BY Advocate.com Editors
December 14 2009 4:30 PM ET
My comments will provide an overview of our thinking on human rights and democracy, and how they fit into our broader foreign policy, as well as the principles and policies that guide our approach. But let me also say that what this is not: It is not a comprehensive accounting of abuses or nations with whom we have raised human rights concerns. It is not a checklist or a scorecard. In that light, I hope that we can all use this opportunity to look at this important issue in a broader light and appreciate its full complexity, moral weight, and urgency.
With that, let me turn to the business at hand.
In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize last week, President Obama said that while war is never welcome or good, it will sometimes be right and necessary. Because, in his words: “only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can be truly lasting.”
Throughout history and in our own time—there have been those who violently deny that truth. Our mission is to embrace it, to work for lasting peace through a principled human rights agenda and a practical strategy to implement it.
President Obama’s speech also reminded us that our basic values, the ones enshrined in our Declaration of Independence—the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—are not only the source of our strength and endurance, they are the birthright of every woman, man, and child on earth.
That is the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the prerequisite for building a world in which every person has the opportunity to live up to his or her God-given potential; and the power behind every movement for freedom, every campaign for democracy, every effort to foster development, and every struggle against oppression.
The potential within every person to learn, discover and embrace the world around them; the potential to join freely with others to shape their communities and their societies so that every person can find fulfillment and self-sufficiency; the potential to share life’s beauties and tragedies, laughter and tears with the people we love—that potential is sacred.
That is a dangerous belief to many who hold power and who construct their position against an “other”—another tribe or religion or race or gender or political party.
Standing up against that false sense of identity and expanding the circle of rights and opportunities to all people—advancing their freedoms and possibilities—is why we do what we do.
This week we observe Human Rights Week. At the State Department, though, every week is Human Rights Week. Sixty-one years ago this month, the world’s leaders proclaimed a new framework of rights, laws, and institutions that could fulfill the vow of “never again.” They affirmed the universality of human rights through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and legal agreements including those aimed at combating genocide, war crimes and torture, and challenging discrimination against women and racial and religious minorities. Burgeoning civil society movements and non-governmental organizations became essential partners in advancing the principle that every person counts, and in exposing those who violated that standard.