Last month, I was honoured to join President George Vella and other dignitaries to inaugurate the Malta Model United Nations Society’s (MaltMUN) conference.

Under the theme of ‘Ego vs Leadership:  Restoring the Balance’, over 50 Maltese and international students and recent graduates simulated debates in the United Nations Committees and drafted resolutions on a variety of topics, including the Venezuela crisis, rule of law, corruption in power structures, religious persecution and climate change. The conference was an opportunity to discuss how we develop leaders in the US government and to explain some of our foreign policy goals and objectives. 

In my opening remarks, I advised the MaltMUN delegates that international crises will often force them to change direction, and I challenged them to consider how entities like the European Union and the United Nations adapt, reform, and remain agile enough to respond to the changing times and evolving transnational threats.

The underlying struggle in today’s world is open versus closed societies, within an extremely competitive regional and global environment. Open societies like the United States and Malta are the models that many citizens of closed societies aspire to, where the rights and freedoms of citizens are upheld and celebrated.

At the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that met earlier this month in New York, the United States maintained that the purpose of governments is to protect these “unalienable” rights. To advance and promote these rights, we must promote the value of open societies and highlight the negative impact closed societies have on these rights.

In that vein, the US actively engaged across the full spectrum of UNGA events and activities, focusing on our priorities of countering malign influence by autocratic state actors, advancing a strong peace and security agenda, and enabling humanitarian assistance, among other issues. 

Civil society has always propelled human progress.  In open societies, citizens have come together to insist that a better life is possible and pushed their leaders to protect the rights and the dignities of all people.

And that’s why the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” This is not a Western value – this is a universal right.

Governments that respect and defend human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the rule of law, are more stable and secure. Strengthening democratic institutions and workers’ rights also promotes economic development, and more reliable trade and investment partners for the United States and every other country in the world.

We cannot take any democratic norms for granted

In the struggle between open and closed societies, there can be no moral equivalency between nations that brutalise and suppress their people and those that uphold the rule of law, empower women, and respect individual rights. We cannot take any democratic norms for granted.

Through our words and deeds, we offer a positive alternative to closed societies and repressive forms of government, like those of Iran, Russia and China.

The Iranian regime is currently the greatest ongoing threat to peace and security with its testing of advanced ballistic missile systems, support to proxies in the Middle East, inexcusable sabotage and seizure of commercial vessels in the Gulf and its intolerance of civil debate and dissent. President Donald Trump has said that “oppressive regimes cannot endure forever,” and our administration will continue to urge Iran’s leaders to cease their dangerous and destabilising actions at home and abroad.

Russia continues its Cold War legacy of subversive activities and leverages both official and non-official actors and resources in its whole-of-society approach to undermine democratic practices and rule of law. We would like to see a Russia that respects the sovereignty of its neighbours and the rights of its own people. Even as we have imposed unprecedented penalties for Russian aggression and interference in elections, we have been clear that the door to dialogue is open, should Russia take credible steps toward a constructive path.

Malta is a valuable partner in international efforts to combat transnational organised crime.  We commend Malta for the submission of its first-ever United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanction case packages of Fahmi Ben Khalifa, Darren Debono, and Gordon Debono for the illicit exploitation of Libyan oil.  We regret Russia’s last-minute attempts to delay Malta’s proposed sanctions, which have thus far prevented the sanctions from being applied. 

In Xinjiang, China has continued its highly repressive campaign against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Chinese Muslims, which includes, among other abuses, the mass detention of more than one million individuals in concentration camps since April 2017. 

The international community holds China to account and demands that it reverse its counterproductive policies that conflate terrorism with peaceful religious and political expression.

In Hong Kong, protesters who are simply seeking liberty and freedom are asking only that China uphold its commitment to respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and basic individual freedoms. We believe that the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly – core values that we share with Hong Kong – should be vigorously protected.

While attending the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat participated in the ‘Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom’ event hosted by President Donald Trump. Prime Minister Muscat reiterated Malta’s commitment to protect the human rights of all people, especially minority groups and individuals in vulnerable situations. We welcome his announcement that the government is currently working on establishing a national human rights institution that will further reinforce equality and combat discrimination.

As the largest single country donor of humanitarian assistance worldwide, the United States remains committed to supporting the UN’s humanitarian response program to address complex emergencies and natural disasters around the world. However, the growing number of crises and the increasing scale of needs are beyond the capacity of any single donor to address. Together we must share the burden of addressing global humanitarian needs and be responsive to the UN’s humanitarian appeals. 

I encourage the next generation of emerging leaders to contribute to local and international political and social debates. As future leaders, you must be part of the decision-making processes that protect our open societies and shape your future.

Activism changes the world, and organisations such as MaltMUN are ideal channels to amplify your voices and achieve change.

The next generation will lead millions in bringing political, environmental, economic and social change across the globe. Small protests become global waves of change. I urge you to find your passion, follow your values, and lead us into the future. 

Mark Schapiro is US Chargé d’Affaires.