IRI Honors Mrs. Laura Bush and Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

IRI honored Mrs. Laura Bush and Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf with the 2006 Freedom Award Thursday evening for their dedication to the advancement of freedom and democracy and their work in encouraging women’s participation in the democratic process.  U.S. Senator John McCain, Chairman of IRI, presented the awards to Mrs. Bush and President Johnson-Sirleaf.

In his introductions Senator McCain praised both women for their efforts to promote democracy.  Calling her “envoy to the world and a champion of global democracy,” Senator McCain recognized Mrs. Bush for her efforts to raise global awareness of education, health care and women’s rights, “Mrs. Bush has stressed education and women’s participation in the economic and political life of their countries as keys to fostering civic participation in new democracies.  And she has noted that the future of young democracies depends on literate, educated, and healthy children, the true leaders of tomorrow.”

In her remarks, Mrs. Bush praised President Johnson-Sirleaf and thanked IRI for its work.  “For two decades, the International Republican Institute has worked with the people of many nations to help develop the democratic institutions upon which good governments are built.  Through youth education initiatives, IRI trains the next generation of democratic leaders.  By strengthening political parties and civic organizations, IRI helps societies foster debate and the free exchange of ideas.  And through the Women’s Democracy Network, IRI brings together women leaders from around the world so they can help more women participate in the political process.  I’d like to thank the Institute for this important work.”

In presenting the award to President Johnson-Sirleaf, Senator McCain said, “She is truly an inspiration to every individual around the world who aspires to live in freedom.”  The Senator reminded guests of bravery of the President in standing up to dictators who have destroyed her country over the last 25 years. He also honored her life’s work, “President Johnson Sirleaf, you inspire women and girls around the world with your lifelong quest to bring democracy to your country.  You move all Americans to greater courage and commitment to the cause of democracy.  You have our deep gratitude for all you have done, and admiration for all you are.”

Upon accepting her award, President Johnson-Sirleaf discussed (PDF)  the challenges that face her country. She thanked President George W. Bush for the stand he took against the regime of Charles Taylor and thanked IRI for its help in preparing the country for the 2005 elections.  “IRI was particularly active in promoting these elections. Very quickly an office was established.  They held workshops, brought political groups together, worked with the media.  They educated, they instructed, they supported, they assisted the process.”  President Johnson-Sirleaf went on to comment that with the help of the United States, “Liberia can demonstrate that it is possible to move a country from conflict and chaos to democracy.”

Lorne Craner, IRI President, recognized four members of the Women’s Democracy Network who have faced significant challenges in their own countries as they struggled to advance women’s participation in politics and governance.  The women recognized were the Honorable Rana Al-Hajaia, a former Mayor in Jordan; Banzragch Delgermaa, President of the Democratic Women’s Union in Mongolia; the Honorable Saima Khugyani, a Member of the Wolesi Jirga in Afghanistan; and, the Honorable Maria Elena Cruz Urrutia, the Auxiliary Secretary of the Municipal Council of Guatemala City, Guatemala.

In his remarks (PDF), Craner commented that America doesn’t need to “export democracy.”  “When you meet people like Saima, Maria Elena, Delgermaa, Rana and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, you realize we don’t need to export democracy.  The desire for freedom is universal. All we need to do is to assist brave women – and men – as they build their democracies.”

Past honorees have included President George W. Bush, then-National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Vice President Dick Cheney and Mrs. Lynne Cheney, and Nobel Laureate and Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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