Washington, D.C. – U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo honored “the heroes on freedom’s frontlines” in Hong Kong and Belarus and praised the International Republican Institute (IRI) for having “advanced the cause of democracy on almost every continent,” after accepting IRI’s John S. McCain Freedom Award at a virtual event on October 13, 2020.
The 2020 Freedom Award was also presented to the People of Hong Kong and Belarusian opposition leaders Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Maria Kolesnikova, Veronika Tsepkalo and the People of Belarus. “These brave people show that Ronald Reagan was correct that ‘man’s instinctive desire for freedom and self-determination surfaces again and again,’” said Secretary Pompeo. “Tonight, and every day, we simply honor those seeking their own freedom. Because if America won’t lead, no one’s going to.”
Presidential candidate Tikhanovskaya accepted the 2020 Freedom Award on behalf of the Belarusian democracy movement and Nathan Law delivered remarks about the situation in Hong Kong. Additional speakers included IRI Board Chairman Senator Dan Sullivan, board members Senator Mitt Romney, Senator Lindsey Graham and Connie Newman, and Senator Rick Scott, with a special musical performance by Ugandan MP and musician Bobi Wine.
Senator Sullivan opened the evening by calling for continued support for democracy by the United States, saying, “The creative power of American democracy has done more to liberate men and women across the globe from tyranny and oppression than any other force in human history.” Echoing Sullivan’s sentiment, IRI President Daniel Twining observed, “While authoritarians may project omnipotence, ultimately they are no match for the courage of ordinary people who stand up and demand a better future for themselves and their children.”
Hong Kong activist Nathan Law praised IRI for its continued support for Hong Kong’s political freedom, and called upon the international community to resist Chinese authoritarianism: “We have to hold [China] accountable by implementing concrete measures, by showing them if they continue their human rights violations in the country, they will suffer from consequences.”
Reflecting on the ongoing standoff between the Lukashenko regime and the Belarusian people, Tikhanovskaya said, “Women are at the frontline of the protests in Belarus. Daily repressions, intimidation and strangers in masks cannot stop the desire for freedom.”
In his closing remarks Senator Romney further highlighted the necessity of U.S. global leadership, remarking, “Recent events in Belarus highlight that no continent is immune from authoritarian influence, and we must remain committed to the realization of freedom everywhere.”
Secretary Pompeo paid tribute to IRI’s chairman of 25 years, the late U.S. Senator John McCain: “John did so much for this great country he loved and for freedom abroad. That work continues through his family, in the institute that bears his name, and in countless places around the world made freer by his work and by IRI.” Secretary Pompeo also acknowledged the legacy of Lorne Craner, IRI’s longest-serving president, who passed away in July: “You’ve been the home of men and women who’ve upheld America’s highest ideals of public service, like the late, great Lorne Craner, whose leadership helped build this Institute.”
About IRI and the John S. McCain Freedom Award
Since 1995, IRI has presented the Freedom Award to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the advancement of democracy and human freedom. Past recipients include President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush and slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
Founded in 1983, IRI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works with political parties, civic groups, and legislatures in more than 100 countries to strengthen democratic institutions, safeguard elections, advance citizen engagement, and promote open and accountable government.