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Bring Human Rights Day Home

In addition to our government’s overseas rhetoric, we must create effective mechanisms to monitor, enforce, and protect human rights on our own local, state, and federal levels.
Avinash Samarth,
ACLU National Security Project
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December 9, 2011

Tomorrow is Human Rights Day and will mark the 63rd anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR, created in response to the egregious atrocities of the Second World War, is the most foundational and internationally recognized human rights document ever developed.

The United States has a long tradition of leading the cause of human rights worldwide. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s historic 1941 State of the Union address articulated “four freedoms” that ought to be guaranteed for all humans: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Seven years later, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the United States played a central role in the drafting of the UDHR, and the “four freedoms” outlined by F.D.R. were explicitly incorporated into the document’s preamble.

In keeping with this long tradition, President Obama made a historic commitment to LGBT rights on Tuesday by issuing a memorandum directing all federal agencies abroad to take measures to protect the human rights of LGBT persons. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, delivered a landmark address that candidly and forcefully argued for the defense of LGBT rights worldwide, boldly declaring that “[G]ay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”

But the fight is far from over for the United States; in fact, some of the greatest human rights challenges that we face are not overseas, but are instead here at home. In commemoration of this year’s Human Rights Day, we are releasing an updated fact sheet that presents a glimpse of 13 critical human rights issues that the United States faces domestically in the following areas:

  • Women’s Rights
  • Immigration Detention
  • Criminal Justice (more specifically, mass incarceration, capital punishment, life without parole for children)
  • Voting Rights
  • LGBT Rights
  • Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  • Socioeconomic Rights
  • Racial Profiling
  • Children’s Rights
  • Accountability for Torture

As the fact sheet explains:

“Without doubt the U.S. continues to provide global leadership on some human rights issues. For example, the current administration has re-engaged with international human rights bodies and provided vigorous leadership in fighting for LGBT equality, demanded easier access to reproductive health services and information, and championed free speech and freedom of assembly.But while some U.S. laws and policies have been comparatively advanced in protecting civil rights and civil liberties, the U.S. has fallen behind in protecting the universal human rights recognized by the UDHR. Our government has only partially and selectively embraced these rights, ignoring international obligations and widening the gap between the United States’ sixty-three-year-old promise and its own current practice.”

In addition to our government’s overseas rhetoric, we must create effective mechanisms to monitor, enforce, and protect human rights on our own local, state, and federal levels. The legitimacy of our longstanding tradition with human rights can survive only if our practices at home reflect our words and speeches that champion human rights abroad.

You can learn more about the ACLU’s fight for domestic human rights implementation here, and we hope you’ll join us in asking the government to bring human rights home!

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