Like so many others in Nepal, the United States, and around the world, I was shocked to my core by the video that shows George Floyd gasping for air as four policemen violated his rights, one with his knee planted firmly, fatally, on Mr Floyd’s neck.
That shock has been magnified by images of protests and violence that were triggered by Mr Floyd’s violent death but that also reflect America’s outrage after a series of publicised murders of black American men and women over the years. These events are particularly jarring for American citizens.
We recognise, with personal pain, that recent days have laid bare how much hard work still remains to live up to our values and our founding principles that we are all created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
As we undertake that hard work at home, some people have suggested that the United States should ‘shut up’ about violations of fundamental human rights in other countries. These people misunderstand: Americans are outspoken, not because we think we are perfect, but because we know we are not. We know from our experience that the struggle for freedom cannot be advanced alone. America’s patriots, just like Nepal’s democracy activists, benefited from ideas and support from around the world.
America is outspoken because we believe that free people are obligated by conscience to speak up for the rights and liberties of others. Or, as Martin Luther King, Jr wrote from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere … Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
This is why America doesn’t sweep our history or our current challenges under a rug. We hold them up for examination so that we and others can use those experiences to push America and other societies forward and build a better future.
This principle is most apparent in how we invite Nepalis to interact with the United States. We invite diverse groups to visit our country – and seek to expose them to the diversity and differences that are the strength and foundation of the United States. When America sponsors Nepalis to visit the United States, we invite Dalit activists and labour organisers and women entrepreneurs.
We encourage them to examine America, to have conversations with our own human rights activists — those who criticise our government — and to tour civil rights monuments that mark with transparency America’s continuing journey of self-improvement. As Americans do through the study of their own history, we welcome others to learn from our successes – as well as our failures.
There is a reason that people in Nepal and all around the world know George Floyd’s name and know the history of racism in America: our media is free, and we protect the rights of those who criticise our society and our government. We protect especially the rights of those who criticise our society and our government, in the media, on the internet, and in the streets. We speak out — and will continue to do so — against those who attack peaceful protestors, whether abroad or at home.
The United States was born of a protest movement demanding inalienable rights, including peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. And peaceful protests demanding that our government live up to its own stated ideals throughout our history have made our country stronger.
That is why the gathering of bold women a century ago in Seneca Falls demanded, and achieved, voting equality. That is why the brave men and women who marched with Dr King in Selma to protest inequality and demand justice led to the adoption of broad Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s. That is why LGBT Americans, long criminalized and ostracised, refused systemic discrimination through protest at the Stonewall Inn, and gave birth to the modern LGBT rights movement. And that is why today we protest Mr Floyd’s death, condemn racism, and demand justice in America.
And that is why we continue to hold those ideals, these truths, to be self-evident: as we continue to work to improve our country, we will never be so insular or elitist to assume that only Americans are entitled to such rights. Indeed, these rights are universal and not the province of a state to give – or deny. Condemn racism and demand justice in America. But do so, too, in Nepal. For Dalits and women and ethnic minorities. For people who criticise Nepal’s government and Nepal’s society.
And not only in Nepal and America. Speak up for our fellow human beings regardless of nationality, religion, geography, or the system under which they were born. Speak out and demand justice whenever the deprivation of those fundamental freedoms, which are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are curtailed by governments worldwide that are fearful of the honest, truthful voices of their own citizens.
Speak out and demand justice for minority communities who are told their traditional culture and religious beliefs must be ‘corrected’ by the state. Speak out and demand justice for women worldwide who face unequal treatment, harassment, and violence in the workplace and in their homes.
As a result of our respective struggles, inspired and supported by democracy champions around the world, Americans and Nepalis enjoy more rights today than ever before. Our respective national journeys are not finished. There is more work to do, both in America, my home country, and in Nepal, where I am honoured to make my home.
America is struggling now, but our strength lies in our ability to improve ourselves. And America is strong enough that we can — and will — mend ourselves at home while continuing to support those who champion human dignity around the world.
People yearning for freedom can take comfort: America will continue to be outspoken in the defense of human liberty, at home and abroad.