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Public Papers - 1990 - December

Remarks on Signing the Human Rights Day, Bill of Rights Day, and Human Rights Week Proclamation


Welcome to all of you. First, let me salute the former Chief Justice Warren Burger and thank him for all he's done commemorating our Constitution and Bill of Rights over the last few years -- and still actively engaged. I want to salute Bruce Gelb, who I understand is here, Director of USIA; Ambassador Schifter; VOA Director Carlson; Ambassador Jewel LaFontant-Mankarious; and the members of the diplomatic corps that are with us today.

It's an honor to mark this important occasion with so many of the men and women who make it their calling to advance the cause of freedom and human rights around the world. It's a special pleasure to meet with you as we look back on a year in which the cause of freedom has made such gains; a year in which the collapse of the Communist idea and end of four long decades of cold war and conflict enabled the world to look with new hope toward an era of peace, an era of freedom.

With freedom's advance come new challenges. This is especially true in Europe, the continent that for so long stood at the heart of the East-West conflict. There the Revolution of '89 has given way to the renaissance of 1990, to the difficult business of democracy-building. The hard work of consolidating these great gains has just begun. America can take pride in the role that we've played in this revolution, but not make the mistake of thinking that our work is now over.

Today, as so many of the newly emerging democracies struggle to put in place the foundation stones of freedom, the American example can light the way forward. Former Chief Justice Burger, as I mentioned, is a special guest, in a sense, to mark with us the fact that the new year we soon begin, 1991, is the 200th anniversary of the American Bill of Rights. Last month when I addressed the Federal Assembly in Czechoslovakia, a country which is now engaged in establishing the institutions of free government, I brought with me copies for every Member of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, in the spirit of friendship, as a symbol of the common principles that bind all free people.

The authors of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights did their work not simply for one nation or one era but for the ages. Our assistance, not just material but moral and intellectual, can help our friends in Eastern Europe build a democracy that endures. As we work to further the cause of human rights, we must remember: The only alternative to the tyranny of men is the rule of law.

This advance in human rights is not confined to one continent alone. I have just got back 2 days ago from a trip to South America. I visited five countries, each one now back on the democratic path. One of them, Argentina, turned back an antidemocratic challenge just 2 days before I got there. When we arrived in Buenos Aires, you could see and feel the depth of Argentina's dedication to democracy and its ideals. As I said there: The day of the dictator is over; the war of ideas has been won by democracy.

Human rights and respect for all it entails -- freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and other individual liberties, including property rights, free elections, multiparty systems -- these fundamental rights are gaining ground the whole world over, in Latin America and in Asia, where free-market principles now power some of the world's fastest growing economies. I want to see our hemisphere -- this hemisphere -- be the first totally democratic hemisphere.

There is one outstanding example where it is not totally free and where human rights are not respected, and that's Cuba. And I hope someday soon that that will join the family of democratic nations here.

Across the continent of Africa, too often neglected during the years of East-West conflict, the issue of human rights is now of key importance. These new challenges and the great gains we've all witnessed cannot obscure the fact that this day and every day millions of men, women, children around the world continue to be denied the freedom to live, work, and worship as they wish. So, here too, then, is work to be done.

This nation and its people cannot be true to what is best in us if we fail to speak out for those whose voices are silent. In a world where human rights are routinely denied in too many lands, nowhere is that situation more tragic and more urgent today than in Kuwait. You know, we must speak out and stand up for the Kuwaiti people, a people whose very nation is now in the grasp of a tyrant unmoved by human decency. The reports, these eyewitness accounts that I've heard from Kuwaiti citizens, are a catalog of human misery: looting, torture, rape, summary execution -- acts of unspeakable cruelty. What has happened to Kuwait is more than an invasion; it is a systematic assault on the soul of a nation. As long as such assaults occur, as long as inhumane regimes deny basic human rights, our work is not done.

And so, today I sign these documents. Words on paper -- just as our own Constitution, our own Bill of Rights, our own Declaration of Independence are nothing more than words -- and yet nothing less than the sum of human hope. As I sign these, I call on every American to see that the ideals enshrined in these words shine forth in our deeds as the very essence of all that America stands for.

Once again, thank each and every one of you for coming. May God bless all of you for your work in the cause of freedom.

And now I will sign the proclamation designating December 15th the Bill of Rights Day, and marking today, December 10th, as Human Rights Day.

Mr. Chief Justice, will you join me, please, here, sir?

Note: The President spoke at 1:31 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Richard W. Carlson, U.S. Information Agency Associate Director for the Voice of America, and Jewel LaFontant-Mankarious, Assistant Secretary of State for Refugee Affairs. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks. The proclamation is listed in Appendix E at the end of this volume.

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