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Ambassador King Cites Effective Governance and Empowered Civil Society as Key to Promotion of Democratic State
January 23, 2012

Remarks by Ambassador Betty King
Interpeace Event

A woman speaking at a podium
Ambassador Betty King speaking during the Interpeace event at the U.S. Mission.

Good morning and welcome.  I would like to extend a special welcome to the UN Director General Tokayav, to Scott Weber the Director General of Interpeace and my fellow Ambassadors who have joined us today.  I would also like to thank our co-hosts from Interpeace.  We value our partnership and the important work that Interpeace does in the field in places like Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Timor Leste, Central America and elsewhere.  Today we are here to present Interpeace’s new constitution-building handbook and to discuss the role of constitution making in peace building and development.

Violent conflict arises due to a complex set of variables that merge and reinforce each other at critical junctures in a country’s development. Conflict often begins locally, but can quickly spill over and absorb a region.  It has devastated nations, villages and families, and it can – and does – reverse development gains.  Violent conflict is one of development’s most powerful enemies, and the consequences are disheartening.

Not one of the low-income fragile or conflict-affected countries has achieved a single Millennium Development Goal.  People living in countries affected by conflict are twice as likely to be undernourished.  Their children are three times as likely to be out of school.  Today, roughly 42 million people are displaced as a result of conflict, and 1.5 billion people still live in conflict-affected and fragile states.

History and experience show that combating this will take time. In the 20th century, it took reforming countries an average of 27 years to reduce corruption and establish rules-based controls against it.  The international community must take steps to expand and sustain the ranks of stable, prosperous and democratic states by supporting the next generation of democratic transitions.

How?  By promoting governance systems that are more efficient, participatory, transparent, and effective at delivering results.  By empowering civil societies, women, and internally displaced persons to advocate for their internationally-recognized human rights, and by protecting vulnerable populations against continued marginalization.

As an example, I wish to discuss Rwanda.  Rwanda has made great strides since the 1994 genocides.  It suffered from those who were willing to kill in the name of difference, from those who saw division and death as the path to power.  It suffered from the indifference of neighbors, international institutions, and individual governments – including my own – that failed to act in the face of a vast, unfolding evil.

Yet even as war in Rwanda still raged, another story was beginning to play itself out.  The people and the new government envisioned a different Rwanda, one where reconciliation replaced division, where healing helped salve deep wounds, where self-sufficiency could eventually defeat despair.  A massive program of post-conflict justice within mixed communities has helped to pave the road to peace.  The commitment of Rwandans and their government to make development a priority was essential to this process.   International assistance in the form of genuine partnerships such as the one between Interpeace and its local partner – The Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace – have played an important and supportive role.

Today, nearly half of Rwandans were born after the genocide ended.  The generation that came through the genocide is passing on a country more rich with possibility.  While the wounds of the genocide will no doubt linger, the current challenge is to link this peace with broad-based economic growth and job creation to ensure Rwanda’s future prosperity.

Wherever conflict has erupted, we must enable failed and fragile states to rebuild by forging a new social compact between government, civil society and the private sector.  Support for constitution building is a part of this process.  Democratic governments that can be held accountable by an active citizenry are more likely to be responsive to their people and more effective at protecting human rights, fostering inclusive development, withstanding shocks, and resolving disputes peacefully.  Where conflict pervades, development stalls or even regresses.  Consequently, preventing and resolving conflict in a sustainable way by addressing its root causes is a critical development imperative.

The United States is addressing that imperative in a number of ways.  President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have made it clear that it is the policy of the United States to elevate conflict prevention and promote peaceful democratic transitions. Only recently, the U.S. consolidated its efforts to address conflict and stabilization under a new bureau at the State Department.  The United States Agency for International Development USAID also has a dedicated office, the Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation (CMM), which helps citizens in the developing world identify lasting solutions to the problems that drive conflict, extremism and state failure.  And of course, as a demonstration of our commitment to democratic peace-building, the U.S. has also served as the Chair of the Interpeace Advisory Council over the past year.

Additionally, just last month President Obama released the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, an initiative intended to institutionalize efforts across  a number of U.S. government agencies to advance women’s participation in preventing conflict and keeping peace.

At the same time, as President Obama stated last year at the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Summit, we “seek partners who want to build their own capacity to provide for their people.” As outlined in the “New Deal for engagement in fragile states,” and agreed upon by the members of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, we must focus on new ways of engaging and supporting inclusive country-led transitions out of fragility and conflict.

We are already taking this approach in Egypt, where the United States sponsored a delegation of transition experts from Chile, Romania and Serbia to consult with Egyptian political leaders and civic activists.  Transitions can be fragile, and it is too early to predict with confidence whether a new wave of democratic regimes will materialize from 2011’s global political unrest.  However, this wave of fundamental political change has created new opportunities to enter into development partnerships that give true meaning to the phrase “country ownership.”  It is in these countries that we can make the most difference, supporting the building of essential capacity for governments to “deliver” for their citizens. In this vein, USAID has just launched a new Democracy, Rights and Governance Center of Excellence, designed to become an international leader in evidence-based research in the field.

The rights to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom to organize peacefully, are universal and are just as vital, just as inherent in Asia, in Latin America and in Sub-Saharan Africa as they are in Europe, America or the Middle East.   As Rwandan President Kagame said, “The uprising in Libya has already sent a message to leaders in Africa and beyond.  It is that if we lose touch with our people, if we do not serve them as they deserve and address their needs, there will be consequences.  Their grievances will accumulate – and no matter how much time passes, they can turn against you.” For Rwanda, nothing can bring back what it has sacrificed.  Yet, we also know that the living must do credit to the lost, by building the future they should have been here to help build.  A nation, just like a people, can overcome.

To successfully mitigate conflict and support continued development in transitioning countries, we must achieve a greater impact in a more inclusive and sustainable manner.  This is especially true in a constrained fiscal environment – one in which we must deliver more with every dollar we spend.  We must rely not only on traditional assistance approaches, but also strive to be an influential policy voice shaping the international development dialogue.

In fragile and conflict-affected countries, our joint efforts help to put communities on the path toward reconstruction and stability.  2011 saw an incredible number of political eruptions and evolutions.  Silenced citizens across the world stood and demanded that their voices be heard.  We cannot allow them to be silenced once more through conflict.  Today, we can take another step to support those communities through Interpeace’s constitution-building tool.

Thank you.