U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke out on Monday for human rights around the world. He used the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a platform to advocate tolerance in places ranging from Serbia to Afghanistan. RFE/RL's Senior Correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports from Washington.
Washington, 7 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says America will keep campaigning for human rights around the globe because it is not only the right thing to do but it is the best way to foster peace, freedom, and tolerance.
Clinton commemorated at a White House ceremony the 51st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly. The document was signed on December 10, 1948 in Paris. The Soviet Union and six of its allies abstained in voting for the declaration at the assembly.
The document affirms standards of human rights and fundamental freedoms worldwide. It declares: "All human beings are free and equal in dignity and human rights. All have the right to life, liberty and security. All are endowed with reason and conscience. All have the right to a standard of living adequate to health and well-being."
Clinton said on Monday the real genius of the declaration is that basic human rights are not cultural, but universal.
In commemorating the declaration, Clinton honored the legacy of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of four-term U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt was a driving force behind the declaration and served as the first chairwoman of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Clinton used the occasion to honor five Americans who have fought for the advancement of human rights. The group included American civil rights and religious figures and advocates of women's rights.
In a speech, Clinton said much work is to be done to make the world better.
"We must stay committed in the places where the glory has not come and continue to speak out for human rights around the world, from Burma to Cuba to Sudan; from Serbia to North Korea and Vietnam. We must do so because it's the right thing to do and the surest path to a world that is safe, democratic and free."
Clinton then singled out Afghanistan, where he said the ruling Taliban movement has been committing widespread human rights violations. "In Afghanistan we have strongly condemned the Taliban's despicable treatment of women and girls. We have worked with the United Nations to impose sanctions against the Taliban, while ensuring that the Afghan people continue to receive humanitarian assistance. We are Afghanistan's strongest critic, but also its largest humanitarian donor, and today we take another step forward."
Clinton announced that the United States will provide at least $2 million next year to educate and improve the health of Afghan women and children refugees. And he said the U.S. will make available $1.5 million in emergency aid for those who were displaced by the recent Taliban military offensive.
Also participating in the human rights declaration commemoration was First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"The declaration points to all the major faiths of the world which have at the core the belief that we should treat one another as we would ourselves and our neighbors. Nothing debases religion more than using it as a weapon of intolerance."
The Clintons invited Belquis Ahmadi, an Afghan refugee and human rights figure, to take part in the commemoration. She spoke about intolerance facing women in Afghanistan and said oppressed people around the world take strength about America's support of liberties.
"I am here today because you and your government have been a voice for human rights and a voice for women all around the globe. You give us hope that we will not be silenced."
Clinton used the event to criticize the continued Russian military offensive against Chechnya, saying he is deeply disturbed by reports that innocent Chechens are bearing the brunt of the war.
He also expressed concern about China's crackdown on adherents of the Falun Gong religious movement, which he called troubling.