights protection into the work of the UN system. It is reflected in our decision to join the Human Rights Council and our tireless efforts to lead the council to promote and protect human rights. And it is reflected in our work across the UN system to find creative solutions to recurring problems and to strengthen the UN's technical assistance on these issues while calling the worst abusers to account.

So on this Human Rights Day, I would like to share the footage of the address with you. It may be cloudy, the sound at times indistinct, but the message remains a clarion call as powerful today as it was then. The U.S. commitment to that message, to advancing universal respect for human rights, remains unshakable.



District Of Columbia, USA
December 13, 2010

Anna in Washington, D.C. writes:

Eleanor Roosevelt is a hero. Thank you for sharing this video of her remarks.


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