Why Human Rights Matter

I know from firsthand experience how important human rights are, having served in countries where there was little respect for these liberties. That is why, today, the day the world celebrates International Human Rights Day, holds special significance for me. This year's recognition is particularly poignant, coinciding with the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. The world has paused to reflect on the great legacy of this leader, who fought for human rights for all people within his nation and in doing so, inspired the world.

Today is the anniversary of the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The Declaration is vitally important to all of us. It embodies the ideal that all human beings are born free and the principles embodied in the Magna Carta and the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Human rights and poverty reduction will always be at the core of the British government's foreign policy. Belief in political and economic freedom, in human rights and in the rule of law, are part of our national DNA.

Across the globe, my colleagues work tirelessly to make criminal justice systems fairer; promote the abolition of the death penalty; support freedom of expression, religion and belief; and defend the rights of women and the LGBT community. In September, the UK became the first government to publish a national action plan on business and human rights, outlining our commitments to encourage good business practice by UK companies both domestically and internationally.

The UK is leading efforts to end sexual violence in conflict, generating a new willingness from governments to take a stand on the issue. At the UN General Assembly this year we put forward a new Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, endorsed by 137 countries. And next June, we will host the largest summit ever staged on this issue, aiming to create irreversible momentum towards ending warzone rape and sexual violence worldwide.

Global problems cannot be solved by any one country alone. They require a collective effort. That is why the UK and U.S. work so closely together to promote basic human rights around the world. In the Middle East, our two countries continue to raise serious concerns about the flagrant violations of human rights in countries like Syria and Iran. And we continue to work with the U.S., EU and with our international partners in international organizations such as the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to address human rights violations.

The UK is delighted to join the HRC again in 2014, along with the U.S., where we will continue to promote and defend the ideals embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Today at Mandela's memorial service, more than 90 heads of state and government will gather. President Obama described Mandela as having "bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice." I hope his legacy serves as an inspiration for all world leaders, and to each of us, to strive to bend that arc further.