Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On The U.S.-Africa Summit

Mr. President, as chairman of the subcommittee responsible for funding and oversight of our nation’s foreign assistance budget, I have witnessed firsthand the significant gains achieved by many African countries over the last 20 years. 

This progress has been driven by the ingenuity and hard work of the African people, and has been supported by U.S. assistance provided by the American people and others.  I am pleased that so many African leaders will be coming to Washington next week for the U.S.-Africa Summit to discuss how we can continue to grow partnerships between the U.S. and their countries.

However, I am disappointed by the lack of attention to human rights and the rule of law in connection with the Summit.  There is no doubt that for peace and equitable economic development to flourish on the African continent, investment is needed to spur economic growth and security cooperation is needed to foster stability.  But without a commitment to fundamental human rights and the rule of law, these efforts cannot be sustained.

That is why I support the Administration’s exclusion of three of Africa’s worst human rights abusers, Omar al-Bashir, Robert Mugabe, and Isaias Afwerki, who have no place in these discussions.  But it is also why I am disappointed there will be leaders present who have been credibly implicated in gross violations of human rights and significant corruption, including President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea.  President Obiang has used events like these as propaganda to shed his image as a brutally corrupt dictator.  He should not be sitting down to an invitation-only dinner at the White House while his political opponents languish in jail.

While I support the intent of this Summit, and the continued growth of our relationship with African leaders who are dedicated to improving the lives of their people, I cannot support the hospitality provided to those who use their offices to silence their critics and treat their countries’ natural resources as their own personal bank account. 

I hope the White House and State Department will insist that the rule of law and fundamental freedoms – including the freedoms of expression, association, and religion – remain a common theme during discussions on economic and security cooperation.  These are not just American values, they are universal human rights.

In the long run, our commitment to our own principals will ensure that the assistance we provide yields sustainable results for the good of the people of Africa and the United States. 

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