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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Office of International Women's Issues > Remarks > 2001-2005 International Women's Issues Remarks

Equality for All

L. Paul Bremer, Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator
December 10, 2003

At the end of World War II the United Nations had many tasks. Among the most important was an attempt to create a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to define the absolute minimum rights to which every individual on the face of the earth is entitled. Nothing like this had ever been tried before and it took two years to accomplish.  But it was accomplished.

Fifty-five years ago, on December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations recognized that "the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."

The General Assembly went on: "Every individual and every organ of society… shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and… to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance."

Iraq and all the nations of the Coalition that existed at that time signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  No nation in the world, including my country, the United States, has continuously lived up to every one of the rights incorporated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But it is the duty of all to strive continuously through education, through the force of law and through example, to assure the rights and dignity of every person. If the dignity of one person is taken away, the dignity of all is at peril.

No one knows better than the citizens of Iraq, just how bad the human rights climate in Iraq has been. Indeed, until the Coalition drove Saddam the Fugitive from power Iraqis had fewer rights than when its representative signed the Human Rights Declaration in 1948.

The list of rights lost to Saddam the Fugitive and his henchmen is long and it is well known to Iraqis. There was no right to speak, to assemble peacefully, to travel to other countries, to be treated equally before the law, even, as the mass graves prove, to live.

That has changed. In today’s Iraq any person can speak his or her mind, travel abroad, assemble peaceably and more with no interference from the government.

But there is one set of rights where much work remains.  Women’s rights were abused terribly under Saddam the Tyrant. Their sex did not protect women from murder and was turned against them with rape rooms and the depredations of his sons, especially Uday.

Beyond that, women’s education was so degraded that almost three Iraqi women of every four cannot read. That is correct. According to the United Nations, 73 percent of Iraqi women are illiterate.

This practice of denying women and girls their basic human right to an education has stopped. All the children of Iraq are entitled to go to school and the Coalition and the Governing Council urge all families to send their boys and girls to school.  To educate women, to permit them to take their place in society as teachers, as doctors, as lawyers and, yes, as police officers and presidents, violates no religion, destroys no family.

I know Iraqi society has strong traditions about the role of women and the role of the family. But to encourage women to go to school, to educate themselves to the best of their ability, takes nothing away from anyone. An educated woman can be an integral part of any family. An educated wife and mother is a better, stronger wife and mother.

All around the world, even in very traditional societies, better health standards and greater family income are associated with better education for women. There is not a single wealthy country in the world that does not have a high literacy rate for women.

The laws of God and man alike insist that all people, including women, have rights, equality and justice. Of the many tasks remaining to the Iraqi people, none is more important than assuring the rights of every person.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the drafting committee, asked: "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. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."

The Coalition is prepared to work with you to ensure that the basic law for Iraq, which will guarantee your rights until you have a permanent constitution, gives every citizen rights equal to those of every other citizen, Sunni or Shia, Muslim or Christian, Kurd or Turkoman, Arab or Jew, man or woman.



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