Press Release
For Immediate Release: 
June 7, 2022
Contact Info: 
Raymond Rodriguez 202-225-3130
WASHINGTON, DC – House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) delivered remarks this afternoon at the 2022 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Ceremony, which honored Cameroonian human-rights defenders Maximilienne C. Ngo Mbe and Felix Agbor Nkongho (Balla). Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

“I want to thank my friend Kerry Kennedy for inviting me to speak today. Yesterday marked the fifty-sixth anniversary of her father, Robert F. Kennedy, delivering his famed ‘Day of Affirmation Address’ in Cape Town, South Africa.  In it, he argued that we must recognize the full human equality of all people, ‘not because it is economically advantageous – although it is; not because the laws of God command it – although they do; not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.’
“Of course, Kennedy was speaking in reference to South Africans’ efforts to throw off the yoke of apartheid, but his message endures today as we continue the fight to ensure human dignity for all. His words certainly resonate with those in Cameroon – another African nation struggling to contend with the painful legacy of colonialism.  The civil war between French- and English-speaking Cameroonians has been devastating, leading to the deaths of 9,000 people and the displacement of over one million others since 2014. In the midst of that violence, there are people striving to bridge the fissures of language and culture that divide the country.  They do so despite the risks of arbitrary arrest, detention, and extrajudicial killings.
“We are fortunate to recognize two of these advocates tonight. For thirty years, Maximilienne has promoted peace, equality, and democracy not only in Cameroon, but throughout Central Africa through her leadership at organizations like the Central African Human Rights Defenders Network. Similarly, as a legal officer for the International Criminal Court, a human rights officer for the United Nations, and now Director of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, Balla has worked in Cameroon and around the world to defend human rights and to hold governments accountable.
“Maximilienne and Balla undertake this work with immense courage given the severe dangers it poses to their personal safety. Years ago, Maximilienne made the difficult decision to send her children to France to ensure their safety after receiving death threats for her work. In 2017, Cameroonian
officials arbitrarily imprisoned Balla for organizing peaceful protests to protect the rights of the Anglophone population in his country.
“Throughout my years on the U.S. Helsinki Commission and as a member of Congressional leadership who remains devoted to human rights, I have met many leaders who have taken similar risks to inspire others to secure their rights and a better future for their countries. From dissidents under Soviet tyranny to Russians living today under Vladimir Putin’s regime, from Darfur to Rwanda and other places where genocide has occurred, these defenders of basic rights and freedoms have displayed unparalleled resolve.
“We confer this award to Maximilienne and Balla because their perseverance in the face of repression captures the same ethos that Robert F. Kennedy articulated in Cape Town in 1966. In that speech, he explained further, ‘moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change the world which yields most painfully to change.’
“Just as Kennedy inspires us today, Maximilienne and Balla will serve as examples to future generations of human-rights advocates, hopefully making that commodity of courage a little less rare.”