Remarks on Signing the Human Rights Day, Bill of Rights Day, and Human Rights Week Proclamation
It's a pleasure to welcome you all here as we mark Human Rights Week. Forty years ago this week, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For people of good will around the world, that document is more than just words: It's a global testament of humanity, a standard by which any humble person on Earth can stand in judgment of any government on Earth.
Yes, we're here to recognize a set of ideals, our fundamental belief in the unalienable rights of man. But were it not for the people who work to uphold these ideals, then our words would be hollow and our vision without effect. So, let us record that today we're also honoring a community of people, the heroes who have dedicated their lives to these values, who work to keep the world informed, who lend their voices to those denied the right to speak for themselves, and who at times have lost their own freedom and even their lives because of their courage in speaking out for the freedom of others.
community includes such heroic figures as Natan Shcharanskiy, Lech Walesa, and Armando Valladares.
addition, the cause of human rights has become an important factor in
these last 8 years and before, we've seen that representative democracy, for
all its shortcomings and as imperfectly realized as it so often is, is still
the best guarantor of human rights. So, our concern for human rights must be
used also to encourage the success of democratic institutions. The world has
not failed to notice the great improvement in human rights that is possible
when countries make the transition from authoritarianism to democracy. But
we've also seen the capacity for bad situations to become far, far worse: for
autocratic governments to be replaced by totalitarian dungeons like
In addition, we've seen that no totalitarian nation has ever made a peaceful transition to democracy. So, this type of transition, which has improved the level of human rights for more people in more countries than any other factor, has not brought its benevolent fruits to the Communist world. But reforms are possible and have, indeed, been occurring in Marxist-Leninist states.
At my meeting yesterday with Mr. Gorbachev, as at each previous meeting, human rights was one of the four key topics discussed. Certainly, we're not yet satisfied, but there has been real progress, which we must note and encourage. Many political and religious prisoners have been released, and many specific cases of family reunification and the like have been resolved. Emigration, though still below the levels of 10 years ago, has increased.
still much remains to be done to translate words into deeds -- to bring the
peoples of the
of the most important emerging forces of change is the information challenge to
totalitarianism. Greater openness provides not just greater opportunities to
exercise basic human rights but also greater protection against a state that
would infringe on those rights. And in this regard,
Economic freedom is also an important corollary of human rights. The time has come to recognize that the basic economic rights to own, use, and exchange property, to create and produce, free of state control, are a fundamental part of human freedom and essential components to a decent and humane world for all peoples.
Finally, human rights is inextricably linked to the issues of war and peace. Countries that violate the rights of their own citizens pose a threat to international peace. Moreover, in regarding nations that violate human rights, we should be particularly concerned about those that are expansionist and would expand the reach of tyranny and reduce the sum of freedom in the world.
should always remember that to be silent on the violation of human rights does
not advance the cause of peace; it does not improve relations or promote
international stability. It does just the opposite. Silence in the face of evil
is a display of weakness that invites aggression. For the free world to morally
disarm itself would be the most vile form of
appeasement. Our duty is to speak out, and not just 1 day a year but to make
sure that every day is Human Rights Day. We owe this to the people of the
world, but also we owe it to
What defined America, what gave our nation its purpose and mission, was, as Abraham Lincoln put it, ``something in that Declaration of Independence giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights would be lifted from the shoulders of all men.''
Well, I thank you, and God bless you for all that you're doing. And now I shall sign the proclamation.
not doing an encore, but just something that I think I'll share with you --
I've shared with many others. If I've told it to you, pretend I haven't.
[Laughter] But it's a letter I received from a man who called something to my
attention that I'd never thought of. He said you can go to live in other
countries. You can go to live in
Note: The President
spoke at in Room 450 of the