Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield on the 30th Anniversary of the Adoption of the UN Declaration on Minority Rights

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 21, 2022


Thank you, Mr. President. It is truly an honor to take part in today’s commemoration. Thirty years ago, leaders from around the world gathered in the General Assembly to make history. Together, they adopted the UN Declaration on Minority Rights. And together, they made clear to the world that every single person has the right to a life free from discrimination. No matter where they come from, what religion they practice, and what language they speak. Today’s high-level meeting is an opportunity to acknowledge how far we have come and to celebrate our successes in advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Since the signing of the Declaration, we have worked together to advance minority rights and increase opportunities for representation of minority groups. But despite our achievements, today is also an opportunity to ask hard questions, stare our failures in its face, and commit to a better future for all.

Since I came to the United Nations, I have been open about the fact that – in the United States – we have our own challenges when it comes to protecting the rights of minority groups. It is unfortunately a part of our history. I know this firsthand. I grew up in the segregated South. I first saw and survived racism and discrimination there, but I have also seen it everywhere – everywhere I’ve traveled around the globe. And unfortunately, in today’s world, every society still faces this problem. We will only move forward if we face these hard truths and are honest about our shortcomings.

So, from Day One, the Biden Administration has been firmly committed to that kind of difficult but necessary reflection – and to correcting injustice. We have grappled with the legacies of systemic racism and discrimination. We have defended the right to religious freedom, supported underserved communities, and worked to protect the sacred lands of Indigenous people. We have put equity, justice, and human rights at the center of our foreign policy. And that extends to our work at the UN and other multilateral institutions. Because discrimination is a global challenge, and no country is immune.

Across the world, we see how minority groups and marginalized communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and other public health outbreaks. By climate change-induced environmental crises. By racially motivated violence and religious persecution. By the digital divide and disinformation. And by food insecurity, which has pushed millions to the brink of famine. The more we do to safeguard the rights of minority groups, the more we do to take the world’s most pressing challenges.

So now is the time for decisive action. This is the moment to recommit to the ideals of the Declaration on Minority Rights. Because, as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt – one of the forces behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – taught us: It isn’t enough to put our noble ideals on paper. They must exist in the world – they must exist in the world at the level of the individual person. As she said, and I quote, “Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

So let us use the occasion of this 30-year anniversary to make sure these rights exist, really and truly, in the world. Let us double down on protecting minority rights. On fostering welcome communities. On keeping minority rights alive and well. Let us do everything in our power to provide people with lives free from the scourge of hate and discrimination. And let us do that work together, for the next 30 years to come, and beyond.

Thank you very much.