U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighted civil society's role in promoting human rights during multiple events at the State Department Friday in honor of Human Rights Day.
Secretary Clinton said that for the people who strive to promote human rights around the world: "Every day is Human Rights Day."
Sixty-two years after former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt presented the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the United Nations General Assembly, the world remains a challenging place for human rights defenders.
"We have seen increased efforts by governments to restrict civic space, whether in Cuba or China's efforts to somehow divert the world's attention from the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony today. We really know that we have our work cut out for us," she said.
Clinton said the U.S. plans to make engagement with civil society a defining feature of diplomacy efforts, and she said embassies have been asked to develop strategies that would help support and protect civil society.
Clinton highlighted the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and the end of Apartheid as achievements that everyday people struggled to make reality.
Clinton said many people continue to put themselves at personal risk in their attempts to bring about positive change.
"In Cuba, the determined women of Damas de Blanco have endured harassment, beatings and arrest as they march every week, as they once again did yesterday, in support of their husbands and sons who are longtime political prisoners. In Zimbabwe, activists have been arrested, abducted or beaten after calling attention to human rights abuses and the plight of the poor. And, unfortunately, I could go on and on."
She praised activists for their bravery. "We remember them every single day, and among them is the Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo, who has now been awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Liu was not there, as you know, to accept the prize, and nor was his wife nor anyone related or connected to him, because he is serving an 11-year prison sentence on charges related to his peaceful advocacy for human rights and democracy," she said.
Clinton repeated the call for his release. Then she turned her attentions to American human rights promoters who were present at the State Department to receive the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for their work.
Among the recipients was Sarah Cleto Rial, the program director of a Boston-based NGO called 'My Sister's Keeper,' which works to advance political, social and economic justice for women and girls in Sudan.
The southern Sudan native, who came to the U.S. 11 years ago as a refugee, was cheered on by family and colleagues. She said the award was a tribute to Sudanese women everywhere. "We have endured hardships and contributed much to our country, but we have always been relegated to the shadow. This award allows us to come out and tell you and tell the world that Sudanese women have been and are here to ensure that there is lasting peace in our homeland," she said.
Three other award recipients - Louis Henkin, Alice Hartman Henkin and Wade Henderson - were honored for their work to promote human rights in the U.S. and abroad and their efforts to shape human rights law and policy.