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Videotaped Remarks by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights

Videotaped Remarks by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights

Dec. 10, 2012

Greetings from Atlanta! Although I could not be with you to celebrate Human Rights Day, I am glad to have this chance to speak with you.

I also would like to thank High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay for her partnership and tremendous leadership on behalf of those who cannot advocate for themselves in Geneva, the victims of human rights violations.

Twenty years ago, leading human rights advocates and organizations gathered at The Carter Center in Atlanta to join our efforts to establish a strong human rights voice at the United Nations. The following year, we took this campaign to Vienna and worked with delegations gathered there to call for the establishment of the post of high commissioner for human rights. Since then, we have continued to support each high commissioner in various ways. This continues to be a priority of The Carter Center because we know that a global movement for human rights must be universal and inclusive, and that the United Nations must take the lead.

When I served as president, I supported a strong human rights voice within the United Nations, first advancing the proposal for a high commissioner in 1977. Even then, I believed that no single country can claim to fulfill the full spectrum of human rights. For this universal vision of "all human rights for all" to become reality, every nation must participate. So I am gratified to see the council, the high commissioner, and all the related activities becoming the predominant venue for advancing human rights at the global level.

With the establishment of the Universal Periodic Review, the universality of the undertaking is even more pronounced since every government faces the same level of scrutiny.

The next major step the council should take is to embrace a more robust role for civil society in its deliberations. The council itself, special procedures, treaty bodies, and the Universal Periodic Review should welcome the assessments of human rights defenders about their country situations and listen to their exhortations. It is these courageous and effective activists who are most knowledgeable about the realities faced by people on the ground. The sooner we hear from them, the sooner we can address what may be festering problems that can lead to instability or conflict.

When governments are not responsive to the legitimate aspirations of people affected by oppressive policies, trust in government is eroded. If we have learned anything from the Arab Awakening, it is that today's human rights defenders may be tomorrow's revolutionaries.

As a former head of state I know it is not always pleasant to be criticized, but it is healthy and necessary to make progress in every society. Instead of suppressing dissent, we should engage it and seek solutions that will ensure stability and ever increasing quality of life for all. In my country, the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International constantly remind our government that our prison system or our counterterrorism policies sometimes violate basic human rights. In Tunisia and Egypt, human rights defenders worked for years to bring to light the systematic violations that ultimately resulted in uprisings that still shake the region. In every country, activists face great risks to alert larger society about the dangers of repressive government policies. Instead of resisting them, we should encourage and support them.

You can make a real difference by working within the council to welcome citizen involvement in Geneva and also ensure that those who exercise their freedom of expression do not face retribution when they return home.

I also encourage you to offer the high commissioner your full support. She has been a tremendous leader, and her independent and forceful advocacy on behalf of victims of human rights violations is needed now more than ever. That we have such a leader to give voice to the voiceless is one of the United Nations' greatest achievements.

I wish all of you great success in your deliberations.

Thank you, and best wishes.

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