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93/06/14 Remarks at the World Conference on Human Rights
Office of the Spokesman

U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesman

Vienna, Austria

"Democracy and Human Rights:
Where America Stands"

Remarks as delivered by
U.S. Secretary of State 
Warren Christopher

World Conference on Human Rights
June 14, 1993
Vienna, Austria

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  And thanks to Secretary General Fall and the 
Preparatory Conference Chair Warzazi.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I speak to you as the representative of a nation 
"conceived in liberty."  America's identity as a nation derives from our 
dedication to the proposition "that all Men are created equal and 
endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."  Over the 
course of two centuries, Americans have found that advancing democratic 
values and human rights serves our deepest values as well as our 
practical interests.

That is why the United States stands with the men and women everywhere 
who are standing up for these principles.  And that is why President 
Clinton has made reinforcing democracy and protecting human rights a 
pillar of our foreign policy -- and a major focus of our foreign 
assistance programs.  

Democracy is the moral and strategic imperative for the 1990s.  
Democracy will build safeguards for human rights in every nation.  
Democracy is the best way to advance lasting peace and prosperity in the 

The cause of freedom is a fundamental commitment for my country.  It is 
also a matter of deep personal conviction for me.  I am proud to have 
headed the U.S. Government's first interagency group on human rights 
under President Carter, who is with us today.  President Carter will be 
remembered as the first American President to put human rights on the 
international agenda.  He has helped to lift the lives of people in 
every part of the world.  Today, we build upon his achievements -- and 
those of the human rights movement since its inception.

In this post-Cold War era, we are at a new moment.  Our agenda for 
freedom must embrace every prisoner of conscience, every victim of 
torture, every individual denied basic human rights.  It must also 
encompass the democratic movements that have changed the political map 
of our globe.

The great new focus of our agenda for freedom is this: expanding, 
consolidating and defending democratic progress around the world.  It is 
democracy that establishes the civil institutions that replace the power 
of oppressive regimes.  Democracy is the best means not just to gain -- 
but to guarantee -- human rights.

In the battle for democracy and human rights, words matter, but what we 
do matters much more.  What all of our citizens and governments do in 
the days ahead will count far more than any discussions held or 
documents produced here.

I cannot predict the outcome of this Conference.  But I can tell you 
this:  The worldwide movement for democracy and human rights will 
prevail.  My delegation will support the forces of freedom -- of 
tolerance, of respect for the rights of the individual -- not only in 
the next few weeks in Vienna, but every day in the conduct of our 
foreign policy throughout the world.  The United States will never join 
those who would undermine the Universal Declaration and the movement 
toward democracy and human rights.

Securing Freedom After the Cold War

The Universal Declaration enshrines a timeless truth for all people and 
all nations:  "Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is the 
foundation of freedom, justice and peace" on this earth.  The 
Declaration's drafters met the challenge of respecting the world's 
diversity, while reflecting values that are universal.

Even before the Declaration was adopted, the Cold War had begun to cast 
a chilling shadow between word and deed.  But the framers of the 
Declaration hoped that each successive generation would strengthen the 
Declaration through its own struggles.  It is for each generation to 
redeem the promise of the framers' work.  Time and time again since the 
adoption of the Universal Declaration, human rights activism has 
unlocked prison cells and carved out pockets of freedom for individuals 
living under repression.  Today, the global movement from despotism to 
democracy is transforming entire political systems and opening freedom's 
door to whole societies.

The end of the Cold War is the most uplifting event for human rights 
since the first World Conference met.  Not only were the Havels and the 
Sakharovs set free, in large measure by their own inspiring examples, 
but hundreds of millions of ordinary men and women were also released 
from the hold of oppressive governments that controlled their lives.  
Now, in country after country, they are turning toward democracy to 
secure their newly won freedoms, guarantee their human rights, and hold 
their governments accountable.

Nowhere is this great drama playing out on a more central stage than in 
the former Soviet Union.  Ensuring the success of democracy in Russia, 
Ukraine and the other New Independent States is the strategic challenge 
of our time.  President Clinton is determined to meet that challenge of 
leadership -- to tip the world balance in favor of freedom.  That is why 
he has led America into an alliance with Russian reform spearheaded by 
President Yeltsin.

The promotion of democracy is the front line of global security.  A 
world of democracies would be a safer world.  Such a world would 
dedicate more to human development and less to human destruction.  It 
would promote what all people have in common rather than what tears them 
apart.  It would be a world of hope, not a world of despair.

Democracy and Diversity

In 1993 alone, in addition to a massive turnout for democracy in Russia, 
we have seen unprecedented free elections in Cambodia, Yemen, Burundi, 
and Paraguay.  The Truth Commission in El Salvador has completed its 
healing work.  And the people of South Africa have made dramatic 
progress toward non-racial democracy.

Around the world, people are doing the hard, sometimes painful work of 
building democracies from the bottom up.  They are making democracy work 
not just on election day, but every day.  They are promoting civil 
societies that respect the rule of law and make governments acountable.  

Citizens' groups are pressing for social justice and establishing non-
governmental human rights organizations.  Women's groups are advocating 
equal treatment and fighting the widespread practice of gender-based 
violence.  Workers are forming free trade unions.  Independent media are 
giving pluralism its voice.  All are creating counterweights to  
repression by affirming and asserting fundamental freedoms of 
expression, association, and movement.

American support for democracy is an enduring commitment.  We know that 
establishing and sustaining democracy is not a linear proposition.  The 
world democratic movement will encounter setbacks along the way.  But 
with constant vigilance and hard work, democracy will succeed.

Look at the recent example given us by the people of Guatemala.  Two 
weeks ago, they overcame a coup that had dissolved democratic 
institutions.  They showed that democracy has a new resilience in the 
Americas, with roots extending deep into civil society.  The resolve of 
the Guatemalan public, backed by the United States and the OAS-led 
international community, has resulted in the election of a respected 
human rights defender as President of Guatemala. 

To those who say democracy is a Western contrivance, I say, you forgot 
to tell the people of Cambodia.  Ninety percent of them summoned up 
courage, in the face of real threats, to re-claim their country by 
voting in last month's UN-monitored elections.  In what was once a 
killing field, democracy is taking root.

Democratic aspirations are rising from Central Asia to Central America.  
No circumstances of birth, of culture, or of geography can limit the 
yearning of the human spirit and the right to live in freedom and 
dignity.  Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi, Fang Lizhi, Natan 
Sharansky -- all came from different cultures and countries.  Yet each 
shaped the destiny of his own nation and the world by insisting on the 
observance of the same universal rights.  

That each of us comes from different cultures absolves none of us from 
our obligation to comply with the Universal Declaration.  Torture, rape, 
racism, anti-Semitism, arbitrary detention, ethnic cleansing, and 
politically motivated disappearances -- none of these is tolerated by 
any faith, creed, or culture that respects humanity.  Nor can they be 
justified by the demands of economic development or political 

We respect the religious, social, and cultural characteristics that make 
each country unique.  But we cannot let cultural relativism become the 
last refuge of repression.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the universal principles of the UN Declaration put 
all people first.  We reject any attempt by any state to relegate its 
citizens to a lesser standard of human dignity.  There is no 
contradiction between the universal principles of the UN Declaration and 
the cultures that enrich our international community.  The real chasm 
lies between the cynical excuses of oppressive regimes and the sincere 
aspirations of their people.

No nation can claim perfection -- not the United States nor any other 
nation.  In 1968, when the U.S. Delegation arrived at the first World 
Conference on Human Rights, my country was reeling from the 
assassination of Martin Luther King.  The murder of Robert Kennedy soon 
followed.  King and Kennedy were deeply committed to building a more 
just society for all Americans.  Their valiant work and their violent 
deaths left deep imprints on an entire generation of Americans -- among 
them, a university student named Bill Clinton.  

Democracy Can Deliver

Many young democracies contend with the vast problems of grinding 
poverty, illiteracy, rapid population growth, and malnutrition.  The 
survival of these democracies may ultimately depend on their ability to 
show their citizens that democracy can deliver -- that the difficult 
political and economic choices will pay off soon and not just in some 
distant, radiant future.  

Nations that free human potential -- that invest in human capital and 
defend human rights -- have a better chance to develop and grow.   
Nations that enforce the right to seek and obtain  employment without 
discrimination will become more just societies -- and more productive 
economies.  And nations that are committed to democratic values create 
conditions in which the private sector is free to thrive and to provide 
work for their people.

States that respect human rights and operate on democratic principles 
tend to be the world's most peaceful and stable.  On the other hand, the 
worst violators of human rights tend to be the world's aggressors and 
proliferators.  These states export threats to global security, whether 
in the shape of terrorism, massive refugee flows, or environmental 
pollution.  Denying human rights not only lays waste to human lives; it 
creates instability that travels across borders.

The Future Lies with Free People

The worldwide prospects for human rights, democracy, and  economic 
development have never been better.  But sadly, the end of the Cold War 
has not brought an end to aggression, repression, and inhumanity.  

Fresh horrors abound around the world.  We have only to think of the 
enormous human costs of regional conflict, ethnic hatred, and despotic 
rule.  We have only to think of Bosnia -- just a few hundred miles away 
from this meeting hall, but worlds away from the peaceful and tolerant 
international community envisioned in the Universal Declaration.

A lasting peace in the Balkans depends on ensuring that all are prepared 
to respect fundamental human rights, especially those of minorities.  
Those who desecrate these rights must know that they will be ostracized.  
They will face sanctions.  They will be brought before tribunals of 
international justice.  They will not gain access to investment or 
assistance.  And they will not gain acceptance by the community of 
civilized nations.

The future lies in a different direction: not with repressive 
governments but with free people.  It belongs to the men and women who 
find inspiration in the words of the Universal Declaration; who act upon 
their principles even at great personal risk; who dodge bullets and defy 
threats to cast their ballots; who work selflessly for justice, 
tolerance, democracy, and peace.  These people can be found everywhere -
- ordinary men and women doing extraordinary things -- even in places 
where hate, fear, war, and chaos rule the hour.

We must keep the spotlight of world opinion trained on the darkest 
corners of abuse.  We must confront the abusers.  We must sharpen the 
tools of human rights diplomacy to address problems before they escalate 
into violence and create new pariah states.

Today, on behalf of the United States, I officially present to the world 
community an ambitious action plan that represents our commitment to 
pursue human rights, regardless of the outcome of this Conference.  This 
plan will build on the UN's capacity to practice preventive diplomacy, 
safeguard human rights, and assist fledgling democracies.  We seek to 
strengthen the UN Human Rights Center and its advisory and rapporteurial 
functions.  We support the establishment of a UN High Commissioner for 
Human Rights.  

Advancing Women's Rights

The United States will also act to integrate our concerns over the 
inhumane treatment of women into the global human rights agenda.  We 
will press for the appointment of a UN Special Rapporteur on Violence 
Against Women.  We will also urge the UN to sharpen the focus and 
strengthen the coordination of its women's rights activities.

Eleanor Roosevelt and the other drafters of the Declaration wanted to 
write a document that would live and last.  They were determined to 
write a document that would protect and empower women as well as men.  
But that remains an unfulfilled vision in too many parts of the world, 
where women are subjected to discrimination and bias based solely upon 

Violence and discrimination against women don't just victimize 
individuals; they hold back whole societies by confining the human 
potential of half the population.  Guaranteeing human rights is a moral 
imperative with respect to both women and men.  It is also an investment 
in making whole nations stronger, fairer, and better.

Women's rights must be advanced on a global basis.  But the crucial work 
is at the national level.  It is in the self interest of every nation to 
terminate unequal treatment of women.

Next Steps of Our Own

Beyond our support for multilateral efforts, the United States 
recognizes that we have a solemn duty to take steps of our own.

In that spirit, I am pleased to announce that the United States will 
move promptly to obtain the consent of our Senate to ratify The 
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial 

We strongly support the general goals of the other treaties that we have 
signed but not yet ratified.  The Convention on the Elimination of all 
Forms of Discrimination Against Women; The American Convention on Human 
Rights; and The International Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural 
Rights: all of these will constitute important advances, and our 
Administration will turn to them as soon as the Senate has acted on the 
racism Convention.  We also expect soon to pass implementing legislation 
on the Convention Against Torture in furtherance of the worldwide goal 
of eliminating torture by the year 2000.   To us, these far-reaching 
documents are not parchment promises to be held up for propaganda 
effect, but solemn commitments to be enforced.

My country will pursue human rights in our bilateral relations with all 
governments -- large and small, developed and developing.  America's 
commitment to human rights is global, just as the UN Declaration is 

As we advance these goals, American foreign policy will both reflect our 
fundamental values and promote our national interests.  It must take 
into account our national security and economic needs at the same time 
that we pursue democracy and human rights.  We will maintain our ties 
with our allies and friends.  We will act to deter aggressors.  And we 
will cooperate with like-minded nations to ensure the survival of 
freedom when it is threatened.

The United States will promote democracy and protect our security.  We 
must do both -- and we will.

We will insist that our diplomats continue to report accurately and 
fully on human rights conditions around the world.  Respect for human 
rights and the commitment to democracy-building will be major 
considerations as we determine how to spend our resources on foreign 
assistance.  And we will weigh human rights considerations in trade 
policy, as President Clinton demonstrated last month.

We will help new democracies make a smooth transition to civilian 
control of the military.  And we will assist militaries in finding 
constructive new roles in pursuit of peace and security -- roles that 
respect human rights and contribute to international peace.

Working with the UN and other international organizations, we will help 
to develop the public and private institutions essential to a working 
democracy and the rule of law.  And we will continue to support 
America's own National Endowment for Democracy in its mission to help 
nourish democracy where it is struggling to grow.  

A Place to Stand Upon

The international debate now turns less on whether human  rights are 
appropriate for discussion -- and more on how to address them most 
effectively.  The debate turns less on whether democracy best serves the 
needs of people everywhere -- and more on how soon their democratic 
aspirations will be met.

Two hundred years ago, in his famous Rights of Man, the political 
philosopher Thomas Paine wrote this concerning Archimedes' image of the 
incomparable force of leverage:  "Had we a place to stand upon, we might 
raise the world."

Ladies and Gentlemen, the nations of the world do have a place to stand 
upon:  If we stand upon the bedrock principles of the Universal 
Declaration of Human Rights, if we support the democratic movement on a 
worldwide basis, we shall speed the day when all the world's peoples are 
raised up into lives of freedom, dignity, prosperity, and peace.

That is where this Conference should stand.

That is where America stands.

Thank you very much.


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