Obama Affirms Commitment To Human Rights In Speech Before The United Nations

September 23, 2009 12:00 am

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Administration Should Take Concrete Action To Prioritize Human Rights At Home And Abroad

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NEW YORK – Pledging that “America will always stand with those who stand up for their dignity and their rights,” President Obama indicated that the U.S. intends to prioritize human rights in both domestic and foreign policy in his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly. The American Civil Liberties Union calls on the president to follow through on his commitments, and reverse the course set by the previous administration of disengagement in human rights efforts.

“It is encouraging to hear President Obama acknowledge that ensuring basic human rights is essential to a peaceful world. 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,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “In his first speech before the General Assembly, President Obama stated that ‘America will live its values, and we will lead by example.’ We hope that the president’s first steps to achieving this will be to abandon the Guantánamo military commissions and renounce the practice of holding detainees indefinitely without charge or trial.”

Since his inauguration, President Obama has helped restore U.S. standing on human rights by joining the U.N. Human Rights Council, signing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and prioritizing the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). While welcoming these steps, the ACLU called for additional concrete measures that will reassert U.S. leadership on human rights, including the implementation and enforcement of ratified treaties and the resurrection of the Interagency Working Group on Human Rights – disbanded during the Bush administration – to coordinate and promote human rights within domestic policy.

“The president’s speech to the U.N. made clear his commitment to advancing human rights at home and abroad,” said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “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. As the president said today, U.S. credibility abroad will be judged by deeds, not by words, and we look forward to his administration taking concrete actions to translate these commitments to a robust human rights policy.”

“President Obama has demonstrated that he is committed to universal human rights, including equal opportunity for women and girls to fulfill their own potential,” said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “We hope that his historic speech today before the General Assembly will be followed by real action on the part of the U.S. in finally ratifying CEDAW and other international human rights treaties, and making human rights a key component of both U.S. domestic and foreign policy.”

The U.S. signed the CRPD last July, but the treaty still has to be ratified by the Senate. The U.S. has also signed but has yet to ratify CEDAW and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), two major human rights treaties that have significantly contributed to the protection and promotion of the rights of women and children worldwide. The U.S. is the only country other than Somalia that has not ratified the CRC, and is one of only seven countries – together with Iran, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Sudan and Tonga – that has failed to ratify CEDAW.

For more information on ACLU human rights work, please visit: www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/index.html

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