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Remarks on Signing the Human Rights Proclamation

December 05, 1995

Thank you very much. Thank you for being here. And most important of all, thank you for your commitment to the people of Bosnia, for your care and your courage.

Many of you in this room have worked throughout the war to stop the human rights abuses that horrified the world and to ease the suffering of the people of Bosnia. Now the Balkan leaders have ended the war and have made a commitment to peace, so that now I can say to you, we need your help more than ever to make sure the peace takes hold and endures.

I have just had a remarkable meeting in the Oval Office with a group of Bosnians who just came in and took their seats. They were forced to flee their country, and they have resettled in ours: the Capin family, the Ibisevic family, and Dr. Oljaca. They are all here with me. They bear witness to loved ones lost, homes destroyed, careers shattered, families separated. They can tell us what it's like to leave the land they love, where they were born and went to school, where they married and raised families, where they should have been able to enjoy the basic human right to build a good future in peace.

These people and so many more like them are the human faces of the war in Bosnia. They are the story behind the unbelievable numbers of a quarter of a million dead, 2 million people displaced, more than half the population of prewar Bosnia.

Many of you have actually witnessed and documented the war's atrocities firsthand, the executions, the ethnic cleansing, the rape of young women and girls as a tool of war, the endless lines of despairing refugees. We cannot bring back the war's victims. So many of them were little children. We cannot erase its horrors. But because the parties have said they will turn from war to peace, we can now prevent further suffering; we can now shine the light of justice in Bosnia; we can now help its people build a future of hope.

All of us have a role to play. This weekend, as you all know, I visited our troops in Germany, those who will soon set off for Bosnia not to make war but to wage peace. Each side in Bosnia has asked NATO to help secure their peace agreement, to make sure the armies withdraw behind the separation lines and stay there, to maintain the cease-fire so that the war does not start again, to give all the parties the mutual confidence they need so that all will keep their word. Creating a climate of security is the necessary first step toward rebuilding and reconciliation. That is NATO's mission, and it must be America's mission.

I have to say that the families who just visited with me said repeatedly that they felt that the presence of Americans in Bosnia, the American troops, was absolutely critical to giving the people of Bosnia the confidence they need to believe that they can once again live in peace together as they did before the war.

I am absolutely convinced that our goals are clear, they are limited, and they are achievable in about a year's time. I'm also satisfied that we have taken every possible precaution to minimize the risks to our troops. They will take their orders from the American general who commands NATO; there will be no confusing chain of command. Our troops are very welltrained, and they will be heavily armed. They will have very clear rules of engagement that will allow them to respond immediately and decisively to any threat to their security.

The climate of security NATO creates in Bosnia will allow a separate, broad international release effort for relief and reconstruction to begin. That's where many of you come in. I cannot overstate the importance of that effort. For peace to endure, the people of Bosnia must receive the tangible benefits of peace. They must have the food, the medicine, the shelter, the clothing so many have been denied for so long. Roads must be repaired, the schools and hospitals rebuilt, the factories and shops refurbished and reopened. Families must be reunited and refugees returned home. Elections must be held so that those devoted to reconciliation can lead their people to a future together. And those guilty of war crimes must be punished, because no peace will long endure without justice.

Over the next year the civilian relief and reconstruction effort will help to realize the promise of peace and give it a life of its own. It can so change the face of Bosnia that by the time the NATO mission is ready to leave, the people of Bosnia will have a much, much greater stake in peace than in war. That must be all of our goals.

Once the people of Bosnia lived in peace. Many people have forgotten that, but it wasn't so very long ago. It can happen again. It must happen again. And every one of us must do what we can to make sure that the stakes of peace and the faces of children are uppermost in the minds of the people of Bosnia when the NATO mission is completed.

Sunday is International Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations of the universal declaration of human rights in 1948. For nearly 4 years the war in Bosnia did terrible violence to the principles of that declaration. It destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives. It ruined countless futures.

But on this Human Rights Day, we have something to celebrate. The war in Bosnia is over. The peace, however, is just beginning. Together, if we work hard to help it take hold, to help it endure, on the next Human Rights Day, the faces of Bosnia will not be the victims of war but the beneficiaries of peace.

I am now very pleased to sign this proclamation designating December 10th, 1995 as Human Rights Day, and December 10th through 16th as Human Rights Week. Let us make sure that for the next year, it will be a human rights year in Bosnia.

Thank you very much.

[At this point the President signed the proclamation.]

You look at these children, and they make you smile. They should not have to come here to look as good as they look and to be as happy as they are. I'm glad they're here. I'm honored to have such fine people strengthening the fabric of America. They are very welcome here. But the people like them who want to live at home and raise their children to look just like this ought to have the same rights. That's what this piece of paper is all about.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:42 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. The proclamation is listed in Appendix D at the end of this volume.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Signing the Human Rights Proclamation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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