Remarks for Un Monde Avenir Webinar on International Human Rights Day
Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. Matthew J. Miller
December 9, 2020
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking Philippe Nanga, the coordinator of Un Monde Avenir, for inviting us to participate. This is an important event commemorating an important day, when we celebrate the world’s collective commitment to human rights.
The United States was founded on ideals of democracy, individual freedom, and equal protection under the rule of law. We hold human rights very dear. Our nation is not perfect – we have at times struggled to live up to this commitment – but we continue to strive towards these ideals as we know they make our country stronger. And, we seek the same strength for our partners.
Cameroon today faces several internal threats to its stability. The crisis in the Anglophone regions, the resurgence of terrorist groups in the Far North, and criminal groups along the CAR border all create environments that favor human rights abuses by a variety of actors. At the same time, politicians and civil society actors find their operating space more and more limited, undermining freedoms like expression and assembly.
At the U.S. Embassy, we consider human rights a priority and we use all possible tools to advance them in Cameroon, just as we do all over the world. At the bilateral level, we advocate to our partners in the Cameroonian government for increased prevention of and accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses. These conversations are not always easy, but we have a strong partnership with Cameroon and true friends are willing and able to have difficult conversations. We also advocate for accountability in international settings, like the United Nations, often in unison with other diplomatic missions who share our goals.
We use foreign assistance to promote human rights. We are the largest donor of humanitarian assistance in Cameroon, providing life-saving assistance to vulnerable groups and those affected by conflict. To do this, we fund partner organizations that apply a human rights-based approach to their work, where affected communities are decision-makers in the assistance programs. Humanitarian and other assistance programs, like our work combating HIV/AIDS, generally contain “protection” components that help prevent abuses against those benefiting from aid and include specific provisions to ensure aid reaches marginalized and vulnerable groups.
Another significant component of our foreign assistance supports human rights-related projects. Through various Embassy funds, we provide small grants to local NGOs – like Un Monde Avenir – to do things like increase political participation, build the capacity of human rights advocates, and meet the needs of marginalized groups, such as persons with disabilities or victims of human trafficking. We also fund projects that seek to transform conflicts that are creating environments favorable to abuse. Similarly, our security assistance is shaped by the goal of professionalizing the military, promoting accountability, and developing capabilities for interoperability with the U.S. military. Our training programs always include human rights elements and U.S. law requires those receiving our security assistance be vetted for past abuses.
Another important element of our support for human rights is public engagement. Like every U.S. Embassy around the world, we publish carefully researched, factual and objective annual reports that describe the human rights environment. These reports, along with statements and press releases on human rights issues during the year, shed light on practices that fall short of the universal human rights standards the world committed to many years ago. This contributes to one of the best tools of transformation: transparency. We also engage the public through seminars and workshops here, and send Cameroonians on exchange programs to the United States, where American experts exchange with Cameroonian counterparts to share best practices and strategies that advance our mutual efforts to live up to these universal standards and educate youth to be tomorrow’s leaders in this field.
Human rights work is not easy work, but it is absolutely essential for a fair and democratic society, and the United States is a partner to those of you engaged in this service to their fellow citizens and their country. We applaud you all for what you do.