Highlights from the Keynote Address of Ambassador at Large Rashad Hussain Africa Peace Conference January 17, 2023

Highlights from the Keynote Address of Ambassador at Large Rashad Hussain Africa Peace Conference January 17, 2023
  • Greetings and thank you Mr. President, esteemed Ministers, honored guests, civil society partners, and the young people who inspire us all!
  • This is not my first visit to Mauritania.  Last year, when I was here for the Conference for Peace, I was impressed by the Mauritanian people, their generous hospitality, and the beauty and diversity of the country.
  • Truly, we could not have found a better host for this important event.  Mauritania is one of my favorite countries to visit, because I find its people among the most warm, welcoming, and generous in the world.  In fact, our bilateral relationship dates to 1960 when America was the first country to recognize an independent Mauritania.  Today, our two countries share common concerns regarding regional security, global terrorism, and sustainable development.  Our technical and educational exchanges have benefited both of our countries while our security relationship continues to be very important.
  • In January 2020, the Mauritanian government hosted an impressive conference on Islam’s role in Africa and began noble new pursuits.  The Nouakchott Declaration detailed a range of innovative and strategic means to build peace and prevent violence in the region.  We applaud these efforts to collaborate with civil society, including religious groups, to address violent extremism and terrorism within your borders.  You proposed establishing councils of mediation, peace convoys, and collaborating with religious scholars to encourage greater dialogue and understanding of Islamic views.  These and the other ideas raised are essential to establishing and maintaining just and equal societies.  Societies in which all people, including members of religious and ethnic minority groups, can reach their fullest potential as citizens.  I urge you to share what you have achieved so far in your pursuit of those goals, and to discuss ways to keep those ideas at the forefront of your work and policy in the years to come.
  • Conversations built on mutual respect are critical at the international level as well as in gatherings like these.  Last month, President Biden welcomed leaders from across the continent at the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington.  He told them, “The United States is all in on Africa and all in with Africa.  African voices, African leadership, African innovation all are critical to addressing the most pressing global challenges and to realizing the vision we all share:  a world that is free, a world that is open, prosperous, and secure.”  He announced plans to commit $55 billion to our shared priorities on this continent.  And President Biden called for more African representation in global conversations.  He said, “Africa belongs at the table in every room where global challenges are being discussed and in every institution where discussions are taking place.”  That includes the UN Security Council and the G20.
  • Mauritania has often found itself at the forefront of important international gatherings focused on human rights.  I participated in the first meeting that led to the creation in 2016 of the Marrakech Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities.  One could say that the road to Marrakech started in Nouakchott.  Many of you joined us on January 27, 2016, to “AFFIRM that it is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries.”
  • We know that throughout history, a vibrant stream of mutual respect and tolerance for diversity has run through Muslim societies.  We have seen many Muslim communities prosper when they embrace it.  It is the story of Andalucia and Ottoman Istanbul. Protecting the ability of all people to organize their lives in accordance with their conscience was a key principle in the founding of my own country, the United States.  No society represents a perfect example, but each demonstrates that enduring prosperity requires respect for diversity and space for individuals to adopt, change, teach, and espouse their own beliefs.  I am convinced that if all 120 countries represented in Marrakech fully implemented that declaration, prosperity would quickly follow.  And the right to freedom of religion or belief must extend as well to women and girls.
  • Many of you know my own background.  As a Muslim American, I have a deep appreciation for faith and how it orients one’s life choices.
  • My team – the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department – strategizes daily on how to advance the universal human right to freedom of religion or belief globally.  Over the past year, the IRF office has been focused on addressing genocides of the Uyghurs and Rohingya, protecting religious minorities of all backgrounds against discriminatory laws and policies, and expanding efforts to address the rise in antisemitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, persecution of Christians, and other forms of hatred.
  • Four out of five people – that is 80 percent of the world – live in countries with high to severe restrictions on religious freedom.  Sadly, after centuries of people warring and making peace in the name of religion, we have progressed little.  Just ask Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, Rohingya Muslims in Burma, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, Baha’is in Iran, Jews in Yemen, Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, or Christians in Saudi Arabia.
  •   And so, my fellow government leaders, I stand here lifting up the voices of women, young people, religious minorities, and other members of society whose voices are too often ignored.  Without them, there can be no conversation.  I wish you all great success during this conference!  I look forward not only to seeing your achievements, but also to collaborating with you to advance a shared peace and freedom of religion or belief globally.  This is a noble struggle in a difficult moment, but we can face it and prevail together.