On December 10, 1948, world leaders gathered at the United Nations General Assembly and affirmed the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of all people. In adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the international community committed to building a world where all people are “born free and equal in dignity and rights” and are entitled to liberty, equality, and justice under the law. As we celebrate Human Rights Day more than six decades after the adoption of this cornerstone document, we reaffirm our commitment to promoting and protecting its fundamental truths.
We do so by advancing the universal freedoms enshrined in the UDHR, including the freedom to speak, the freedom to assemble, and the freedom to worship. When governments seek to deny these liberties through repressive laws and blunt force, we stand against this oppression and with people around the world as they defend their rights. These rights are complementary and mutually reinforcing. As I said in Dublin, religious freedom is about people being able to practice their faith, but it is also about the right of people to think what they want, say what they think, associate with others, and assemble peacefully without the state looking over their shoulders or prohibiting them from doing so. It is neither necessary nor acceptable to sacrifice one right in the name of another.
We seek to protect these rights at home and advocate for them abroad because doing so is central to our identity, a source of our influence in the world, and essential to our national interests. As President Obama and I have said, governments that respect human rights and reflect the will of their people are more stable, secure and prosperous over the long run, and better allies for the United States. Human rights cannot be disconnected from other priorities. They are inextricably linked with all of the goals we strive for at home and around the world. The Universal Declaration is not just a catalog of rights and government obligations. It is a time-tested blueprint for successful societies.
We celebrate Human Rights Day every December, but advancing freedom and human rights is our daily work. Those of us lucky enough to live in countries like the United States have an extra responsibility, first, to remain vigilant in ensuring that we honor and implement our own commitment to human rights at home, and second, to help others gain what we have - the chance to live in dignity. We will continue to uphold and advance these fundamental freedoms both on and offline; we will continue to speak out about oppression wherever it occurs; we will continue to foster tolerance; and we will continue to work toward building a more just and peaceful world.