WASHINGTON, DC -- The following statement was submitted by U. S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) in the Congressional Record today on International Human Rights Day:
“Mr. President, today is Human Rights Day. Fifty-nine years ago today, thanks in large measure to the tireless leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“The principles encompassed in the Declaration are uniquely rooted in the American tradition, beginning with our founding documents. Yet the Declaration also wove together a remarkable variety of political, religious, and cultural perspectives and traditions. The United States and the United Kingdom championed civil liberties. The French representative on the committee helped devise the structure of the Declaration. India added the prohibition on discrimination. China stressed the importance of family and reminded UN delegates that every right carried with it companion duties. Today should be a day of celebration, a day when we hail the universality of these core principles, which are both beacons to guide us and the foundations for building a more just and stable world.
“The Universal Declaration was a radical document in its time, and its passage required courageous leadership from political leaders. Even though no country could have been said to be in full compliance with its provisions, including the United States where Jim Crow still prevailed, all UN member states committed themselves to promoting, protecting,and respecting fundamental human rights. Although Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not live to see the enactment of the historic Declaration, it enshrined his “four freedoms”– freedom from want, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from fear. Individuals in the United States and everywhere else were entitled, simply by virtue of being human, to physical and economic security. The Declaration was born of the recognition, in the words of one human rights scholar, that “what is pain and humiliation for you is pain and humiliation for me.”
“Anniversaries are a good time to examine how faithful we have been to our own aspirations – to ask ourselves how well we are measuring up, to assess whether our practice lives up to our promise. We in the United States enjoy tremendous freedoms, but we also carry a special responsibility – the responsibility of being the country so many people in the world look to, just as they did in Mrs. Roosevelt’s day, for human rights leadership.
“Today, on this anniversary, we must acknowledge both bad news and good news. The bad news is that for nearly seven years, President Bush has ignored Franklin Roosevelt's wise counsel about the corrosive effects of fear. Indeed, instead of urging us to reject fear, he has stoked false fear and undermined our values.
“Wounded by a horrific terrorist attack, we were warned that Saddam Hussein – a man who had nothing to do with that attack – could unleash mushroom clouds from nuclear bombs. We were told that waterboarding was effective. We were assured that shipping men off to countries that tortured was good for national security. We were led to believe that our military and civilian courts were inadequate, and so we established a network of unaccountable prisons. And the Administration launched secret wiretapping initiatives, scoffed at the rule of law, and flaunted the will of the Congress.
“Nonetheless, in his second inaugural, President Bush rightly proclaimed, “America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.” But, tragically, he has failed to heed his own words. We have not only vacated the perch of moral leader; we have also compounded the threat we face, spurring more people to take up arms against us.
“The further bad news is that other countries have not stepped up to fill the void left by our lack of moral leadership. The hundreds of thousands killed and two million displaced by the genocide in Darfur; the shell-shocked Buddhist monks in Burma; the political opposition in Zimbabwe; the imprisoned independent journalists in Russia; the brave human rights lawyers and judges in Pakistan – they do not know where to turn internationally. Human rights abusers win seats on the UN Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court issues war crimes indictments, but no country steps up to enforce them; the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations begs in vain for troops, helicopters and police to help stave off humanitarian catastrophes. For all these reasons, the world needs renewed, principled U.S. leadership.
“There is another critical reason why America must again provide moral leadership on human rights: the fate of women around the world. Whether it is in creating wealth, access to capital, and property rights, or receiving quality education, health care, and social services, women still lag far behind men. And of course the lack of full reproductive rights can be a matter of life and death for too many women. Inequality means insecurity for women, especially those who comprise 70 percent of the world’s poorest. There is a clear link between discrimination and violence against women; equality and empowerment of women is the most effective approach to ending violence against women. Today, violent acts against women, in the words of UNICEF, “are the most pervasive violation of human rights in the world today.”
“Women’s inequality and the persistent prevalence of honor killings, trafficking, repression, and sexual assault nearly six decades after the Universal Declaration shame us all. One need only look to Saudi Arabia, where a 19-year-old woman, who was raped, instead of receiving treatment and support, was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison for riding in a car with a non-related male. In the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Darfur, rape is routinely used as a weapon of war by militia and government forces. In northern Uganda, young girls are given as “prizes” to older male soldiers to reward performance.
“In Pakistan, international observers report that one of the largest challenges facing its next election is guaranteeing women enough security so they can leave their homes to vote. In Iraq the militarization and rise of radical Islam has eroded women’s rights. In Afghanistan,while nothing can compare to the day when the Taliban ruled the entire country,women throughout that country complain that their freedoms have been woefully curtailed. The United States alone cannot solve the problem of women's suffering and gender inequality around the world, but with new, principled leadership, the United States can elevate women's economic, political and social development to the top of our international agenda and ensure that women around the world know that they have a reliable friend and partner in America.
“Let me close by saying that the very depth of the anti-Americanism felt around the world today is a testament not to hatred but to disappointment, acute disappointment. The global public expects more from America. They expect our government to embody what they have seen in our people: industriousness, humanity, generosity, and a commitment to equality. We can become that country again.”