By Ambassador Joseph Stafford
December 17, 2012 - International Human Rights Day, which we celebrate each December 10, commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. In adopting the UDHR, the United States and governments around the world recognized that human beings, by virtue of their birth, are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that these serve as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” We look to the Universal Declaration both as a reminder of values and as a guide for action.
Today we continue the hard work of making human rights a reality for every person, no matter who they are or where they live. We recognize that human rights are not just about freedom from violence, torture, unlawful detention, discrimination, and oppression. Human rights include the freedom to speak, criticize, associate, assemble, and practice one’s religion. We protect these rights at home and advocate for these freedoms abroad because doing so is consistent with American values and in America’s interest. Countries whose citizens are free to choose their leaders, can rely on the rule of law, and have the opportunity to pursue their dreams are more likely to be peaceful neighbors and prosperous partners in the world community. Advocating for these freedoms is both about pursuing a more perfect union and a more perfect world, in which each human being lives freely and with dignity.
We carry this message into every country where US diplomats serve, and this is no less true for Sudan than for any other country. Today in Khartoum, we support others who are working in the cause of human freedom and dignity, be they in civil society or universities or the government. Today you can find U.S. diplomats in this country engaged in ongoing dialogue about how best to foster a peaceful environment that brings forth the potential of the Sudanese people. We give aid to organizations that seek to promote human rights and empower citizens to use their experiences to become leaders for peace and freedom. We do this not to promote “American values,” but to help Sudanese realize aspirations that are shared by every citizen of the globe: the right to pursue one’s own ideas, beliefs, and dreams.
The United States will continue to support human rights defenders and engage with activists and civil society organizations around the world to build local capacity to advocate for these fundamental human rights. As Secretary Clinton said “our human rights agenda for the 21st century is to make human rights a reality, and the first step is to see human rights in broad context. People must be free from the oppression of tyranny, from torture, from discrimination, from the fear of leaders who will imprison or ‘disappear’ them. But they must also be free from the oppression of want – want of food, want of health, want of education, and want of equality in law and in fact.”
Human Rights Day symbolizes the continuation of the fight to make universal human rights a reality for all people. Human rights protect aspects of human dignity that all people, regardless of cultural differences, deserve: freedom to pursue happiness and fulfillment, to speak openly, to come together with others and organize peacefully, to believe and worship as they see fit, and to participate fully in the public life of society with confidence in the rule of law. On Human Rights Day, we reaffirm our commitment to universal and fundamental values.
The author is the U.S. Charge D’Affaires to Khartoum