Remarks by Interim U.S. Permanent Representative Michael J. Fitzpatrick Marking Human Rights Day

Interim Permanent Representative of the United States Michael J. Fitzpatrick addresses the Permanent Council, December 10, 2015.
Interim Permanent Representative of the United States Michael J. Fitzpatrick addresses the Permanent Council, December 10, 2015.

On December 10, 2015, Interim U.S. Permanent Representative Michael J. Fitzpatrick addressed a Special Session of the OAS Permanent Council in commemoration of Human Rights Day.

Madame Chair, Mr. Secretary General, Mr. Assistant Secretary General, invitados especiales, colegas.  No se preocupen; porque no les voy a cantar!

Madame Chair, I am pleased to take the floor in recognition of International Human Rights Day.

And I wish to thank, in particular, Ambassador Juan Jimenez and the Mission of Peru for putting this important issue before us today.  I also wish to congratulate the people and government of Peru for all they have accomplished — and remain committed to achieving — in the fields of human rights and democracy since those dark days of terrorism and gross violations of human rights.  The Peru of today, I submit, shines the real light, the genuine light, on the correct path for all of us in the respect for human rights and the search for justice, including reparations, reconciliation and non-repetition.  Peruvians do this daily today, in the never-ending struggle to deepen and strengthen democracy, both at home and for all the citizens of the Americas. Entonces, muchas gracias, Peru.

Y muchas gracias a Colombia, por sus contribuciones a la paz y a los derechos humanos — empezando con esta canción tan encantadora que acabamos de escuchar.

Madame Chair, on December 10, 1948, nations from six continents came together to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  This extraordinary document affirmed that every individual is born equal with inalienable rights, and it is the responsibility of governments to uphold these rights.

In more than 430 translations, the Declaration recognizes the inherent dignity and worth of all people and supports their right to chart their own destinies.  On the anniversary of this human rights milestone, we join with all those who are willing to strive for a brighter future, and together, we continue our work to build the world our children deserve.

The desires for freedom and opportunity are universal, and around the world, yearnings for the rule of law and self-determination burn within the hearts of all women and men.

When people can raise their voices and hold their leaders accountable, governments are more responsive and more effective.

Children who are able to lead healthy lives and pursue an education without fear are free to spark progress and contribute to thriving communities.  And when citizens are empowered to pursue their full measure of happiness without restraint, they help ensure that economies grow, stability and prosperity spread, and nations flourish.  Protecting human rights around the globe extends the promise of democracy and bolsters the values that serve as a basis for peace in our world.

It is our obligation as free peoples to stand with courageous individuals who raise their voices to demand universal rights.  Under extremely difficult circumstances — and often at grave personal risk — brave human rights defenders and civil society activists throughout the world are working to actualize the rights and freedoms that are the birthright of all humankind.

The United States will continue to support all those who champion these fundamental principles, and we will never stop speaking out for the human rights of all individuals at home and abroad.  It is part of who we are as a people and what we stand for as a Nation.

We will continue to defend the rights of members of ethnic and religious minorities, call for the release of all who are unjustly detained, and insist that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and intersex persons be treated equally under the law.

We will press forward in our efforts to end the scourge of human trafficking, our fight to ensure the protection of refugees and other displaced persons, and our tireless work to empower women and girls worldwide.

The United States supports free, fair and transparent elections, and we will always oppose efforts by foreign governments to restrict the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and expression. In particular this week, a week of both of elections and inaugurations in our region, and most especially this day, Human Rights Day, I am reminded that, quote: “Without general elections, without freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, without the free battle of opinions, life in every public institution withers away, becomes a caricature of itself, and bureaucracy rises as the only deciding factor”, unquote.  So warned not one of my nation’s founders, but that icon of socialist revolution, Rosa Luxemburg.

I take this opportunity to congratulate all the people of Venezuela, whatever their individual beliefs, for making their voices heard in a peaceful and democratic way on December 6.  Venezuelan voters expressed their overwhelming desire — through that battle of opinions — for a change in the direction of their country.

The United States will always lift up those who seek to work for the world as it should be; and I congratulate Secretary General Luis Almagro and the members of the Inter-American Court and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the leadership they have played throughout their careers by insisting without hesitation for the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

So, too, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid bin Ra’ad Al Hussein.  In his November 12 address to the UN Human Rights Council, he raised serious concerns about the independence of the judiciary in Venezuela, the impartiality of judges and prosecutors, and the pressures they face in handling cases of political prisoners. He reiterated the Council’s concerns about what he called “intimidation, threats and attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers,” and urged the Government to promptly lift the “broad” state of emergency in 24 municipalities that suspends a number of human rights protections.

Dialogue among all parties in Venezuela is important to address the social and economic challenges facing the Venezuelan people.  The international community, including the United States, stands ready to help facilitate this dialogue.  To begin this dialogue, both institutional and political, we call on the Venezuelan government to release all those imprisoned for their political beliefs or activities — for the criminalization of political thought and dissent runs clearly contrary to the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it has no place in our Americas.

And for those just elected to a new majority in Venezuela, a word or two of caution, about their new-found responsibilities.  Eleanor Roosevelt, that great defender of human rights, once warned the people of my nation, quote: “Democracy requires both discipline and hard work.  It is not easy for individuals to govern themselves … It is one thing to gain freedom, but no one can give you the right to self-government.  This you must earn for yourself by long discipline”, unquote.

On Human Rights Day, let us continue our urgent task of rejecting hatred in whatever form it takes and recommit to fostering a global community where every person can achieve their dreams and contribute to humankind.

Let us commit to rededicate ourselves to the advancement of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, and pledge always to live by the ideals we promote to the world.

Thank you very much, Madame Chair.


See Also: Secretary of State Kerry’s Human Rights Day Statement