BY Advocate.com Editors
December 14 2009 4:30 PM ET
As we celebrate that progress, our focus must be on the work that remains to be done. The preamble of the Universal Declaration encourages us to use it as a “standard of achievement.” And so we should.
But, we cannot deny the gap that remains between its eloquent promises and the life experiences of so many of our fellow human beings.
Now we must finish the job.
Our human rights agenda for the 21st century is to make human rights a human reality.
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 must also 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, 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 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. Democracy means not only elections to choose leaders, but also active citizens; a free press; an independent judiciary and legislature; 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.
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