The United States designated the second week in December as Human Rights Week. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the U.S. joins with “nongovernmental groups and other human rights defenders across the globe in marking the fifty-ninth anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights”:
“Today on every continent, men and women are working, often against great odds and at great risk, to secure their fundamental rights. Regrettably some governments have responded to growing demands for personal and political freedom, not by accepting their obligations to their people, but by oppressing those seeking to exercise fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.”
A case in point is the Iranian government. Shortly before Students Day in Iran, security forces arrested dozens of students on the pretext that they were planning to hold “illegal gatherings” at Tehran University. Despite the arrests, hundreds of students held a rally at the university on December 9th. They protested the policies of the Iranian government, including the detention of students and women’s rights activists, journalists, and advocates for ethnic minorities.
Bahar Hedayat is a member of the women’s commission of the Office to Foster Unity, Iran’s largest student organization. In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, she said that student demonstrators in Iran know what they risk when they decide to protest: arrest, expulsion from school, even death. But, she says, the protests will continue, because Iranians “can no longer put up with the current political, economic, and social pressures.”
It was of such courageous people that President George W. Bush spoke when he said in a statement proclaiming Human Rights Week, “The United States continues to stand with those who work to build democracy and secure the blessings of liberty.”