By the President of the United States of America
The first ten amendments to our Constitution, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, were intended as an additional safeguard to the liberty of Americans, which the Constitution already afforded great protection through its ingenious structure. As we enter the bicentennial year of our Bill of Rights, we celebrate more than the great freedom and security this document symbolizes for the American people -- we also celebrate its seminal role in the advancement of respect for human dignity and individual liberty around the world.
In its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted on December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly affirmed to all mankind the noble ideals enshrined in our Bill of Rights. Noting that "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and unalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world," signatories to the Declaration agreed to respect freedom of thought, freedom of association, as well as freedom of religion and belief. They also recognized an individual's right to own property, either alone or in association with others, and declared that "everyone has the right to participate in his government, directly or through freely chosen representatives." Stating that "human rights should be protected by the rule of law," signatories to the Declaration proclaimed this historic document "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations."
That standard was reaffirmed and strengthened in 1975, when the United States, Canada, and 33 European states joined in adopting the Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Participating states also recognized the right of self-determination and agreed to grant ethnic minorities equality before the law.
Recent events testify to the CSCE's effectiveness in advancing our goal of universal compliance with the human rights and humanitarian provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. The elimination of physical and ideological barriers that once divided postwar Europe dramatically illustrates the progress that has been made in promoting respect for human rights, building mutual trust, reducing the risk of conflict, and encouraging the development of democracy. Last month, the signing of the Charter of Paris -- which added to existing CSCE principles new and sweeping commitments to political pluralism, free elections, free enterprise, and the rule of law -- underscored its signatories' determination to consolidate and to build upon recent gains. Indeed, with the Charter of Paris we welcomed the emergence of a new transatlantic partnership of nations based on a mutual commitment to upholding human rights and the rule of law.
However, while we celebrate the remarkable developments reflected int he recent Charter of Paris, we must resist the notion that our work is now virtually finished. Tragically, in some countries, persecution of ethnic minorities, religious oppression, and restrictions on freedom of speech, information, and travel violate fundamental standards of morality and the letter and spirit of international human rights agreements.
The United States will continue to denounce contraventions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and will press for constructive change. And, at times, it is necessary to take a stand against aggress ...
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