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United States Marks Human Rights Day

United States Marks Human Rights Day

By Jane Morse
Staff Writer

Washington - U.S. officials from the president on down marked International Human Rights Day on December 10, which commemorates the adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

"While every nation pursues a path rooted in the culture of its own citizens, certain rights belong to all people," President Obama said in a proclamation issued December 10. "Freedom, justice and peace for the world must begin with basic security and liberty in the lives of individual human beings."

Obama said the United States will continue the fight to make universal human rights a reality for every person, regardless of race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or circumstance.

"The challenges of a new century," Obama said, "call for a world that is more purposeful and more united. The United States will always speak for those who are voiceless, defend those who are oppressed, and bear witness to those who want nothing more than to exercise their universal human rights."
"Let us continue to stand with citizens, activists and governments around the world who embrace democratic reforms and empower free expression," Obama said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton commemorated Human Rights Day by presenting the Eleanor Roosevelt Award to four American human rights defenders for their contributions to the protection of human rights both in the United States and abroad.

The awardees are:

Louis Henkin, who was a major figure in developing the study of human rights law.

Alice Hartman Henkin, who, as the director of the Justice and Society Program at the Aspen Institute, brought together lawyers, business leaders and educators to help shape U.S. polices on human rights, international law and peacekeeping.

Wade Henderson, a civil and human rights leader who has led the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights since 1996.

Sarah Cleto Rial, a native of southern Sudan and program director for My Sister's Keeper, a Boston-based nongovernmental organization that works to advance political, social and economic justice for women and girls in Sudan.

The Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights was established by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 1998 at the direction of then-President Bill Clinton. Eleanor Roosevelt, as the first chair of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, was a driving force behind the development and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In a statement released earlier in the day, Secretary Clinton condemned governments that continue to employ intimidation and questionable legal practices to silence the voices of human rights defenders. "We will continue to remind leaders of their responsibilities to their citizens under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Clinton said. "To support this, I have asked our embassies to open their doors to civil society activists today to listen to their concerns and demonstrate our support."

The goal of U.S. foreign policy, Clinton said at the awards ceremony, "is to make it possible for people who are very brave ... to actually realize their freedoms."

Among the notable human rights defenders Clinton named in her statement were Liu Xiaobo, who won this year's Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy of peaceful political reform in China; Damas de Blanco, an advocate for political prisoners in Cuba; and Magodonga Mahlangu, who works to empower women in Zimbabwe.

The courage of these activists, Clinton said, "is a testament to all that is good in the human spirit."

In New York City, Ambassador Susan Rice, the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, spoke out against discrimination against those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT). "I am particularly proud to say the United States is the newest member of the LGBT Core Group here at the United Nations," she said.

"We reaffirm today our common humanity," Rice said. "We celebrate the different ways in which we have been created."

In a press conference at the State Department, Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, emphasized that the United States has "internationalized" the debate so that discussions on human rights by its diplomats go on every day.

"The world needs more attention to human rights," Posner said, "and we are trying to provide leadership on that."


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