[The following are excerpts of Secretary Albright's remarks before Rosalynn Carter Distinguished Lecture Series held in Atlanta, Georgia, December 3, 1998]
Fifty years ago this month, representatives from nations around the world came together under the leadership of another great American First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since its unveiling, that Declaration has been included or referred to in dozens of national constitutions and reaffirmed many times. It is a centerpiece of the argument that we make that respect for human rights is the obligation not just of some, but of every government. Atlantans should be proud that President Jimmy Carter did so much to ensure that the Declaration's principles would be at the core of the foreign policy of the United States.
For reasons both strategic and personal, President Carter placed far greater emphasis on human rights than did his predecessors. And by so doing, he strengthened America's claim to moral leadership, spurred growth in the global human rights movement, and, directly or indirectly, freed many political prisoners and saved many lives. President Carter's determination to advance human rights helped make this a better world.
But it remains very far from perfect. There are many today who point to the gap between the ideals set out in the Universal Declaration and the violations that persist 50 years after that document was signed. These skeptics conclude that we might as well give up, that no matter what we say or do, there will always be repression and discrimination. In this view, the violation of human rights is just another sad reflection on the limits of human nature. To that, I would reply as Katharine Hepburn did to Humphrey Bogart in the movie African Queen: "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we were put into this world to rise above."
The Clinton Administration believes that if we are to build the kind of future we want, we must insist that there is nothing inevitable, and certainly nothing natural, about gross violations of human rights. We must point out that, for the torturer, cruelty is a choice. For the abuser, violence is a choice. For the bigot, intolerance is a choice. And what we have the power to choose, we have the power to change.
Moreover, support for human rights is not just some kind of international social work. It is vital to our security and well-being, for governments that disregard the rights of their own citizens are not likely to respect the rights of anyone else. In this century, virtually every major act of international aggression has been perpetrated by a regime that repressed political rights. Such regimes are also more likely to spark unrest by persecuting minorities, sheltering terrorists, running drugs, or secretly building weapons of mass destruction. And they are enemies not only of political freedom, but also of social and economic development.
In any society, people who are free to express their ideas, organize their labor and invest their capital, will contribute far more than those stunted by repression. This is true of men; it is true also of women. It is obvious in our era that no country can reach its potential if it denies itself the full contributions of half its people. Unfortunately, in too many places today, women remain an undervalued resource.
This is not to say that women have trouble finding work. In many societies, in addition to bearing and nurturing the children, women do most of the non-child-related work. Yet, women are often barred from owning land and permitted little, if any, say in government, while girls are excluded from schools and provided less nourishment than boys.
In our diplomacy, we are working with others to change that because we know from experience that, when women have the power to make their own choices, societies are better able to break the chains of poverty; birth rates …