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Just the Beginning

Nahal Zamani,
Human Rights Program
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September 23, 2009

President Obama spoke eloquently this morning, delivering a historic speech before the United Nations General Assembly. In his speech, Obama outlined his administration’s steps towards what he called a “new era of engagement,” noting that ensuring basic human rights is essential to a peaceful world. Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said in a statement released today, “For eight years under President Bush, the U.S. undermined international human rights laws and refused to ratify treaties that have been embraced by the overwhelming majority of nations.”

Indeed, the first steps taken by Obama in his first nine months in office have been important. Issuing an executive order to close Guantanamo within one year, joining the U.N. Human Rights Council, signing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD) and prioritizing the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) all signal a new era of engagement with the United Nations and a commitment to human rights for the Obama administration. However, as President Obama proclaimed today, “this is just a beginning.”

While these are critical steps towards upholding and protecting human rights and illustrate a clear commitment to advancing human rights on behalf of the Obama administration, it’s just the beginning. There is much work to be done both at home and abroad. The U.S. has concrete steps to take in order to uphold a robust human rights policy. Read more about these steps at

In the press statement released by the ACLU, Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU Human Rights Program, noted:

The Obama administration has already taken steps to break with the Bush administration’s disastrous human rights policies but there is still much more to do, including honoring and expanding U.S. human rights commitments and fully incorporating them into domestic policy … we look forward to his administration taking concrete actions to translate these commitments to a robust human rights policy.

Real action is needed, such as ratifying CEDAW, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the CPRD and other human rights treaties that are essential to promoting every human’s dignity and well-being.

Lenora Lapidus, director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project concurred,

We hope that his speech today before the General Assembly will be followed by real action on the part of the U.S. in finally joining the overwhelming majority of nations of the world in ratifying CEDAW and other international human rights treaties, and making human rights a key component of both U.S. domestic and foreign policy.

Our credibility, just as Obama noted, will be judged by our deeds, not just by our words. Let’s see how well we do.

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