I would like to thank Cambodian readers again for your interest in this column. I have truly enjoyed the dialogue that we have shared through your questions every week. Please continue to send me more questions at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov.
Recently, one reader asked, “In what ways can the U.S. government continue to promote concepts of democracy and human rights in Cambodia?”
This is a very good question as it provides an opportunity to discuss the U.S. government’s engagement on democracy and human rights issues. As a country with a long democratic tradition, the U.S. government invites other nations to explore the benefits and value of democracy, as well as its challenges.
Any young democracy, including those which have experienced civil war, will face difficulties in making the transition to an effective system of governance. The United States faced a number of challenges in its initial years as one of the world’s earliest democracies. Even though the U.S. Constitution, signed in 1789, was founded on the principles of equality and “one man, one vote”, the reality was different. Women, for example, were originally not allowed to vote, but valiantly fought hard for decades to finally secure that right in 1920.
What made America’s early leaders great was that they recognized the value of the principles on which their country was founded and built on those ideals even further as time passed. This was an incredible gift to the United States, and the memory of these honorable leaders is still etched in the consciousness of all Americans. These leaders are celebrated, not because they held onto their own position in the pursuit of personal benefits, but because they upheld the foundations on which the United States was based. President Washington ranks as one of the greatest leaders because he served his country and knew when to allow other talented leaders have their turn to lead. President Lincoln was also a great leader because he was willing to take a massive risk to do the right thing and allow America to achieve more closely the true vision of equality upon which it was founded.
Cambodia has made impressive progress in the last 20 years, and Cambodia’s leaders and civil society rightfully deserve credit for the advancements that have been made. Yet, there is still much more that can be done for Cambodia to realize the vision of a society ruled by the law in which every citizen has access to justice. Just as the United States struggled in its early years, Cambodia has faced challenges to realize the full promise contained in the 1993 Constitution. While maintaining a long term view and committing to the values of freedom and human rights, Cambodia can overcome its tragic past and become an example of justice and rule of law in the region.
A prosperous nation never rests on its achievements. Rather, a nation strives to reach even higher, not just for economic development, but also for justice for every citizen. Justice will provide the dignity that every Cambodian seeks in life, which not too long ago a genocidal regime cruelly denied. With an enforceable and transparent rule of law that everyone understands and trusts, I see Cambodia’s economy thriving with many more investments coming its way.
The U.S. government is a partner and a friend to Cambodia as it continues its democratization process. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), for example, promotes the strengthening of democracy through civil society advocacy, training youth on the fundamental principles of a democratic society, election-day monitoring, and political debates of candidates running for public office.
In addition, USAID funds a number of important local human rights organizations that monitor Cambodia’s human rights situation and advocate for the respect for human rights. These organizations play an important role in educating the public regarding their rights and inspiring youth to become more involved in civil society activities. I commend Cambodian human rights organizations for their commitment and tenacity in generating awareness on this important issue.
As the early history of the United States shows, democracy and human rights do not come easily and require much effort from its leaders and citizens. The United States remains committed to stand by Cambodia in the coming decades as Cambodia strives to implement the rule of law, hold free and fair elections, and provide justice to all of its citizens. In the future, the United States will continue to work with Cambodia’s leaders and provide support to its citizens as Cambodia’s democratic framework becomes more established, leading to both economic development and dignity for the Cambodian people.
Thank you again for reading my column and sending interesting questions to discuss. Please keep emailing me questions in Khmer or in English at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov. You can also read my blog at http://blogs.usembassy.gov/todd.
William E. Todd is U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia