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Public Papers - 1991

Proclamation 6390 -- Human Rights Day, Bill of Rights Day, and Human Rights Week, 1991

1991-12-09

By the President of the United States

of America

A Proclamation

When the Federal Convention ended in September 1787 and our Constitution was presented to the States for ratification, it was hailed by many as a triumph for liberty and self-government. ``The Constitution,'' wrote Thomas Jefferson, ``is unquestionably the wisest ever yet presented to men.'' Still, he and others voiced concern that it did not contain a declaration enumerating the rights of individuals. To Jefferson such a declaration was ``what no just government should refuse or rest on inferences.''

Opponents to the idea argued that a bill of rights would be unnecessary and perhaps even harmful, should it invite disregard for any rights that were not expressly stated. In their view, the Constitution that began with the words ``We the People'' clearly affirmed the sovereignty of the American public. But Jefferson and others persisted, noting that a declaration of rights would serve ``as a supplement to the Constitution where that is silent.'' James Madison conceded that such a declaration might prove valuable because ``political truths declared in that solemn manner acquire by degrees the character of fundamental maxims of free government.'' Today his words seem prophetic.

Our Bill of Rights guarantees, among other basic liberties, freedom of speech and of the press, as well as freedom of religion and association; it recognizes the right to keep and bear arms; and it prohibits unreasonable search and seizure of a person's home, papers, or possessions. The Bill of Rights also states that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law and establishes fundamental rules of fairness in judicial proceedings, including the right to trial by jury. Since it was ratified on December 15, 1791, the principles enshrined in this great document have not only served as the guiding tenets of American government but also inspired the advance of freedom around the globe.

When it adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations affirmed for all humankind the ideals enshrined in our Bill of Rights. Noting that ``human rights should be protected by the rule of law,'' and describing the Declaration as ``a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations,'' signatories agreed to respect freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, as well as freedom of religion and belief. They declared that ``everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the security of person,'' and they recognized that all human beings are entitled to equal protection of the law. Signatories to the Declaration also recognized an individual's right to participate in the government of his or her country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights reasserted what we Americans have always believed: that recognition of these rights ``is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.'' This ideal was reaffirmed and strengthened in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and more recently in the 1990 Charter of Paris.

Today we stand closer than ever to achieving universal compliance with the letter and spirit of international human rights agreements. Two hundred years after the ratification of our Bill of Rights, the principles it enshrines continue to take root around the world.

Having triumphed over communism, many peoples and nations now confront the challenge of improving respect for human rights among various ethnic and religious groups, as well as members of national minorities. The United States will continue to urge these and all nations to abide by international human rights agreements and to act in the spirit of political pluralism and tolerance -- traditions that have made America's diversity a source of pride and strength.

Now, Therefore, I, George Bush, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim December 10, 1991, as Human Rights Day and December 15, 1991, as Bill of Rights Day and call upon all Americans to observe the week beginning December 10, 1991, as Human Rights Week.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this ninth day of December, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and sixteenth.

George Bush

[Filed with the Office of the Federal Register, 5:01 p.m., December 9, 1991]

Note: This proclamation was published in the Federal Register on December 11.

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