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Vigilance, Commitment from U.S. on Human Rights Day

By Charlene Porter | Staff Writer | 10 December 2012
Rows of people bowing their heads and clasping their hands in prayer (AP Images)

Cambodian garment workers offer prayers at a Phnom Penh human rights rally that attracted about 1,000 participants.

Washington — The United States joined the international community in recognition of International Human Rights Day December 10.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said governments that respect their citizens and the will of the people enjoy greater stability, security and prosperity.

“The Universal Declaration is not just a catalog of rights and government obligations,” Clinton said in a prepared statement released in Washington. “It is a time-tested blueprint for successful societies.”

Human Rights Day commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations in 1948.

Clinton’s statement also emphasized that human rights cannot be “disconnected from other priorities.” A determined focus on the importance of human rights is “inextricably linked with all of the goals we strive for at home and around the world,” according to the prepared statement.

The human rights issue was also the main theme of a speech Clinton delivered in Dublin December 6 as she wound up a trip through several European nations. She said citizens of the United States, Ireland and other free societies have two responsibilities toward peoples in nations with repressive governments.

“First, to remain vigilant in ensuring that we honor and implement our own commitment to human rights at home,” Clinton said, “and second, to help others gain what we have, the chance to live in dignity.”

To fulfill that responsibility to oppressed people, Clinton said, the United States is developing new mechanisms to help survivors of gender-based violence and “those under credible threat of imminent attack due to their gender, and organizations that may need protection.”

U.N. delegates who adopted the Declaration of Human Rights 64 years ago wouldn’t have known how to define the words “Internet” or “online activity.” Still, they showed a clear intent to emphasize the universality of the principles with declaration language that calls for the protection of the free exchange of information “by any medium, regardless of frontiers.”

Repressive governments are attempting to censor critical information on the Internet and prosecute those who disseminate it, Clinton said, but the United States is committed to defending free speech online.

“By the end of this year, the United States will have invested $100 million to help ensure that people in repressive Internet environments can exercise their rights more safely and reliably,” she said.

Religious freedom and the protection of minority rights are also on what Clinton called “the front lines” of human rights worldwide today. The protection of civil society, activists, organizations, journalists and citizens working peacefully to improve their communities also has a place on the front lines, she said in the Dublin speech.

Respecting the human rights of women and girls “is the unfinished business of the 21st century,” Clinton said, identifying another frontline issue in human rights.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also underscored the challenges before women and girls in the exercise of their human rights. In his official statement recognizing International Human Rights Day, Ban said too many groups “face far too many obstacles” in the full enjoyment of rights that should be theirs. Ban further noted the challenges facing indigenous peoples; religious, ethnic and political minorities; people with disabilities; and those with different sexual orientations.

“My Voice Counts” is the theme for International Human Rights Day 2012, as designated by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The campaign emphasizes that every person in a community has a right to express his or her ideas about community policies and everyone has the right to representation in that community. The campaign is being waged broadly on social media and can be followed on Twitter: @unrightswire.

The OHCHR also points out that the keystone document of the movement — the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — has really earned its name. The Guinness Book of World Records has recognized OHCHR for having collected, translated and disseminated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in more than 380 languages and dialects, from Abkhaz to Zulu. “The Universal Declaration is thus the most translated document — indeed, the most ‘universal’ one in the world,” OHCHR reports.