Ambassador Wayne Op-Ed: Celebrating Advances in Human Rights

International Human Rights Day, which we celebrate each December 10, commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. In adopting the Declaration, the United States, Mexico, and governments around the world recognized that human beings are, by virtue of their birth, endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that these serve as “the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.” We look to the Universal Declaration not just as a reminder of values, but as a guide for action. Mexico was one of the 48 original signatories to the Declaration, and in the 64 years since, the Mexican people have made important progress in sustaining their commitment to uphold human rights at home and abroad. Mexico and the United States work side by side in multilateral institutions, including the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

We commend recent Mexican legislative progress in strengthening Mexico’s human rights framework. During 2012 alone, these legislative achievements included passage of a modification to Article 73 of the Constitution, which federalizes crimes against journalists, and passage of a new Law to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Defenders, which establishes a federal protection mechanism for journalists and human rights defenders in danger. The Mexican Government has also passed a General Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law to harmonize statutes across the country and increase its authority and capacity to protect victims and prosecute traffickers. During 2012, the government also reformed laws to protect women, notably making femicide, or the killing of a woman based on her gender, a federal crime punishable by 40 to 60 years in prison. At the same time, the government continues to implement the ground-breaking 2011 constitutional reform on human rights.

The Supreme Court has taken an active role in deliberating on important issues with regard to human rights developments in recent years, demonstrating the importance of all branches of government in reinforcing and enriching a democracy and the protection of its people. The United States recognizes the Government of Mexico — including its public officials and institutions — for the efforts it has made to advance the protection of human rights in Mexico. Moreover, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission and the human rights ombudsmen at the state levels provide citizens with an accessible and functional mechanism for tracking and obtaining recourse for human rights grievances. The United States maintains a strong working relationship with these commissions, and we recognize the important work that they do to address threats and violence against human rights defenders and journalists, violence against women, and allegations of police and military involvement in abuses.

As United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, a sustainable democracy requires the active engagement of civil society. Perhaps the most significant and encouraging development as Mexico has strengthened its human rights framework is that civil society has participated actively in drafting and lobbying for key human rights legislation. Civil society has participated with vigor and commitment in the ongoing implementation and governing of the Human Rights Defenders and Journalist Protection Mechanism. Over 150 civil society groups played a role in pushing for the law, and now several groups and activists are taking a leadership role in ensuring that the protection mechanism operates effectively. Civil society is vital to ensuring that the government is responsive to its people and that measures aimed to protect citizens include input from the beneficiaries.

The United States supports human rights defenders and engages with activists and civil society organizations around the world to build local capacity to advocate for fundamental human rights. Through its projects in Mexico, the United States prioritizes the importance of civil society involvement in advancing the protection of human rights. The United States supports projects focused on building the capacity of non-governmental organizations as well as encouraging dialogue between civil society and government. Ongoing programs in Mexico engage civil society, academia, citizenry, and local governments to help prevent human rights violations, promote a culture of respect and value for human rights, protect freedom of speech, and adequately respond to violations when they occur. The United States government has also provided training for media professionals on self-protection and digital security, and technical support to human rights defenders in Mexico.

The United States also supports the Mexican government by providing human rights training and technical assistance to public agencies. For example, the United States has supported human rights training for federal and state police officials, the special prosecution unit of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office focused on crimes against freedom of expression, and the federal government’s victim assistance unit.

Human Rights Day symbolizes the continuation of the work around the globe to make universal human rights a reality for all people – regardless of race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, religion or any other feature of human diversity. We look forward to continuing our work and cooperation with Mexico to realize the full promise of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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