Good afternoon and thank you for coming today! We’ve had the chance to see each other already this month with the impactful visit of the State Department’s Global Anti-Corruption Coordinator Richard Nephew and USAID’s Anti-Corruption Task Force Executive Director Shannon Green just a few weeks ago, but I’m pleased to participate in today’s Q&A to address current topics of importance and concern.
First, I’d like to acknowledge the visit of Journalist Linda Hervieux, who has already met with many of you and is here in Liberia conducting workshops and sharing her expertise. In fact, as we speak, she is on her way to train local journalists in Nimba county. As I’ve said many times in the past, the importance of a free press cannot be overstated in a functioning democracy. The United States and our Mission here in Liberia remain dedicated to supporting independent, fact-based journalism that informs the public and helps hold politicians and others accountable.
I want to take a moment here to express kudos to the Government of Liberia for hosting a very successful Community Health Workers Symposium here in Monrovia. It took courage to invite such a large group! Hundreds of health professionals from all over the world came to this event and it showcased the real gains that Liberia has made, especially given Liberia’s experience with both the Ebola and COVID-19 pandemics. Congratulations to the Ministry of Health, to my colleagues at USAID and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and to other international organizations for helping to make this conference such a success.
Next, to briefly speak about upcoming national elections, I am encouraged by President Weah’s statements, including at the UN General Assembly in front of the world, pledging a free and fair election. Liberia’s international partners share that goal, but we believe, as with the integrity institutions, it cannot be achieved unless the National Elections Commission is fully funded. Today, with one quarter of the calendar year already behind us, the NEC has yet to receive any of its 2023 funding, even though we are less than seven months away from elections.
This is a situation that should alarm every Liberian. Today I am urging that the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning immediately provide the elections commission with its full 2023 budget, so it has the necessary resources to effectively prepare for and implement all aspects of the electoral process. Regarding the ongoing voter registration process, first, we condemn the violence at the polling center over the weekend and encourage all voters to register in a peaceful manner and abide by the NEC’s guidelines on registering where you reside. I also want to encourage the NEC to move quickly to provide the promised meal and training allowances to the poll workers who are working long hours under difficult conditions. The Embassy has observation teams visiting various polling centers to observe the process, and I am looking forward to joining one of those observation teams later this week.
Now, I want to speak briefly about the State Department’s annual Human Rights Report, which was released last week. This report, like other annual reports, is mandated by the United States Congress to inform on the status of internationally recognized human rights. The Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Liberia for 2022 is available on our website and I encourage you to read it. No country in the world is perfect, and these reports are not meant to be punitive, but rather a sober and fact-based accounting of both positive and negative issues affecting human rights. As Secretary Blinken said when this year’s report was released, “Human rights are universal. They aren’t defined by any one country, philosophy, or region. They apply to everyone, everywhere.”
As the 2022 Human Rights Report clearly states, Liberia is a democracy, and I am pleased that Liberia will be participating in the upcoming Summit For Democracy, both in the virtual programs hosted in Washington, as well as in-person events co-hosted by the Republic of Zambia this week. The first Summit for Democracy, held in December of 2021, kicked off a “Year of Action” for governments to make progress toward their commitments to increase the responsiveness and resilience of their democracies, fight corruption, counter authoritarianism, and promote respect for human rights – not just to strengthen democracy, but also to promote prosperity. And each government that participated in that summit, including the United States, made written commitments with specific goals.
I’m sharing Liberia’s written statement with you today (as a handout) because it is important for the press during this week’s summit to examine this pledge and acknowledge the government’s progress on some issues, including engaging with traditional leaders to end all forms of harmful traditional practices, and reflect on why other pledges are not progressing, like the one to make all legislative votes public.
The 2nd Summit For Democracy, co-hosted by the United States, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, and the Republic of Zambia will run from March 29-30 with 121 foreign partners. The summit will bring together not only representatives from governments, but also civil society and the private sector to demonstrate progress and reaffirm commitment to democratic renewal. Let me be clear: democracy delivers. It improves people’s lives in tangible ways. The United States launched the Summit for Democracy process in early 2021 to put new and high-level focus on the need to strengthen democratic institutions, protect human rights, and accelerate the fight against corruption, both at home and abroad. In the 15 months since we held the first Summit for Democracy in December 2021, the world has witnessed profound events, emerging from a global pandemic, and responding decisively as Russia brutally invaded its neighbor Ukraine in violation of the UN Charter. Liberia has been a strong partner in condemning Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion.
The events of 2022 put in stark relief what we already knew: that democratic government, grounded in rule of law and the will of the governed, remains the best tool we have to unleash human potential, maintain international peace and security, grow prosperity, and uphold human dignity.
Finally, I want to briefly mention, in case I don’t see you again soon, that I’m looking forward to some travel within the next month and a half to various counties in Liberia. I’ve said this before: one cannot know Liberia if you only stay in Monrovia. I’m excited to spend time outside of the capital and to see the various projects that the U.S. Mission is working on in partnership with Liberians to help deliver better health care, education, and economic development.
I look forward to your questions!