BY Advocate.com Editors
December 14 2009 4:30 PM ET
At the same time, human development also must be part of our human rights agenda. Because basic levels of well-being—food, shelter, health, and education —and of public common goods—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 rights 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.
Human rights, democracy, and development are not three separate goals with three separate agendas: that view doesn’t reflect the reality we face. To make a real and long-term difference in people’s lives we have to tackle all three simultaneously with a commitment that is smart, strategic, determined, and long-term.
We should measure our success by asking this question: Are more people in more places better able to exercise their universal rights and live up to their potential because of our actions?
Our principles are our North Star, but our tools and tactics must be flexible and reflect the reality on the ground wherever we are trying to have a positive impact. In some cases, governments are willing but unable without support to establish strong institutions and protections for citizens, for example the nascent democracies in Africa. We can extend our hand as a partner to help them try to achieve authority and build the progress they desire. In other cases, like Cuba or Nigeria, governments are able but unwilling to make the changes their citizens deserve. There, we must vigorously press leaders to end repression, while supporting those within societies who are working for change. And in cases where governments are both unwilling and unable—places like the eastern Congo—we have to support those courageous individuals and organizations who try to protect people and who battle against the odds to plant the seeds for a more hopeful future.
The challenges we face are diverse and complicated. And there is not one approach or formula, doctrine or theory that can be easily applied to every situation. But today I want to outline four elements of the Obama administration’s approach to putting our principles into action, and share with you some of the challenges we face in doing so.
First, a commitment to human rights starts with universal standards and with holding everyone accountable to those standards, including ourselves. On his second full day in office, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting the use of torture or official cruelty by any US official and ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay.