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Presidential Proclaimation: Human Rights Day, Bill of Rights Day, and Human Rights Week


In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  More than 60 years later, the Declaration reflects the world’s commitment to the idea that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”  As Americans, this self-evident truth lies at the heart of our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights.  It is a belief that, while every nation pursues a path rooted in the culture of its own citizens, certain rights belong to all people:  freedom to live as they choose, to speak openly, to organize peacefully, to worship freely, and to participate fully in the public life of their society with confidence in the rule of law.

Freedom, justice, and peace for the world must begin with basic security and liberty in the lives of individual human beings.  Today, we continue the fight to make universal human rights a reality for every person, regardless of race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or circumstance.  From the freedom to associate or criticize to the protection from violence or unlawful detention, these inherent civil rights are a matter of both pragmatic and moral necessity.

The challenges of a new century call for a world that is more purposeful and more united.  The United States will always speak for those who are voiceless, defend those who are oppressed, and bear witness to those who want nothing more than to exercise their universal human rights.  Our Bill of Rights protects these fundamental values at home, and guides our actions as we stand with those who seek to exercise their universal rights, wherever they live.  Countries whose people choose their leaders and rely on the rule of law are more likely to be peaceful neighbors and prosperous partners in the world community.

Part of the price of our own blessings of freedom is standing up for the liberty of others.  As we observe Human Rights Day, Bill of Rights Day, and Human Rights Week, let us recommit to advancing human rights as our common cause and moral imperative.  Let us continue to stand with citizens, activists, and governments around the world who embrace democratic reforms and empower free expression.  Together, we can advance the arc of human progress toward a more perfect Union and a more perfect world — one in which each human being lives with dignity, security, and equality.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim December 10, 2010, as Human Rights Day; December 15, 2010, as Bill of Rights Day; and the week beginning December 10, 2010, as Human Rights Week.  I call upon the people of the United States to mark these observances with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this tenth day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.

              BARACK OBAMA


Remarks at the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award Ceremony

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Welcome, everybody, and happy Human Rights Day. Please have a seat. Sixty-two years ago, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which established, really, for the first time, the universality of human rights – every human being entitled to rights because of their humanity.

That effort was led by a great American, Eleanor Roosevelt. And in the spirit of that great American, I present to you another great American who carries on that tradition, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much. Thank you all. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, thank you. (Applause.) Thank you.

Thank you and welcome to what is called the Treaty Room. And I want to thank Assistant Secretary Posner. And although December 10th is the day when we commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, thanks to people like Mike and everyone here in this room who works with us at the State Department and across the Administration, every day is Human Rights Day. And we take that as a very serious challenge and mission. And Mike and his staff are doing a tremendous job championing human rights and the values that we cherish here at home and around the world.

And of course, I’m thrilled to do anything that is associated with Eleanor Roosevelt. I am always delighted to speak about the life and legacy of someone whom I admire so much. And it is a great privilege to see her grandson, James Roosevelt, Jr., here to be with us – (applause) – and Allida Black, who has made it her life’s work to edit the Eleanor Roosevelt papers, which might not otherwise have come to such prominence. (Applause.) And we have representatives here from the Departments of Justice and Defense and the White House and especially the families and friends of our honorees who have loved and supported them through so much.

I also want to begin by recognizing the brave men and women around the world who are being persecuted, jailed, or tortured today as we speak for promoting human rights and freedom. We remember them every single day and among them is the Chinese writer, Liu Xiaobo, who has now been awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Liu was not there, as you know, to accept the prize, and nor was his wife nor anyone related or connected to him because he is serving an 11-year prison sentence on charges related to his peaceful advocacy for human rights and democracy. And we continue to call for his release, and today, we call for the release of a Nobel Peace Prize winner. (Applause.)

In Cuba, the determined women of Damas de Blanco have endured harassment, beatings, and arrest as they march every week, as they once again did yesterday, in support of their husbands and sons who are longtime political prisoners. In Zimbabwe, activists have been arrested, abducted, or beaten after calling attention to human rights abuses and the plight of the poor. And unfortunately, I could go on and on. And there are so many places where we don’t yet see the realization of the rule of law and the recognition of the basic freedoms that are universal.

These rights that are being denied people are written plainly and simply in the Universal Declaration, because Eleanor Roosevelt stood for a basic principle. The language of a document intended to be universal had to be so clear that anyone could understand it. And if you read, as I do, international treaties and agreements – (laughter) – you know that the fact Eleanor succeeded was nothing short of a miracle. So I hope that people around the world, including those of us in our government, will celebrate this day by rereading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and reconfirming our commitment to work in any way we can to make good on its promise, which includes the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience.

In the past two years, I have traveled literally hundreds of thousands of miles, visited 77 countries, and have advocated for human rights everywhere from Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan. And the array of issues that we are working on seems to broaden as we grapple with problems that were not on people’s minds when the declaration was drafted.

Now of course, Eleanor Roosevelt and the other drafters understood that human rights means much more than just political freedom. She wanted to honor the inherent dignity and value of the human being, which to her meant equal rights for every man, woman and child; freedom from want and fear; the opportunity for every person to develop his or her full God-given potential. And it is up to us to harness these ideas to meet the challenges that we now face. So therefore, we must speak out when people are not free to vote or practice their religion; when girls are trafficked or married against their will; when boys are forced to become child soldiers.

This year, our diplomats have worked on food security and the need to nourish all babies in the first vital 1,000 days of life. We’ve worked on internet freedom, international disability rights, ending sexual violence as a tool of warfare, diffusing ethnic tensions, and so much more. And we are particularly focused on helping those who are on the front lines in their own countries. And we try to think very hard about what strategy will help and not just get us a headline or get us attention, because that’s not the goal. The goal is to make it possible for people who are very brave, in ways that many of us cannot even imagine, actually realize their full freedoms.

Now, our four honorees have each been pioneers in expanding our understanding and practice of human rights work. Each stood on the shoulders of the generation that went before, and each touched the lives of people who had been excluded or marginalized.
When Louis Henkin began law school in 1937, the term “human rights” did not exist in international law. The words were used only colloquially. But over the next six decades, Lou Henkin changed that. He breathed life into the new human rights movement and pioneered the study of human rights law as a discipline. After clerking for Judge Learned Hand and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, Lou began his career in the State Department’s – (laughter) – Bureau of UN Affairs. And he was the U.S. negotiator for the Refugee Convention. He himself had fled the Soviet Union with his family at the age of five and he described himself as a Jewish refugee from communism.

He picked up the intellectual challenge thrown down by Eleanor Roosevelt’s generation – take the rights that had been asserted at the United Nations but were still only theoretical for so many – and weave them into the fabric of international law. He did it at the State Department, as an advisor at the United Nations, and as a law professor. And along the way, he famously refuted the notion that a government could invoke national sovereignty to justify denying the inherent rights of its citizens. Lou was an intellectual giant, and as many of his former students in this room can attest, he was legendary for being both honest and kind. We mourn his passing in October, and I would like to offer my sympathies to his beloved wife Alice and their children. But Alice, we could not honor Lou without also honoring you.

Alice Hartman Henkin was one of only six women to graduate from Yale Law School in 1957, and in so doing she put some real cracks in the glass ceiling for people like me. For three decades as the director of the Justice and Society Program at the Aspen Institute, she has brought together lawyers, business leaders, and educators to help shape U.S. policies on human rights, international law, and peacekeeping. And she helped train more than 300 judges, including four Supreme Court justices in international human rights law.
Lou and Alice were full partners in integrating the United States into the international human rights system. People say that Lou and Alice were like FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt. (Laughter.) But ironically, Lou was more like Eleanor, the lawgiver — (laughter) — while Alice has been like Franklin, whose political skills brought these values into the consciousness of generations of U.S. officials.
So I now have the great privilege of presenting Alice with the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award to Louis and Alice. (Applause.)

Alice, could you say a few words?

MS. HENKIN: Thank you, Madam Secretary. I’m happy to receive the Eleanor Roosevelt Award on Lou’s behalf. My only sadness, of course, is his inability to accept it in person. As a great admirer of Mrs. Roosevelt, he would have been especially pleased. Lou was also an admirer of her husband, Franklin, and often referred to FDR’s Four Freedoms speech to Congress in 1941, noting in particular the third freedom, freedom from want.

I will quote very briefly from an article Lou wrote in 1997 in the Texas International Law Journal about that third freedom. Quote: “For many the U.S. system of rights is deficient in that it does not guarantee freedom from want. The place of economic and social rights and U.S. jurisprudence and policy has been unsteady. Indeed, the sentiment that economic, social, and cultural rights are not rights has spread, and reluctance to assume international obligations to realize them has remained strong. However, the United States has joined in promulgating and promoting the economic and social rights through the universal declaration. But economic and social rights are not part of the U.S. Bill of Rights and are not guaranteed by other provisions in the Constitution. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on the other hand, recognizes not only the civil rights rooted in natural law and the political rights associated with democracy; it recognizes also the economic and social rights associated with the welfare state: a right to food, housing, health, education, leisure, social security, and work.” End of the quote. Then he goes on to support the U.S. ratification of the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights. But that’s for another day. (Laughter.) (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: When the torch of human rights advocacy is passed from the Eleanor Roosevelts to the Lou and Alice Henkins of this world, and then again to a new generation of activists, it takes a very special person to pick up that challenge. Well, Wade Henderson is such a person. He has spent his life working on grassroots change, first, as Eleanor said, “in the small places close to home” and then on national and international scale. There is scarcely an American civil rights issue that Wade hasn’t touched as an advocate, a scholar, or a community leader. He’s worked on civil liberties, District of Columbia voting legislation, and workers’ rights. He helped past the Hate Crimes law that President Obama signed last year.

The Leadership Conference Wade now has has 200 organizations as members, and its mission is to promote and protect civil and human rights of all people in the United States and to foster an open and just society. And this year Wade also offered his considerable wisdom as the United States prepared our first-ever report on our own human rights record at the Human Rights Council. Above all, Wade is a bridge builder. He understands that our diversity is our strength, and he knows how to bring diverse communities together to achieve common goals. That really does make him a distinguished diplomat as well as a civil rights and human rights activist.

I want to welcome his wife Marsha, who is here today for this special occasion. So please join me in congratulating Wade Henderson as I present him with the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award. (Applause.)

MR. HENDERSON: Thank you. Good afternoon and thank you. And thank you, Madam Secretary, for those gracious words and Assistant Secretary Mike Posner. I cannot begin to tell you how humbled I am to receive this award in the name of Eleanor Roosevelt, whose devotion to civil and human rights gave birth to a set of universal principles that continue to transform our world for the better.
I’m honored to share this recognition today with Sarah Rial and the late Professor Louis Henkin and Alice Henkin. I had the privilege of studying with Professor Henkin at the Aspen Institute. It was Alice who arranged my participation. I’m deeply honored. It was Professor Henkin and Alice together that were the giants whose work provided the intellectual framework for the growth of the modern human rights movement.

I have some very important people here with me today, and before I go on I’d like to give them the recognition that they deserve, starting with my wife Marsha Henderson, my daughters (inaudible), my uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Wade, colleagues from the David A. Clark School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia, where I’m proud to be the first Joseph L. Rauh Professor of Public Interest Law. And I want to thank my colleagues at the Leadership Conference to whom I owe so much, both those who are here and those who are not.

This award really belongs to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national organizations working together for an America that’s as good as its ideals. Fittingly, the Leadership Conference was founded just two years after the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And while we spoke more frequently about civil rights than human rights for most of our history, our work has always encompassed both, so it was only natural that we formally added human rights to our name earlier this year.

It is in this spirit that the Leadership Conference took the lead this year in seeking Senate ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Woman. And we are equally committed to the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. If our country is to continue to lead on international human rights, the U.S. should be as committed to these treaties as I know Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Posner are as well. (Applause.)

And as Secretary Clinton said, we were proud to be a part of the Universal Periodic Review effort of the United States before the UN Human Rights Council. It was extraordinary to be among such a diverse group of dedicated individuals, some of whom I have known and worked with for many years, representing the human rights achievements of our great nation. It demonstrated, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said of human rights – and I quote – “Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

Thank you, Madam Secretary, for this extraordinary honor and thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Like Lou Henkin, Sarah Cleto Rial came here as a refugee. She was actually displaced twice: first from her home in Southern Sudan because of the civil war; and then from Khartoum, because her work in calling attention to wartime atrocities against women made her a target. For refusing to wear a head scarf, Sarah was once picked up and paraded around Khartoum in a police truck.

Sarah arrived here in 1999 under the refugee laws that Lou Henkin had helped create. She soon began working for a Massachusetts NGO, My Sister’s Keeper. They built a school for girls in Southern Sudan, and they started programs to train teachers and teach adult women how to read. And now they have created a network of 250 women’s peace activists from all over Sudan.

These women hail from ethnic groups that have been at war, but they have come together to lobby the various military factions for peace. These women are tired of war and want to be part of ending it. We’ve talked about this at the United Nations, and we passed Resolution 1327 recognizing the importance of women in peacekeeping. But it takes a person like Sarah to make it happen – someone who flies back to Sudan, kisses the tarmac from which she fled, and starts building peace from the ground up. Tonight, Sarah and her colleagues are headed off to the Nuba Mountains to continue grassroots efforts to build peace and stability.
Sarah is joined today by her three sons and their father and her sister and a wealth of friends, Sarah – (laughter) – from everywhere. So please, give the honor of presenting this award to you. (Applause.)

MS. CLETO RIAL: Thank you, Senator Clinton, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Congratulations to my fellow honorees, Mr. Henderson and Mr. and Mrs. Henkin for the extreme exemplary leadership in the field of human rights. I am extremely honored to receive this award.

I would like express my special appreciation to the people of the United States of America. I would not have been here without the willingness of this great country to welcome me as a refugee. I came here to this country fleeing conflict and seeking sanctuary 11 years ago. Thank you, my fellow Americans.

I want to thank my family, my sister, who drove all the way from Atlanta to be here with me this afternoon, my sister-in-law (inaudible), and my children who missed school today – (laughter) – to be here. Thank you so much. My special appreciation to my sisters from My Sister’s Keeper, whom have been my inspiration throughout my work with them, and I really especially honoring my mentor and our regional (inaudible) Gloria White-Hammond who is here with us. (Applause.) They work so hard and they care about women who are 10,000 miles away from here. Pastor Gloria, Lee, and Geneva, thank you so much for being here with me.

This prestigious award is not for me personally. I accept it on behalf of the 525 resourceful students at the Kunyuk School for Girls, the 200 resilient adult women who are learning at the Women’s Peace School, and most importantly, the 200 resilient and the hardworking women who are part of the members of the Sisterhood for Peace Network. And I’m so honored to have my sisters from the Sisterhood Network here with me today. Thank you for taking this time to be here and to work together collaborating across traditional boundaries to promote peace throughout all Sudan. Together, we are forging multiple pathways to sustainable peace in our beloved Sudan.

This award is a tribute to the countless Sudanese women worldwide, who for decades have traveled through long years and many wars in Sudan. We have endured hardships and contributed much to our country, but we have always been relegated to the shadow. This award allows us to come out and tell you and tell the world that Sudanese women have been and are here to ensure that there is lasting peace in our homeland.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said – and I want to tell you, my Sudanese sisters, that this here, this is our award. This is your award. And Eleanor said, “Women, whether subtly or vociferously, have always been a tremendous power in the destiny of the world.” Today, as women, we seize our power and we claim our destiny in Sudan and in the world. We will achieve our human rights, and we will build peace in our country and throughout the world.

Thank you. (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Thank you, Sarah, and congratulations to you, to Wade, to Alice. The stories we’ve heard today are deeply moving, and they show that the struggle for human dignity does bear fruit, even though it sometimes takes years or even decades to achieve. They’re a reminder that we must measure progress over that time.
I just want to end with one story about Secretary Clinton, who’s been working on these issues since she was a student. Back in 1998, when she was First Lady, she presented the Eleanor Roosevelt Award, and she told the audience about a village she had visited in Senegal. USAID was running a program there and some of the women had come together to press their village to stop the practice of female genital cutting. The concept was radical and so was the notion of the First Lady of the United States talking about it.
Earlier this month, we got an email letting us know that the number of villages in Senegal that have stopped this practice has now swelled to 700. And what’s more, the women have built on their initial success and are working to curb the practice of child marriage in their communities.

So I’m honored, really honored, to have joined Secretary Clinton in honoring your courage and your efforts to chart new pathways forward in the decades to come. Thank you all for coming. (Applause.)


Remarks at Human Rights Day Town Hall

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I wanted to come by and welcome and give you a little bit of a respite from hearing from the three advocates for human rights, each in their – in his own way truly devoted to the work that we do here at the State Department. And in particular, on this day, I want to thank Mike Posner and everyone in DRL who works with him and for all that you are doing. I want to thank Harold Koh and everyone in L who keeps pushing, pushing, and trying to make sure that our human rights policy continues to lead the world. And I want to thank P.J. Crowley and everybody in his shop who have to explain everything we do or don’t do, which is sometimes the most difficult of all tasks.

But mostly, I came by to thank you, members of civil society, human rights organizations, college students, Hill staffers, State Department colleagues. Thank you very much. Because we thought it was important to really have a chance on this day where we commemorate the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by a vote of 48-0 in the United Nations, the very core concept that each of us, all of us, are born with equal and inalienable rights.

Those words hearken back to our own Declaration of Independence, which was such an incredible, historical event in addition to representing the very best of our values and aspirations. But from the beginning, the United States has recognized that our rights are inextricably bound up with the rights of others. And we remain committed as a nation, and certainly in the Obama Administration, to working toward realizing a world that was envisioned by both of these declarations, in which every person has a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential.

Those of us in this great Dean Acheson Hall who lived through the civil rights movement, the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid, and so much else knows that these singular achievements are by no means the work of governments alone. In fact, it took civil society pushing governments, and sometimes pulling them against their natural inclination, to just protect the status quo. It took groups of citizens in shipyards and lunch counters and even prisons to keep prodding the conscience of governments and the rest of us.

So for the United States, supporting civil society around the globe is a crucial priority. I made that clear in a speech I gave last summer at the Community of Democracies in Krakow, where we laid out an agenda of support for civil society, because we think it’s not only a matter of good global citizenship, but it’s a key to advancing so many of our national security priorities.

So we intend to make engagement with civil society a defining feature of our diplomacy. We’ve asked our embassies and missions around the world to develop strategies to elevate support for and protection of civil society. Next year, I will launch the new strategic dialogue with civil society to bring together representatives from government and civic groups for regular consultation, just as we do in our strategic dialogues with other countries.

We have seen increased efforts by governments to restrict civic space, whether in Cuba or China’s efforts to somehow divert the world’s attention from the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony today. We really know that we have our work cut out for us. And in Krakow, I called on the UN Human Rights Council to do more to protect civil society and announced the creation of a new fund for embattled NGOs. And I want to thank Lithuania, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Poland, and the Czech Republic for their pledged contributions to this fund and for joining us in providing a lifeline to NGOs under siege. We also have worked with a coalition of countries on the Human Rights Council to create a new special rapporteur on freedom of association.

Now, just last week, Mike and I were in Central Asia, a place where civil society faces severe challenges. And we worked hard to give civil society a voice at the OSCE summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. And in each country, from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan, I met with the brave men and women who are committed to improving the lives of their fellow citizens, often at significant personal risk. These meetings, as they always are for me, were inspiring and deepened my appreciation for the difficult work that you and many others on the front lines of human rights and civil rights actually face every day.

As Mike said, earlier today, I presented the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights to outstanding individuals: Sarah Cleto Rial, an activist who sought refuge in the United States from Sudan; Wade Henderson, with whom I have worked over many years; and Louis and Alice Henkin, who together helped to promote and protect human rights in international law. And so we’re working to lead by example and hold ourselves accountable. And actually, we’re trying to live up to Eleanor Roosevelt’s challenge that America should be the best possible mirror of democracy that she can be.

So this year’s State Department Human Trafficking Report, for the first time, graded our own efforts as well as others. Last month, we presented our own human rights record as part of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review. And just as we ask other governments to work with civil society groups, we also held a special event to allow NGOs from around the world to speak directly with officials from 12 different federal agencies, and we webcast the proceedings.

We’re doing that and a lot more, but we need your advice, your support, your recommendations, your constructive criticism, because we want to help. Human Rights Day is a celebration of you and of what you are doing, and it is also a reminder and a challenge about how much more we all have to do.

So with that, I will turn you back to the triumvirate at the front here to take all the hard questions, because I am moving on. (Laughter.) Thank you very much.


Human Rights Day 2010

When Eleanor Roosevelt presented the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the UN General Assembly, she proclaimed: “We stand today at the threshold of a great event, both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind.” On December 10, 1948, the world moved to recognize and protect the equal and inalienable rights of all people, inspiring individuals around the globe to claim the rights that are our common heritage.

I witness small and large acts of courage every day in every part of the world. Liu Xiaobo, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, helped author Charter ’08 calling for peaceful political reform in China and lost his freedom for the cause. On this Human Rights Day, I reiterate our call for his immediate release. Elsewhere, the group Damas de Blanco has faced harassment and intimidation while advocating for the release of political prisoners, focusing international attention on Cuba’s poor human rights record. Magodonga Mahlangu and her organization, Women of Zimbabwe Arise, suffer arrests and abuse as they continue working to empower women to mobilize and take non-violent action against injustice. Citizen heroes from all walks of life draw strength and hope from the promise that every country in the world has made in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The work of these activists to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person,” and their courage to persist is a testament to all that is good in the human spirit.

Sixty-two years after Eleanor Roosevelt laid out those clear, inviolate principles, we again stand upon a threshold as the need to support and defend civil society has taken on renewed urgency. A vibrant civil society is an essential component of free nations, yet many governments continue to employ intimidation, questionable legal practices, restrictions, detention, and willful ignorance to silence the voices of those who defend human rights. The United States is committed to promoting and defending civil society around the world. And we will continue to remind leaders of their responsibilities to their citizens under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To support this, I have asked our embassies to open their doors to civil society activists today to listen to their concerns and demonstrate our support.

The Declaration has long served as a beacon to those seeking the protection of fundamental, internationally recognized rights and liberties. Today, and every day, the United States stands with those committed to making the vision enshrined in the Declaration a reality for all people. We call on every nation to join us in working to fulfill the Declaration’s promise, at home and abroad.


President Obama’s 2010 Speech to the United Nations General Assembly

President Obama’s second speech to the UN General Assembly, a year to the day after his first address as president, focused on human rights and democracy.  In proposing a long-term agenda for the United Nations, the President recalled the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.”  He articulated the need to enforce universal values even in times of political and economic crisis and trumpeted the power of democracy, broadly defined as a system of government that is open and accountable to its citizens.  President Obama also emphasized the importance of civil society and committed to guaranteeing its expansion “within and across borders.” Read the full speech here.


Nomination of Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made the following statement regarding the nomination of Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom:

I welcome the nomination of Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook to be Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Dr. Johnson Cook is an experienced religious leader with a passion for human rights and an impressive record of public service. President Obama could not have found a more fitting choice for this important position. I look forward to working with Dr. Johnson Cook, if she is confirmed, to bring greater focus to international efforts to ensure that people everywhere enjoy the global standards of religious freedom enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

She will serve as a principal advisor on religious freedom to me and to the President, and she will be supported by the Office of International Religious Freedom in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Dr. Johnson Cook is the Founder and President of Wisdom Worldwide Center and served as the Senior Pastor of the Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in New York City and is a Founder/Board Member of the Multi-Ethnic Center, an enrichment program for youth. She served as an advisor on President Clinton’s Domestic Policy Council and Chaplain to the New York Police Department. She has spoken throughout the United States, Africa and the Caribbean.


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