Remarks of Senator Patrick Leahy Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal Award Ceremony

Thank you, Fran, for your kind words.  Marcelle and I are so pleased to be here to celebrate the life and legacy of Eleanor Roosevelt.  It is easy to draw inspiration from her as we work to address the challenges we face today.  We are happy to see so many friends from Vermont here today, as well.

I am fortunate to wear many hats in the United States Senate, and in one role I share a connection to the UN with the most famous First Lady in our history.  She was appointed by President Truman as a U.S. delegate to the brand-new United Nations.  I have had the privilege in past years and this year of serving as a Senate delegate to the UN, under appointments by President George W. Bush, President Clinton and President Obama.

Eleanor Roosevelt was in a class of her own, and she left a lasting mark.  As our first ambassador to the UN, Eleanor Roosevelt revolutionized the way the United States and so many countries around the world recognize fundamental human rights, and work to protect those rights.  

She played a key role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the core of which was the concept of the Four Freedoms articulated by her husband, President Franklin Roosevelt.  Together, the Freedom of Speech, the Freedom of Worship, the Freedom from Want, and the Freedom from Fear have become cornerstones of human rights declarations around the world, just as they mirror key principles enshrined in our own Bill of Rights.    

Today at the United Nations and in Washington, we continue to fight for the rights of people everywhere.  From the atrocities we see in Syria to the plight of women in Pakistan, from access to clean water in Africa to Internet access in China, protecting the fundamental rights of every person is a responsibility of each of us. 

A couple of weeks ago I met with our current Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.  Think of how pleased Eleanor Roosevelt would have been to see someone as accomplished and dedicated as Ambassador Power to the values and principles to which Eleanor Roosevelt devoted so much of her life. 

The universality of fundamental rights compels us to pay attention to what happens in our own country.  Human trafficking is a serious problem in our urban and rural areas.  I have fought for years to address this, and was so pleased when, earlier this year, legislation to help the federal government track, apprehend and punish human traffickers in the United States was signed into law.  Now we need to see that the law is implemented.

And I can only wonder what Eleanor Roosevelt would say about Guantanamo, and the right of due process for people imprisoned there for years without trial.  Her voice is one we miss greatly. 

The gridlock we face in Washington reverberates throughout the world.  When the government is closed, lifesaving medicines are being withheld from those who need them most.  Head Start programs are shuttered.  States are wondering how much longer they can provide support to pregnant women and children under the WIC program.  Our farmers are concerned about having the workforce needed to collect the fall harvest.  Prospective homebuyers are wondering if they will get the loan to put a roof over their families’ heads.

When I think about Eleanor Roosevelt, and the challenges she overcame and the way she fought so hard for those less fortunate, we can easily imagine what she would say of the partisan stalemate we are in today.  Her life’s work was to make the government work for the downtrodden, to advance the equality of all and eradicate the fear that grips the weakest among us.  These are goals that Marcelle and I share.  They are goals important to Vermonters.  They are goals our government should work to achieve every day.

Thank you for this honor.

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