Around the world, the fundamental struggle for dignity – for economic justice, political freedom, and personal expression – continues every day and in many forms. I’ve seen firsthand what can happen when we work together to change things for the better. As a young Senator visiting Manila, I saw tears of joy in the eyes of a Filipino woman who emerged from a voting booth casting her ballot for the first time after 17 years of dictatorship. As Secretary of State, I’ve seen pride on the faces of young girls in Afghanistan, who would have been denied an education under the Taliban. And I’ve seen the courage of Libyans who filled Freedom Square – first to bring down a dictator and then to let Libya’s democratically elected government know their demands. Just in recent days, I've seen Ukrainians peacefully fill the city squares in Kyiv and across their country to demand that their voices be heard loudly and clearly.
Across the world, the struggle is not over; the march of human dignity is not complete. More than six decades after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are still working to ensure that the rights set forth in it become “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”
Making this vision a reality requires both the persistent protection of governments as well as the active participation of citizens. Nothing can match the power of grassroots movements. In my own generation's struggle, I saw vividly how activists came together to change our nation through movements committed to advance labor rights, civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, the rights of the disabled, the environment and peace. America grew stronger because courageous citizens were willing to take a stand to fight for the things they believed in, willing to risk their lives on picket lines and voting lines and even go to jail for justice, to help their country live up to its ideals.
Around the world today, some of today’s greatest advocates for change – from Gao Zhisheng of China to Ales Byalyatski of Belarus to Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga of Cuba – sit in prison simply because they fought for the rule of law and the right of human beings to express themselves.
There are many whose names we will never know, whose courage goes unremarked but is all the more remarkable because they put their lives on the line in the face of beatings, imprisonment, and even death in the near certainty that their sacrifice will be anonymous.
On this Human Rights Day, the United States honors the courage and commitment of men, women, and children around the world who risk their lives to secure universal rights for all.
Today and every day, we will continue to support their efforts to achieve a world that is more just, more free, and more peaceful and secure.