By Eric Whitaker, U.S. Ambassador to Niger
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, according to Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations’ General Assembly on December 10, 1948. The U.S. Embassy joins the international community in observing Human Rights Day on December 10, which this year marks the 71th anniversary of the Declaration. At the time, the Declaration was a milestone document that proclaimed the inalienable rights that everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. The Declaration sets out universal values and common standards for all peoples and all nations. It establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person. The principles delineated in the Declaration are as relevant today as they were in 1948. Thanks to the Declaration, the dignity of millions has been uplifted as the foundation for a more equal and just world. While its promise is yet to be fully realized, the very fact that the Declaration has stood the test of time is testament to the enduring universality of its perennial values of equality, justice, and human dignity.
The United States has followed the principles of the Declaration in adopting laws to protect human rights – the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to name just a few – because Americans believe, as enshrined in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, that all are created equal. The U.S. Embassy has undertaken efforts in Niger to promote human rights, equality, and justice. We implement programs, partnering with government, non-government, civil society, and community members equally, that increase the transparency and accountability of governmental institutions’ responses to citizen needs. Additionally, we support efforts that encourage free and fair elections in 2020 and the transparency of government operations. For example, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is helping to increase accountability in security policy reforms by supporting government communication with citizens in areas of insecurity. A strong partnership between security forces and citizens is necessary to counter violent extremist organizations and to improve community security. To do this, security forces need to build trust given past allegations of corruption and ineffectiveness. To build this trust and ensure greater transparency in security force operations, USAID builds the capacity of media and civil society organizations to monitor and report on security-related issues. USAID-created direct links between security forces and communities, including citizen monitoring committees (Comités de Veille Citoyen – CVCs), improves communication and fosters stronger partnerships. Civil-military engagement mechanisms included the creation of eight civil-military dialogues in the Tillabéri, Diffa, and Zinder Regions with 256 participants, including 71 women; development of action plans for the improvement of security services offered; creation of a regional coalition of women of Diffa engaged in peace dialogue; and six civil-military dialogue spaces created in Ouallam, Tillabéri, Abala, Sanam, Téra, and Kokorou communes involving 104 people. 12 educational messages produced and broadcast on 12 community radio stations have reached more than 15,000 citizens in the Diffa and Tillaberi regions. Our military colleagues are providing training to Niger’s armed forces, including the police and gendarmerie, to emphasize the rule of law and ensure human rights are respected in all their endeavors. Our Strategic Governance Initiative is partnering with Niger’s police to develop a policy and associated training to combat sexual harassment at the police academy. Our legal colleagues from the U.S. Department of Justice work closely with the Ministries of Interior, National Defense, and Justice to ensure that criminal cases are prosecuted in a timely manner, respecting the rights of both victims and defendants, while safeguarding all citizens from the arbitrary denial of life, liberty or property. We have just established a process for civil and military authorities to successfully present evidence in court for counterterrorism prosecutions.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights empowers us all to stand up for our own rights and the rights of others. We can take action on an individual level in our own daily lives in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, and our communities to uphold the rights that protect us all. As Eleanor Roosevelt, a tireless advocate for human rights and the Chair of the Human Rights Commission that drafted the Declaration stated, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. […] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” Together, we can stand up for equality, justice, and human dignity to ensure the human rights of all.