President Carter, at the podium, addresses nearly 1,000 students, faculty and alumni at the President's Lecture Series event on Oct. 23.
MACON — Promising a “sober speech,” President Jimmy Carter called on the next administration of the United States to restore human rights as a national priority. Carter made his remarks during the second annual Mercer University President’s Lecture Series on Oct. 23 on the Macon campus.
(To watch President Carter's address at the second annual President's Lecture Series, click here .)
Carter, the 39th president of the United States, spoke from the themes of his best-selling book, Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis. He chose one endangered value in particular — human rights — saying that there has been a deviation “from what Christ taught and what our national policies have become.” Recounting a question recently posed to him by a reporter from The Guardian newspaper in England, Carter said he was asked what the next president could do in his first 100 days in office to restore the standing of the United States abroad. Carter responded to the reporter that the next president could restore America’s standing in just 10 minutes.
“I outlined the inaugural address that could be given this coming January,” Carter said of his conversation with the reporter, saying that the next president should declare: “’While I am president there will never be another person tortured. The United States will regain its position as the preeminent champion of human rights. We will abandon our policy of preemptive war. We will never attack another nation again unless our own security is threatened. That’s been our policy since George Washington – until six years ago.
“‘America will be at the forefront of combating global warming, and will lead in meeting all challenges to the world’s environment. Our tax policy will be designed to help the poor and working families, and not the few richest Americans. We will restore our recent rejection of every nuclear arms control agreement that has been negotiated since the time of Dwight Eisenhower. At this time, all those are in the waste can. And we will reduce our nuclear arsenal to zero. We will rebuild the Jeffersonian wall between church and state,’” Carter said, drawing a round of applause from the crowd of nearly 1,000 gathered in Willingham Auditorium.
Pointing to his upbringing in the rural segregated South and his time as president, when he pushed human rights to the forefront of his political agenda, Carter said that America still has a lot to do when it comes to human rights, but that the struggle has seen setbacks both at home and abroad since 9/11.
“America didn’t invent human rights, human rights invented America,” Carter said.
Since leaving office, Carter established the Carter Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that addresses national and international issues of public policy. Through his work with that organization to expand human rights through the United Nations, Carter said that two of his major initiatives — establishment of a world criminal court and a U.N. high council on human rights — have been resisted at the U.N. by the United States, particularly since 9/11.
“Since then, the U.S. government has abandoned its role as a champion of human rights, and has condoned or perpetrated terrible abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prison,” Carter lamented. “Our government has sent prisoners secretly to other nations where they knew they could be tortured, they denied the applicability of the Geneva Conventions, which were designed to help protect American prisoners. And we have severely restricted personal privacy, which was a time-honored civil liberty in their own country.”
In addition to the U.S. government’s failings, which have emboldened human rights abuses by governments around the world, Carter said that his work with the Carter Center has also shed light on another violation of basic human rights: discrimination against women.
“The foundation for this unequal treatment is within the major religions, which are almost impervious to either criticism or change,” Carter said, noting that in parts of Africa, female circumcision is condoned by religious authorities and in America the Southern Baptist Convention condones the subjugation of women.
“Despite many examples of progress, I would say that global acceptance and enforcement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has reached an all-time low,” Carter said. “Global observance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is worse now than it has been for the last 60 years. Under the current administration, the United States is a gross violator of key provisions of the declaration.”
Citing numerous examples of the key provisions that current U.S. policies violate, including habeas corpus, right to trial, as well as freedom from torture, Carter concluded with a call to action, and for a new start when the next president takes office.
“These have been some extremely critical remarks, but I’m speaking as a former president of one of the world’s great democracies, to show that all of us need to exert or renew our efforts to ensure that in the future we Americans will be able to celebrate and not apologize for our compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Carter said. “Beginning in January we need to set an unblemished example for the rest of the world to follow.”