Addis Ababa — Today we celebrate the 68th anniversary of the UN's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR). While we have made major advances in human rights since the adoption of the Declaration in 1946, violations still occur across the globe.
During my diplomatic career, which I have spent mostly in Africa, I have witnessed a number of human rights challenges. But more importantly, I have also witnessed a growing commitment from countries to the ideals enshrined in the UNDHR, and I firmly believe that there is cause for optimism.
The United States shares the African Union's vision of an African continent where all rights are protected. When sustained by a deep commitment to the rule of law and the role of civil society, strong democratic institutions generate greater prosperity, stability, and respect for human rights.
As the U.S. Ambassador to the AU, I applaud the AU's leadership in supporting human rights in Africa. The UNDHR is the inspiration for the AU's African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which all African countries have ratified. The African Charter recognizes political, economic, social, and cultural rights as indivisible and deserving of equal respect. The Charter also enshrines collective rights such as our right to a clean environment.
This year, the AU declared human rights, with a special emphasis on women, as its number one priority. Its activities with member states, emerging leaders, civil society, and regional as well as local officials are shaping the human rights conversation across the continent and increasing awareness on key human rights issues.
The promotion of universal human rights in Africa must be inclusive and ensure that marginalized communities are empowered. We must never neglect the most vulnerable among us. While we celebrate Africa's gains in human rights, we also encourage the African Union to continue to speak out against political violence, repression, and the curtailment of press freedom and peaceful assembly.
The United States is not a perfect country. We still struggle to match our ideals and values about equality and universal human rights with the realities in our society. Most nations and communities, including my own, have histories with lasting legacies marked by imbalanced opportunities and protections of citizens. However, we always strive to perfect our union and live up to our most cherished ideals, and we have strong institutions to deal with human rights concerns when they arise. Today, on International Human Rights Day, I am proud of the United States' unwavering commitment to the AU and its engagement to make the protection of human rights a continent-wide campaign that leads to concrete gains in the lives of Africans.
Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard is head of the U.S. Mission to the African Union