William E. Todd,
United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia
More than a celebration of our nation’s birth, the Fourth of July is an occasion for Americans to reflect on the Founding Fathers’ hope for the creation of an independent, prosperous, and democratic system of government that fosters freedom and opportunity for all. America’s Founding Fathers were visionaries who risked their lives to assert in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal.” These ideals have helped shape the United States and have also inspired people around the world to recognize that all human beings should be treated equally in dignity and rights.
The years following the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 were times of vocal, even contentious debate and deliberation, without which Americans today would not enjoy many of the provisions and protections that laid the foundation of our democracy — the Bill of Rights, the separation of powers, and a system of representational governance. As President John F. Kennedy once said, “The unity of freedom has never relied on uniformity of opinion.”
Indeed, the cornerstone of a strong democracy is defined by healthy debate, dissent, and compromise. I am encouraged by the development of Cambodia’s democracy since last July when the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) settled the country’s lengthy political impasse and opened a new chapter to move the country forward with a spirit of hope and optimism. I urge both sides to continue their cooperation to bring about meaningful, lasting reforms that benefit the entire country.
The United States remains a committed partner in Cambodia, promoting inclusive and enduring democracy that can achieve broad-based, equitable economic growth for the benefit of all its citizens. We will continue to help the Kingdom reach its potential, particularly by enhancing bilateral commercial ties to the benefit of both our countries.
As U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, I recently led my third reverse trade mission to the United States in May, joined by Senior Minister and Minister of Commerce Sun Chanthol and American Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia Chairman Brett Sciaroni, along with 20 representatives from the Cambodian business community. The message was clear: Cambodia is an attractive location for investment.
The mission was a significant opportunity to support the Cambodian economy and to recognize the ongoing work of the private sector in generating jobs for Cambodia’s youth. It was also a chance to discuss the linkage between human rights and economic development.
In the spirit of the Fourth of July, I remain convinced that a strong and free civil society is a powerful engine for growth. That is why the United States continues to applaud the work carried out by Cambodian civil society in promoting good governance, efficiency, and transparency—all elements of a healthy democracy and economy and the foundations of inclusive development.
In partnership with the Royal Government of Cambodia, U.S. government programs in health, education, food security, and the environment are all examples of our ongoing and unwavering dedication to the wellbeing of the Cambodian people.
This is a commitment made all the more visible thanks to the historic visit of First Lady Michelle Obama in March. Mrs. Obama visited Siem Reap province to introduce Let Girls Learn, a U.S. government initiative to raise awareness of the access inequalities that prevent 62 million girls around the world from attending school.
The initiative, led by Peace Corps and the U.S. Agency for International Development, works locally through a partnership with the Ministry of Education and communities throughout Cambodia to keep girls in school. The First Lady’s visit shows that the United States government is actively engaged in the improvement of girls’ access to education, in its support of working with families, local communities, and national governments to find solutions, and to overcome obstacles that keep countries like Cambodia from meeting its exceptional potential.
And nothing shows that exceptional potential more than Cambodia’s young people. Through my Ambassador’s Youth Council and President Barack Obama’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) program, I have been privileged to witness the talent of Cambodia’s new generation.
This year, six Cambodians traveled to the United States through the YSEALI Professional Fellows Exchange program, where they gained practical experience in leadership, education, environmental sustainability, and civic engagement. To cap off their fellowship, they were among the 75 YSEALI Fellows from all 10 countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that were invited to the White House to meet with President Obama.
And each year more Cambodians are studying abroad in the United States, resolved to return to Cambodia with new skills, careers, and an opportunity to contribute to their communities. I am proud of all these young people and the many more Cambodian youth, who are recognizing and celebrating the importance of education, community, and leadership. They keep me optimistic and confident in Cambodia’s ability to overcome the challenges it faces.
This year we not only mark the 239th anniversary of America’s independence, but we also celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – the world’s first comprehensive civil rights law to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life – which ensures that all Americans, regardless of ability, enjoy the same privileges fought for by our Founding Fathers.
This week also saw a historic ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that makes same-sex marriage a right across the country. The struggle for equal rights for the disabled and for the LGBTI community shows us that democracy is constantly evolving, never static and never finished, and requires an environment that welcomes debate and dissent.
The history of the United States shows the world that it is possible to develop strong democratic institutions, sustain a legacy of accountability and transparency, and nourish each generation with hope, freedom, and opportunity for all. I remain convinced and hopeful that Cambodia, too, will continue on the road towards reform, economic growth, and development that will benefit all Cambodians.