“In the real world, as lived and experienced by real people, the demand for human rights and dignity, the longing for liberty and justice and opportunity, the hatred of oppression and corruption and cruelty is reality.”— Senator John McCain
In the aftermath of World War II, leaders from around the world gathered to sign the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on December 10, 1948. For the first time, an international document proclaimed the deserved rights and freedoms of all people, regardless of who they were, where they lived or how they worshipped. Today, as we celebrate the anniversary of the UDHR, it is time to take responsibility: we must renew our commitment to ensuring the full weight and effect of its words are realized.
Seventy year later, freedom in the world faces serious challenges. Regimes like Russia and China have effectively established alternative models to democracy, but ones based on repression, not rights. The challenges of populism, mass migration and non-state actors pose a threat to the modern world order. Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World report (this year’s report titled, “Democracy in Crisis”) notes that 2017 marks the 12thconsecutive year of decline in global freedom. According to Committee to Protect Journalists, 52 journalists were killed in 2018. Countries that once showed democratic promise – Hungary, Poland and Turkey – are increasingly limiting the rights of their citizens.
Now is not the time to mark this anniversary passively.
The United States is safer and more prosperous in a world that is more democratic and in which more people’s rights are realized. As it has for decades, the United States should take the lead in advancing this cause. This is not a partisan matter; a human rights agenda ought to be the most fundamental common ground.
Of course, advancing human rights is not a responsibility the United States must shoulder alone. Indeed, as Senator John McCain readily pointed out, human rights existed long before the United States. In his final book, The Restless Wave, he wrote, “Human rights are not our invention. They don’t represent standards from which particular cultures or religions can be exempted. They are universal. They exist above the state and beyond history. They cannot be rescinded by one government any more than they can be granted by another … Human rights advocacy isn’t naive idealism. It’s the truest kind of realism.”
The McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University is dedicated to advancing the legacy of Senator McCain, including in the arena of human rights and democracy. The Human Rights and Democracy program at the McCain Institute works to convene thought leaders through a series of working groups, support human rights defenders around the world and inspire and educate Americans on human rights issues. The Institute’s Human Trafficking and International Rule of Law and Security programs further complement this work and the charge to serve causes greater than self.
Today, we invite you to join the McCain Institute and organizations around the world in marking this important anniversary of UDHR by committing to the full realization of the rights and dignity of all and ensuring those rights are afforded for generations to come.