Rep. David Cicilline Receives Congressional Leadership Award

At UNA-USA’s 2019 Global Leadership Summit, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI 1st District) received the Congressional Leadership Award for his continued support of the United Nations. Read his full remarks below.

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Thank you, Laura. I am honored to share the stage with a fellow Rhode Islander, and of course honored to be here today to receive this award, and to be able to speak with you.

Thank you, Chris and Peter for your kind words, and more importantly, for your leadership of the United Nations Association. I am of course also happy to see my friend Chandrima Das, who has been such a great ally for peacekeeping and the work of the United Nations. Thank you.

I want to begin this morning by thanking all of you for being here today and for volunteering your time to speak out for the UN. As you prepare to fan out across Capitol Hill, please know that your advocacy works, it has real impact. Your meetings with members, your conversations with staff, your commitment to making sure lawmakers and the public understand the importance of the UN – it makes a difference.

The United Nations Association does truly incredible advocacy and work across the country, not just here in Washington, and I am so thankful to the UNA for continuing to stand up for human rights, human dignity, and American leadership. It is an honor to receive this award, and I pledge that I will continue to fight to ensure America’s enduring commitment to the United Nations.

Since its founding at the end of World War II, the United Nations has been a force for good, a force for peace, and a forum for collective action to feed the hungry, hold tyrants to account, and to confront global challenges.

I believe strongly, as I know you do, that the United Nations has made the world – and the United States – safer, more secure, and more prosperous. The United States has long supported the United Nations, seeing it – rightfully – as an investment. Sadly, that support is now in question, both in the United States and elsewhere globally.

Not just here at home, but around the world, we see a rise in populist leaders who want to turn inward, using fear to make it seem like the grave threats we face in the 21st century can be stopped at borders, or stopped by borders. They can’t. They can only be addressed when we come together as a global community. Together we have to stand up for the shared values enshrined in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Critics often contend that somehow the UN is un-American. That’s ridiculous. Without question, the UN reflects American values, it reflects our fundamental belief in promoting human rights and protecting innocent civilians. That is why U.S. leadership at the UN is critical to addressing peace and conflict issues. Without U.S. leadership, we cede influence and power to others who don’t share those values, such as Russia and China.

To defend American interests requires us to be deeply involved in the rest of the world, to provide global leadership and to be deeply engaged in the global community of which we are apart.

That is why I remain an unabashed, unapologetic fan of the United Nations. Contributing to the UN is in the economic interests of the American people and in the long-term security and strategic interests of our country.

From climate change to terrorism to war and conflict, the challenges the world faces today — and the challenges we will confront tomorrow — can only be solved through cooperation, including cooperation through the United Nations.

The world is facing an unprecedented crisis with the largest mass displacement of people in history — 68.5 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes in search of refuge from conflict and persecution. 25.4 million of these displaced are refugees, more than half of whom are children. No one nation could tackle this issue alone. Through the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, for example, the United Nations is working to prevent a lost generation by educating refugee children in camps and other settings around the world, but they need our help.

I have also seen first-hand how the United Nations, through its peacekeeping operations, has been able to promote peace and democracy.

I have had the honor of visiting Liberia and seeing how UN peacekeepers supported three democratic elections, leading to the first successful transfer of power in 74 years. They took a war-torn country wracked by violence and helped rebuild government institutions, including a trustworthy police force. United Nations Peacekeepers helped create a peaceful Liberia, a hope for many of my constituents, and an opportunity for them to invest back into their community.

In the Central African Republic, UN Peacekeepers prevented a genocide between Muslim and Christian communities. Having met with the Imam in the Muslim enclave in the Capitol of Bangui, I saw first-hand the desire for peace between Christian and Muslim neighbors who once lived together to return to those times. I visited Bambari, where UN Peacekeepers drew a redline and pushed back armed groups and defended people trying to rebuild their lives.

I have seen how the UN serves U.S. national security interests by promoting human rights and protecting some of the most vulnerable. That is why I have led a letter in Congress for the last several years in support of funding for UN Peacekeeping –this past year we had 74 Members of Congress sign on to call for the United States to pay its dues in full and on time.

Currently the U.S. is $750 million in arrears and that affects the UN’s work on the ground. This is unacceptable. I pledge to continue to work diligently with my fellow Members of Congress to pay our treaty obligated dues to the UN.

But it is not just about money – it is about moral leadership, diplomatic leadership, and supporting the UN’s mission.

As you continue your advocacy, please know that you are not alone – I stand with you, colleagues of mine across Congress stand with you, and I also believe that the American people also stand with you.

We must all work together to make the case for human rights, human dignity, and American leadership within the United Nations.

Thank you again for this incredible honor, and thank you for your work.