On December 10, 1948, world leaders gathered at the UN General Assembly and pledged to uphold and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people. This promise, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, recognized that human beings are, by virtue of their birth, endowed with certain inalienable rights that serve as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
Sixty-three years later, we hear this timeless call for freedom and dignity echoed in the streets, squares, and neighborhoods of the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond. It is up to the people of each nation to create the governments and societies that reflect their aspirations, and craft the constitutions and build the foundations that will protect their human rights and freedoms. And it is up to the people of every nation in transition to guard their budding democracies against those who would seek to hijack freedom and opportunity.
The violence we have witnessed this year against people exercising their universal rights to free expression, assembly, and association reminds us of the distance that exists between the values inscribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the realities for many people around the world. From Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, political prisoners still languish in jail for speaking, writing or advocating peacefully for their beliefs. Today, we call on every government to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, including Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, Father Thadeus Nguyễn Văn Lý, and the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo.
As we celebrate Human Rights Day, we reaffirm our commitment to these ideals. It is an obligation of every government to guarantee the rights of all citizens, including women, LGBT people, individuals with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups. We will stand with those who defend human rights against oppression wherever it occurs, and support those working toward a more peaceful world.