On July 4th of every year, the United States celebrates “Independence Day”, which commemorates the adoption of the United States’ Declaration of Independence. When America’s Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, they asserted a revolutionary concept – that all people have “certain unalienable rights”, which include “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, and that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed”.
From the very beginning, these ideals were at the heart of the creation of the United States, and since then they have inspired people around the world to recognise two simple, but powerful, ideas. The first is that all human beings should be treated equal in dignity and rights with the freedom to think or express opinions without being constrained. The second is that government is established for and by the people through a democratic process in which the people themselves select who they want to represent them in the government.
This spirit has defined our nation for more than two centuries, and because we feel so strongly about these principles, we just as strongly support countries around the world, like Cambodia, in their own pursuit of freedom and democracy. Therefore, when the United States marks the 237th anniversary of its independence this year, we are also a celebrating our contribution to the advancement of human rights and democracy around the world.
Like most countries, America’s democracy was not established overnight. It has been – and remains – a process, and we must be constantly vigilant in protecting the rights that make our democracy possible. As the history of the United States shows, ensuring democracy and human rights does not come easily and requires much commitment and effort from both its leaders and citizens.
The story of the United States is the story of a nation that has repeatedly grappled with intolerance and inequality. We fought a brutal civil war over slavery. People from coast to coast joined in campaigns to recognise the rights of women, indigenous peoples, racial minorities, gays and lesbians, children, people with disabilities, immigrants and workers, among many others. The United States, just like every other democratic nation, continually works to improve its electoral system in order to make it more free, fair, transparent and participative.
Because we know from experience how hard it is to continually grow, we believe that those who advocate for expanding the circle of human rights and strengthening democratic processes were and are on the right side of history, and history honours them. There is a phrase that people in the United States invoke when urging others to support human rights and democracy: “Be on the right side of history.”
Here in Cambodia promoting democracy and human rights takes centre stage in our bilateral relationship, and much has occurred over the past year in this effort. The most significant was the historic visit by President Barack Obama, during which he and Prime Minister Hun Sen discussed at length Cambodia’s need to continue to grow in the areas of democracy and human rights. There were also many other high-level visits by US government officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk. All of these visits underscored the US commitment to Cambodia’s success.
An ongoing example of our unwavering dedication to the wellbeing of the Cambodian people is the more than $1 billion in assistance we have provided for Cambodia’s development over the past two decades. The United States is working hand in hand with the Royal Government on programs in health, education, food security, and the environment that are improving the lives of Cambodian citizens. Our military-to-military engagement aims to assist the Cambodian armed forces in their efforts to professionalise, counter cross-border threats, provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and support international peacekeeping operations. Additionally, my embassy team and I have a renewed sense of commitment to promoting Cambodia’s economic development through engagements that include job training and internships for the youth, and promoting US investment in Cambodia. This month I will be leading a large trade delegation of Cambodian business people to California and Washington, DC to encourage increased economic ties between our two countries.
Beyond the efforts of the US government, I am proud of the countless programs sponsored by private American citizens, companies, and organisations that are also having a tremendous, positive impact on the lives of ordinary Cambodians. Each year Americans generously provide millions of dollars to help Cambodians become healthier, better educated, and more productive. Many Americans even travel to Cambodia personally to contribute their time and talents to Cambodia’s development. These dedicated individuals, who are making Cambodia a more peaceful, prosperous, and secure country, are ambassadors of goodwill from the United States. To all of the Americans who are working and giving so generously to help the Cambodian people, thank you for your commitment and for your important role in maintaining the strong bonds of friendship between Cambodia and the United States. The US embassy is proud of its partnership with the American private sector in making life better for all Cambodians.
Cambodia has made substantial political and economic progress over the last two decades – something its people should be proud of. As with any nation, however, there is always more work to be done. An important part of our efforts to assist Cambodia reach its full potential is fostering dialogue and engaging civil society, the youth, the business community, and the Royal Government in a common effort to help Cambodia continue to prosper.
Through my weekly newspaper column and blog, I have enjoyed discussing issues and questions on the minds of ordinary Cambodians. My Youth Council has provided me and my embassy team a solid sense of what Cambodia’s youth are thinking about the future direction of the country. We also continue to have a very constructive dialogue with leading members of Cambodia’s civil society through my NGO Advisory Council. We take these opportunities to listen to Cambodians very seriously, and I am very encouraged by the hopes and high expectations that I see and hear each and every day.
As Cambodians head to the polls in late July, the Royal Government has the opportunity to demonstrate to the world its commitment to the democratic process by creating a level playing field for all candidates, ensuring a safe and peaceful electoral environment, and maximizing prospects for every eligible voter to cast his or her ballot. While no democracy is perfect, getting more people involved in the electoral process – through campaigning, asking questions of the candidates, and ultimately voting – is the best way to strengthen a democracy, so I also encourage all Cambodians to get out and vote.
I have a profound belief that Cambodia’s continued growth as a democracy that respects human rights and the rule of law will lead to greater prosperity and security. The United States intends to stand by the people of Cambodia and support their aspirations for a strengthened democratic framework that provides protections for individual freedoms, economic opportunity, and dignity for all.
Given our two countries’ long friendship and desire to make our bilateral relationship more effective, I look forward to working closely with Cambodia – both its government and its people – to achieve our common goals. Liberty and democracy require nothing less.