Call to President-Elect Obama To Fulfill the Promise of Universal Human Rights

These are the introductory paragraphs from the Physicians for Human Rights letter calling on President-Elect Obama and the United States to recommit to the full range of human rights the US accepted by endorsing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

December 10, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama:

Today we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the blueprint for the realization of rights and dignity for all people. The Declaration, crafted under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, has brought hope to millions across the globe. For many people, however, the rights enumerated therein have yet to be realized. Sadly, the UDHR’s vision of the interdependence of all rights (civil, political, social, economic and cultural) has been blurred for decades—first by the Cold War divide, and then by governments that have picked and chosen rights to suit their narrow interests or political ideologies. Even the civil and political rights that the U.S. embraced as preeminent have been abandoned since 9/11, as detainees in U.S. custody have been tortured, held in secret prisons, and denied due process of law.

Your election represents a triumph over prejudice and is a great stride in the long march toward equality and dignity. Our nation now has an opportunity to restore U.S. credibility and leadership in the struggle for the rule of law and for the absolute prohibition against torture, and also, for the first time, to embrace fully all the rights necessary for all people to live with dignity and realize their full potential as human beings. We urge your administration to commit to fulfilling the promise of the entire Declaration and its expansive understanding of universal human rights.The full exercise of political rights can only occur with a foundation of health, security, and education. Those who are sick and lack medical care, for example, are unable to exercise their rights to full participation in society.

In this context, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) places special emphasis on the right to the highest attainable standard of health. As you acknowledged during a campaign debate, you believe that we should view health as a right.The right to health, grounded in Article 25 of the UDHR, and elaborated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural rights, should be fully integrated into U.S. human rights policy both abroad and at home, along with all the other rights in the Covenant. At the same time, the U.S. must re-establish its commitment to core civil and political rights, which have been violated in recent years in the name of counter-terrorism.

The letter outlines six major action items for the Obama administration:

  • Ensure that the prohibition against torture will be unambiguously enforced and that health professionals are no longer involved in interrogations.
  • Ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other key international human rights instruments.
  • Reassert the U.S. role in the UN mechanisms on human rights.
  • Invest in global health, specifically addressing women’s rights and health, and the health workforce needs of disease-burdened countries.
  • Sign and ratify the Rome Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, take action to protect civilians from mass atrocities, and ensure that the US does not offer safe haven for war criminals.
  • Commit to realizing the right to the highest attainable standard of health in the United States.

Download and read the full letter (PDF).(Cross posted at Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)

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