Keynote Speech by 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkol Karman at USAID's Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Forum

Thursday, June 21, 2012
2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman speaks at the DRG Forum
2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman speaks at the DRG Forum
Credit: USAID

Delivered in Arabic via English translator.

Thank you so much. Good morning everybody. This is the morning of dignity, of justice, of equality, and good government.

(Translator:) Dignity and freedom were the banners of the peaceful revolutionaries. They came carrying dignity, and another banner as well, their humanity. They were searching for the humanity inside them; they lost their humanity because of oppression, corruption and injustice. They came sacrificing their lives, their money, their property, and their children – carrying dignity and humanity. The dignity they were asking for was not in vain. This is something God has granted them.

All religions in the world talk about the dignity of the human being. Islam talks about dignity for humans; this is a part of the Quran. Also, the same thing is in the Holy Bible. This dignity comes from humans as a means for rights. This dignity is a regional value that is carried by all human beings, despite their backgrounds or their beliefs.  The youths of the Arab Spring and the women raise a banner of dignity, freedom and justice.

Free people of the world – let us work for the dignity of all people. And in the forefront of the Arab Spring, let us support dignity there; let us support dignity in your own countries. You may be surprised why I say your country instead of our country – because i always believed that humanity, that all of the people of the world are one nation. All of humanity is one nation, and all of the people are brothers.

Humanity carries all of these values: freedom, justice, democracy, equality, brotherhood, and freedom. Supporting the youth of the Arab Spring is the supporting of your own dignity. When the youth raise the banner of dignity, what is the meaning of dignity? It means fulfillment of their natural rights, political and social, human rights, intellectual rights, and spiritual rights. It is the right for medicine and for good living. The right to fulfill their intellectual rights means the rights of expression, to join in associations, their social rights, the rights of having a home to live in, and the rights of education. Their spiritual rights are the rights to believe and the rights of thought. Their political rights are the rights to peaceful rendition of authority, oversight and accountability.

This is the dignity that the Arab Spring is looking for. It's not a vague expression of terms. It is their right to fulfill these needs and to achieve these needs. Dignity is the crux of human feeling. They know very well what they mean by freedom. They also know well the right to choose, to own property, and the right to think on their own. They know very well what they mean when they talk about equality. They know that these rights must be provided to all of them regardless of whether they are men or women, regardless of their religion, color, or their sect; regardless of whether they are close to the ruler or not. Friends, these are the dreams they’re looking for and dream about. All of these have meaning in the definition of citizenship and equal citizenship, because dignity means equal citizenship. A person does not have dignity if they don't have citizenship. We're asking for two equal things.

My friends, what we have witnessed in the last year, and which we will witness during the coming years, is the window opening for young people looking for dignity, which was denied to them by dictatorship for decades. We can say that the regimes that were brought down by the revolutions of the Arab Spring left behind deep problems that are deeply embedded in political and economic problems, institutional problems, and security problems. 

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a real, dire need for an international partnership that gives priority for the building of strong and efficient institutions in order to guarantee a true democratic transformation and a guided government that can guarantee effective management for the economic resources in each Arab country that witnesses a peaceful revolution aiming to bring down the oppressive regime. From this podium, I call for the expansion of the partnership that was aimed and targeted by the declaration of the Group of 8 in Europe in September 2012 to add Yemen to the states of the Arab Spring.

Through this meeting, I call for this group to change the institutions to build a partnership, a comprehensive partnership, that can achieve the political dimensions that lead to the establishment of the rule of law, human rights, combatting corruption, supporting human society organizations, helping youth and women, and helping institutional reform – and in a way that can also achieve the economic and social partnerships that can eliminate extreme poverty and hunger. It can also achieve basic education for all, improve equality between the sexes, and enable women; and in a way that could reduce the death rate among children, improve the health of mothers, and deal with the crisis of water.

There is a dire need for a partnership, a regional partnership as well as an international partnership, for all of those with interest in the Arab Spring countries to participate to avoid the collapse of the state or its failure. This partnership must be expressed in programs that have economic and political dimensions. This is your responsibility as the international community and as the forefront of the international community in the United States of America. Be a friend.

The Gulf Initiative has taken up a promise to, which was actually sponsored by the regional friends of Yemen – the Gulf Council, the European Union, and the United States of America – have pledged  to help Yemen in overcoming the problem of development in its political and economic dimensions. The supervising states of the Arab Gulf Initiative have pledged to provide aid and grants to save Yemen from failure and collapse, and to help the government implement reforms in the political system, and in institutions of the state. These pledges have not been fulfilled.

I call for supporting the partnership with the friends of Yemen, and that this be transformed into steps and procedures that can support new grants that could achieve the political and economic development required so that the government of Yemen can work in a suitable way and in an urgent manner. In the states of the Arab Spring, we always say that the absence of political reform leads to an economic failure, unsustainable development and unfair development. At the same time, under poverty and unemployment, the country is led to failure in political reform – empty programs for political reform that exist only in form but not in substance – and to false political development.

Dear friends, in order to guarantee a peaceful authority and a security for authority in each of the revolutions and in the Arab Spring, we must start after the dictatorship in establishing a government by agreement and a presidential  administration that is accepted by the young revolutionaries and get their support. This transitional government will have in it people representing all shapes of society. This transitional government will have to complete the task of writing a new constitution for the country, and the elections – the presidential elections, as well as local elections.

It is extremely important for these institutions to have full control of the institutions of security beyond the armed forces, and to restructure such institutions and unify them in a way that guarantees that they follow the political decisions of the transitional government and not the former regime. Consequently, we must change all of the personnel in the regimes at the forefront of the security and military institutions that were part of the former regime. That means the constitution will embody all of the human values that we spoke about, an institution that guarantees the division of authority and that provides for all freedoms. We need accountability through popular oversight to stipulate the rights of expression and association and demonstration without any conditions. You must not allow for any conditions to be placed on the rights of people to express their opinions.

I can now come back to Yemen. We can see that there are several challenges facing the transitional government in Yemen, and we are in cooperation with our usual partners as well as our international partners. I know that the people sitting here are mostly experts and can help in this respect. This matter must be resolved in a very limited period of time. These challenges include terrorism and we must solve these issues with a comprehensive strategy – in a partnership that involves the authorities as well as regional and international authorities. This strategy for combatting terrorism must look at terrorism as a challenge that is economic and political and that should not be resolved only by security means. I’m talking now to the CIA and those concerned with the issue of terrorism – resolving the issue of terrorism must come through looking at terrorism as something that requires a political solution and economic solution more than a security solution.

The second issue that faces the transitional government in Yemen could be the most dangerous challenge that we're facing. And it has to be resolved in a just way. The crisis of the southern parts of Yemen and old injustices must be resolved to allow them to participate in government. A solution that does not include participation of the people in making decisions in the government is not going to succeed. We need the matter to be dealt with by a federal system. The same things apply to the issue of sovereignty; the situation can only be resolved through a federal system that allows citizens to participate in their own government. We must also deal with them as a group that must enter into the political process and the elections; and they must commit to handing over all of the weapons and make a commitment that the state is the only institution that is allowed to carry weapons.

Finally, equal citizenship rights that the youth of the Arab Spring have demanded – which was the cause behind this revolution – means dignity for us all. They deserve to succeed in their revolution. And the citizens, women and children, they were able to dream. They were able to sacrifice for this dream, to succeed in the first step of bringing down the dictatorships. They should be able to achieve their dream and build a state that is civil. Please have confidence in them, have confidence in us, and have confidence in yourselves for peaceful, more secure, and more prosperous development. Thank you so much. [Applause]

Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Forum

Last updated: July 20, 2012

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