Sixty-six years ago, on December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a remarkable document: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Drafted by many people with very different legal and cultural backgrounds, it outlined, for the first time in an international declaration, fundamental freedoms and human rights to be protected for “all members of the human family.”
These rights – from freedom of expression to the rights of peaceful assembly and association to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion – are under threat in many places around the world. Regrettably, there are still some governments which crack down on peaceful dissent. Some prohibit certain religious practices, stifle the rights of women and girls, criminalize LGBT status, and deny equal opportunities to persons with disabilities.
Brave human rights defenders, independent journalists, and ordinary individuals are often the first to bring these abuses to light. Too often, however, men and women who raise their voices to protest assaults on human dignity are harassed, imprisoned, attacked, and even killed. Today, we honor activists and advocates who have given their passion, their expertise, and in some extreme cases, their lives to the cause of human rights.
On Monday evening, I attended a memorial service for the 15 individuals tortured and murdered at Fort Zeelandia in December 1982, thirty-two years ago. The U.S. Embassy stands beside the families of the victims in their quest for justice. The United States believes strongly that respect for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are fundamental pillars of any democratic system, and judicial proceedings should be free of political interference. Although the exact process followed to ensure both accountability and reconciliation is a domestic political issue, the United States underscores the importance of accountability for past human rights violations, regardless of the perpetrators or alleged perpetrators.
On Human Rights Day, let us all commit to shining a spotlight on abuses, to opposing repression, and to supporting individuals and organizations who are working to ensure the Universal Declaration of Human Rights becomes reality for all people, everywhere.