Thank you to everyone for the wonderful feedback and questions I received after my “Ask the Ambassador” column last week. I am excited by how many Cambodians are interested in having a dialogue with me, and I hope to continue to hear from you at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov.
This week I will answer two questions that I received from Cambodian readers. The first is “What do Americans do to celebrate their national day?” This is a great question because every country has a national day, and every country has its own celebrations and traditions surrounding it.
The Fourth of July is America’s Independence Day – a day Americans have barbeques, hold parades, and set off fireworks to celebrate the creation of the United States of America. For me, this is a holiday unlike any other. It represents the freedom of our Nation, and the strength of our democracy. Every year on this day, my family and friends gather together to celebrate the freedoms and opportunities that the Declaration of Independence bestowed upon us. I personally have fond memories of taking my children to parades, watching my favorite baseball team with my daughter, and enjoying the evening fireworks with my sons. It is important to cherish the fact that we as individuals have the freedom to enjoy any variety of activities that make our country special. This is a day of family and freedom, and I love that it gives Americans the chance to unify as one nation.
On this day 236 years ago, our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence to assert our nation’s sovereignty. This document unwaveringly declared:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…
A democracy cannot be established overnight. It is a process. And while the Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal” and we all have “certain unalienable rights,” we must constantly be vigilant in protecting the rights that make a democracy possible.
Maintaining a flourishing democracy requires resilience, a trait that the Kingdom of Cambodia shares with the United States. In fact, Cambodia’s perseverance is what has allowed its democracy to develop over the last 20 years: adopting a constitution that recognizes a range of universally accepted human rights and holding a series of progressively peaceful and better-managed elections. The United States and Cambodia have learned that the open and active participation of all the people in their respective society is essential for an enduring democracy, and I was impressed to see people from so many walks of life heading to the polls during the recent commune council elections.
However, the beautiful, yet frustrating, thing about democracies is that they must constantly evolve, including in the United States. Every day our judicial system reviews laws to ensure they conform to our constitution. Every day we strive to ensure all Americans can exercise their freedoms – whether it be the right to free speech, to worship according to one’s religion, to vote in elections, or rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Just as America works to improve its democracy, I know Cambodia does as well. In fact, I was glad to hear that the Boeung Kak Lake protesters were released last week. We see the release as a positive sign of support for freedom of expression and the rule of law, and we hope that in the future, such property disputes will be resolved in an independent and transparent manner that is well-understood by the public.
Given our two countries’ common aspirations and our 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. Democracy requires nothing less.
The second question I will answer today is “What does the U.S. plan to do for the ASEAN Regional Forum in July?” At the U.S. Embassy, we are getting ready for a busy summer. We’re honored to support Cambodia in its role as the Chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and we look forward to Secretary Clinton’s imminent arrival to participate in the ASEAN Regional Forum on July 12. While in Cambodia, Secretary Clinton will also participate in two U.S.-led events in Siem Reap. The first is the Lower Mekong Initiative Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy Dialogue, which will bring together leaders from throughout the region to share best practices on empowering women and girls. The second event is the U.S.-ASEAN Business Forum, which will bring together U.S. and ASEAN government and business leaders to address the opportunities and challenges that will define the future of U.S.-ASEAN economic cooperation. This is truly an exciting time for the Kingdom of Cambodia, and the United States is proud to be a part of it.
Please feel free to reach out to me at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov (In English or Khmer) and tell me what you think about July 4th and the values that the day embodies. In fact, ask me anything you’d like. I look forward to hearing from you.
William E. Todd, United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia