|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Statement on U.S. Commemoration of Human Rights Day
December 10, 1999, Washington, D.C.
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Today, December 10, is Human Rights Day, the 51st Anniversary of the Proclamation by the United Nations General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We mark this, the last Human Rights Day of the century, knowing that it is a better day, in large part because we have learned so many important lessons.
In Kosovo, we learned that the international community can come together to prevent wholesale human rights abuses. In East Timor, we learned that concerted action by the United Nations can prevent military units from overturning the will of a people. In Indonesia, Nigeria, and elsewhere, we learned that no nation, no religion, no culture is immune to democratic values. We have confirmed that international consensus is possible on worker rights issues when the United States is prepared to assume a leadership role, as it did in pressing for unanimous passage of the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor in June of this year.
There have been other lessons as well. We have learned that while there is no single model for democracy, basic human rights are universal. What a country does to people within its own borders is not solely its own business. Everyone, whether they are Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, or of another faith, suffer equally when they are made to disappear, killed, or locked away for their beliefs.
So while we embrace the spread of human rights around the world and celebrate the emergence of new democracies, there are still too many places where human rights and democracy are still elusive. In Belarus, the Lukashenko regime has headed deeper into authoritarianism, restricting its citizens' right to freedom of opinion, assembly, and expression. In Burma and Cuba, failing regimes bent on self-preservation continue to subject their citizens to arbitrary arrest and detention for daring to speak openly of the shortcomings of despotic rule. The tragic events in Kosovo and East Timor again demonstrate the need to protect life, liberty, and security by preventing mass atrocities.
In China, crackdowns on the China Democracy Party and Falun Gong, and continuing repression of Tibetan Buddhists and non-Government-sanctioned religious groups, have demonstrated that the Government still fails to recognize that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein's regime continues to deny the Iraqi people virtually every right guaranteed by the Declaration. In Sudan, the Government and rebels continue to pursue without remorse an endless civil war that has claimed the lives of nearly two million Sudanese and internally displaced four million others. In Afghanistan, the Taliban continue their oppression of women, denying them all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration solely because of gender.
And in Chechnya, Russia, innocent people face bombardment as a result of military actions by all parties to the conflict. We remain deeply disturbed by the Russian Government's threat to engage in indiscriminate and disproportionate bombardment of Groznyy, which reflects a fundamental disregard for the Declaration's promise that everyone has the right to dignity, to security, and to life and liberty.
So even as this December 10th marks a better day, we know that there is still much to do. The United States remains determined to work with all those who love freedom to ensure that the next century will see continued progress in the promotion of democracy and respect for human dignity and rights.
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