Human Rights Day 2010 By D. Brent Hardt, Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy to Barbados & the Eastern Caribbean
Each year on December 10, the world marks Human Rights Day, an event that affords all of us the opportunity to reflect on the rights and aspirations outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as human rights conditions in our own country and elsewhere across the globe.
The Declaration, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, outlined the equal and inalienable rights of all people, and has since served as the benchmark for the extension and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
For its time, the Universal Declaration was quite bold. After all, it was just three years after a cataclysmic war and the Holocaust. Like all great breakthroughs, it was an act of imagination and courage and it served notice that, for all our differences, we share a common birthright.
For activists and NGO leaders who work tirelessly in the defense of human rights around the world, everyday of the year is human rights day. Courageous individuals on every continent, some known and some quiet heroes working tirelessly in obscurity, are committed to securing dignity for men and women, girls and boys, and to seeing the promise of the Declaration fulfilled in their corner of the world.
This year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded its Peace Prize to one of these heroes, Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo. Mr. Liu remains in detention, and neither he nor his family could attend the ceremony Our Ambassador to Norway, along with other diplomats and dignitaries from around the world, did attend to show support and to continue to urge China to respect internationally recognized fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression.
Around the world today, human dignity is under siege. We find ourselves at a time when an increasing number of governments are imposing new and crippling restrictions on the nongovernmental organizations working to protect rights and enhance accountability. We continue to press to end such restrictions whether in Sudan, Iran, North Korea, Burma, China, Cuba, Belarus, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia, or many other countries.
This year, we worked with a coalition of countries in the UN Human Rights Council to create a new Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association. We also supported the creation within the Human Rights Council of the first Working Group of Independent Experts for Discrimination against Women. In November, we participated through the United Nations in the Universal Periodic Review of our own human rights record, just as we encourage other nations to do. By holding ourselves accountable, our own actions support our goal that all governments adhere to their obligations under international law and enshrine human rights into domestic law and embed them in government institutions. We look to our partners in the Caribbean region to strengthen the capabilities and effectiveness of the UN Human Rights Council.
Making human rights a human reality requires cooperation among individuals and organizations within communities and across borders. We must all work with others who share our commitment to securing lives of dignity for all who share the bonds of humanity.
At the November UN General Assembly, resolutions addressing human rights shortcomings in Iran, Burma (Myanmar) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were approved. This is an encouraging sign of the willingness of members of the international community to stand up for the rights of people across the globe. Countries in the Caribbean including St. Lucia, the Bahamas, Belize, and Jamaica should be commended for their willingness to voice their concern for human rights in these countries in these critical UN votes.
Advocating for international human rights is countries of the Eastern Caribbean, whose governments enjoy exemplary human rights records, a vibrant media, free and fair elections, and strong constitutional guarantees. The Eastern Caribbean also enjoys a strong history of support for democracy and human rights, whether fighting apartheid in South Africa or supporting democratic governance in Grenada. On the anniversary of the Universal Declaration Human rights, we hope that countries in this region will increasingly use their voice in the United Nations to advance the rights and freedoms internationally that are so highly valued and broadly respected within the Caribbean.