In a proclamation for Human Rights Week, President George W. Bush said that a “commitment to individual freedom and democracy provides the foundation for [American] society. As a nation,” said Mr. Bush, the United States cherishes “the values of free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance, and we steadfastly oppose the forces of cruelty, injustice, and tyranny.”
The U.S. observance of Human Rights Week incorporates two important dates. On December 15th, 1791, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution -- the Bill of Rights -- took effect. About a century and a half later, on December 10th, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When international leaders met after the horrors of the Second World War to draft the Universal Declaration, America’s Bill of Rights was one of several documents they used for inspiration. Other models included the English Magna Carta and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man.
Among the liberties guaranteed by both the U.S. Bill of Rights and the U-N’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights are freedom of religion, speech, and assembly, due process of law, and protection from torture or cruel punishments. But around the world, hundreds of millions of people are still not able to exercise these rights.
As President Bush made clear, the U.S. “will continue to stand with those who fight for fundamental freedoms, whether they be democracy activists in Cuba, university faculty and students in Iran, opposition leaders in Zimbabwe, journalists in Belarus, or the people of North Korea who have never known freedom.”
The U.S., said Mr. Bush, is “leading a coalition of more than ninety nations to defeat terror and secure liberty and opportunity for people throughout the world. Our fight against oppression demonstrates our nation’s dedication to a future of hope and understanding for all people. One year after the liberation of Afghanistan from the clutches of terror and tyranny, we are helping the Afghan people build institutions of democracy and tolerance that are essential to the country’s future stability, security, and prosperity.”
At the same time, the Saddam Hussein tyranny continues to repress the Iraqi people while posing a threat to Iraq’s neighbors and, indeed, much of the rest of the world. But Americans hope that soon, as President Bush put it, “the brave people of Iraq will. . .realize their own dreams of peace and freedom.”