SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I am delighted to be here with all of you. And I thank my friend, Foreign Minister Sikorski, for hosting us here in this absolutely magnificent setting, and for an excellent speech that so well summarized what the agenda for all of us who are members of the Community of Democracies should be.
The idea of bringing together free nations to strengthen democratic norms and institutions began as a joint venture between one of Radek’s predecessors and one of mine: Minister Geremek and Madeleine Albright. And they were visionaries 10 years ago. And it was initially a joint American-Polish enterprise. And I cannot think of a better place for us to mark this occasion than right here in Krakow. Thank you, Madeleine, and thanks to the memory of Minister Geremek.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think you heard from Foreign Minister Sikorski some of the reasons why Poland is an example of what democracies can accomplish. After four decades of privation, stagnation, and fear under Communism, freedom dawned. And it was not only the personal freedoms that people were once again able to claim for their own, but Poland’s per capital GDP today is nine times what it was in 1990. And in the middle of a deep, global recession, the Polish economy has continued to expand.
By any measure, Poland is stronger politically, as well. We all mourned with Poland in April when a plane crash claimed the lives of Poland’s president, the first lady, and many other national officials. It was one of the greatest single losses of leadership suffered by any country in modern history. But it is a tribute to Poland’s political evolution that, in the aftermath of that accident, the country’s institutions never faltered. And tomorrow polls will move forward with selecting a president through free and fair elections.
Now, I would argue that this progress was neither accidental nor inevitable. It came about through a generation of work to improve governance, grow the private sector, and strengthen civil society. These three essential elements of a free nation — representative government, a well-functioning market, and civil society — work like three legs of a stool. They lift and support nations as they reach for higher standards of progress and prosperity.
Now, I would be the first to admit that no democracy is perfect. In fact, our founders were smart enough to enshrine in our founding documents the idea that we had to keep moving toward a more perfect union. Because, after all, democracies rely on the wisdom and judgment of flawed human beings. But real democracies recognize the necessity of each side of that three-legged stool. And democracies that strengthen these three segments of society can deliver extraordinary results for their people.
Today I would like to focus on one leg of that stool: civil society. Now, markets and politics usually receive more attention. But civil society is every bit as important. And it undergirds both democratic governance and broad-based prosperity. Poland actually is a case study in how a vibrant civil society can produce progress. The heroes of the solidarity movement, people like Geremek and Lech Walesa and Adam Michnik, and millions of others laid the foundation for the Poland we see today. They knew that the Polish people desired and deserved more from their country. And they transformed that knowledge into one of history’s greatest movements for positive change.
Now, not every nation has a civil society movement on the scale of Solidarity. But most countries do have a collection of activists, organizations, congregations, writers, and reporters that work through peaceful means to encourage governments to do better, to do better by their own people. Not all of these organizations or individuals are equally effective, of course. And they do represent a broad range of opinions. And, having been both in an NGO and led NGOs and been in government, I know that it’s sometimes tough to deal with NGOs when you are in the government.
But it doesn’t matter whether the goal is better laws or lower crime or cleaner air or social justice or consumer protection or entrepreneurship and innovation, societies move forward when the citizens that make up these groups are empowered to transform common interests into common actions that serve the common good.
As we meet here on the eve of our American Fourth of July celebration, the day when we commemorate our independence, I want to say a word about why the issue of civil society is so important to Americans. Our independence was a product of our civil society. Our civil society was pre-political. And it was only through debate, discussion, and civic activism that the United States of America came into being. We were a people before we were a nation. And civil society not only helped create our nation, it helped sustain and power our nation into the future. It was representatives of civil society who were the first to recognize that the American colonies could not continue without democratic governance. And after we won our independence, it was activists who helped establish our democracy. And they quickly recognized that they were a part of a broader struggle for human rights, human dignity, human progress.
Civil society has played an essential role in identifying and eradicating the injustices that have, throughout our history, separated our nation from the principles on which it was founded. It was civil society, after all, that gave us the abolitionists who fought the evils of slavery, the suffragettes who campaigned for women’s rights, the freedom marchers who demanded racial equality, the unions that championed the rights of labor, the conservationists who worked to protect our planet and climate.
I did begin my professional life in civil society. The NGO I worked for, the Children’s Defense Fund, helped expand educational opportunities for poor children and children with disabilities, and tried to address the challenges faced by young people in prison.
Now, I would be the first to say that our work did not transform our nation or remake our government overnight. But when that kind of activism is multiplied across an entire country through the work of hundreds, even thousands of NGOs, it does produce real and lasting positive change. So a commitment to strengthening civil society has been one of my constants throughout my public career as First Lady, Senator, and now Secretary of State. I was able to work with Slovakian NGOs that stood up to and ultimately helped bring down an authoritarian government. I have seen civil society groups in India bring the benefits of economic empowerment to the most marginalized women in that society. I have watched in wonder as a small group of women activists in South Africa begin with nothing and went on to build a community of 50,000 homes.
President Obama shares this commitment. In his case, it led him to become a community organizer in Chicago. Both of us joined in the work of civil society because we believe that when citizens nudge leaders in the right direction, our country grows stronger. The greatness of the United States depends on our willingness to seek out and set right the areas where we fall short. For us and for every country, civil society is essential to political and economic progress. Even in the most challenging environments, civil society can help improve lives and empower citizens.
In fact, I want to recognize two women activists who are with us today from Afghanistan and Iran. If Faiza Babakan and Afifa Azim would stand up, I would just like to thank you for your courage and your willingness to be here.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Now, it may seem to some of us like a very nice, but perhaps not essential presence to have just one woman from each country be here. But I can speak from personal experience that, just as civil society is essential to democracy, women are essential to civil society. And these women speak for so many who have never had a chance to have their voices heard.
So, along with well-functioning markets and responsible, accountable government, progress in the 21st century depends on the ability of individuals to coalesce around shared goals, and harness the power of their convictions. But when governments crack down on the right of citizens to work together, as they have throughout history, societies fall into stagnation and decay.
North Korea, a country that cannot even feed its own people, has banned all civil society. In Cuba and Belarus, as Radek said, civil society operates under extreme pressure. The Government of Iran has turned its back on a rich tradition of civil society, perpetrating human rights abuses against many activists and ordinary citizens who just wanted the right to be heard.
There is also a broader group of countries where the walls are closing in on civic organizations. Over the last 6 years, 50 governments have issued new restrictions against NGOs, and the list of countries where civil society faces resistance is growing longer. In Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, physical violence directed against individual activists has been used to intimidate and silence entire sectors of civil society. Last year, Ethiopia imposed a series of strict new rules on NGOs. Very few groups have been able to re-register under this new framework, particularly organizations working on sensitive issues like human rights. The Middle East and North Africa are home to a diverse collection of civil society groups. But too many governments in the region still resort to intimidation, questionable legal practices, restrictions on NGO registration, efforts to silence bloggers.
I hope we will see progress on this issue, and especially in Egypt, where that country’s vibrant civil society has often been subjected to government pressure in the form of canceled conferences, harassing phone calls, frequent reminders that the government can close organizations down, even detention and long-term imprisonment and exile.
In Central Asian countries, constitutions actually guarantee the right of association. But governments still place onerous restrictions on NGO activity, often through legislation or stringent registration requirements. Venezuela’s leaders have tried to silence independent voices that seek to hold that government accountable. In Russia, while we welcome President Medvedev’s statements in support of the rule of law, human rights activities and journalists have been targeted for assassination, and virtually none of these crimes have been solved.
And we continue to engage on civil society issues with China, where writer Liu Xiaobo is serving an 11-year prison sentence because he co-authored a document calling for respect for human rights and democratic reform. Too many governments are seeing civic activists as opponents, rather than partners. And as democracies, we must recognize that this trend is taking place against a broader backdrop.
In the 20th century, crackdowns against civil society frequently occurred under the guise of ideology. Since the demise of Communism, most crackdowns seem to be motivated instead by sheer power politics. But behind these actions, there is an idea, an alternative conception of how societies should be organized. And it is an idea that democracies must challenge. It is a belief that people are subservient to their government, rather than government being subservient to their people.
Now, this idea does not necessarily preclude citizens from forming groups that help their communities or promote their culture, or even support political causes. But it requires these private organizations to seek the state’s approval, and to serve the states and the states’ leaderships’ larger agenda.
Think for a moment about the civil society activists around the world who have recently been harassed, censored, cut off from funding, arrested, prosecuted, even killed. Why did they provoke such persecution?
Some weren’t engaged in political work at all. Some were not trying to change how their countries were governed. Most were simply getting help to people in need, like the Burmese activists imprisoned for organizing relief for victims of Cyclone Nargis. Some of them were exposing problems like corruption that their own governments claim they want to root out. Their offense was not just what they did, but the fact that they did it independently of their government. They were out doing what we would call good deeds, but doing them without permission. That refusal to allow people the chance to organize in support of a cause larger than themselves, but separate from the state, represents an assault on one of our fundamental democratic values.
The idea of pluralism is integral to our understanding of what it means to be a democracy. Democracies recognize that no one entity — no state, no political party, no leader — will ever have all the answers to the challenges we face. And, depending on their circumstances and traditions, people need the latitude to work toward and select their own solutions. Our democracies do not and should not look the same. Governments by the people, for the people, and of the people will look like the people they represent. But we all recognize the reality and importance of these differences. Pluralism flows from these differences. And because crackdowns on NGOs are a direct threat to pluralism, they also endanger democracy.
More than 60 years ago, Winston Churchill came to the United States to warn the world’s democracies of an iron curtain descending across Europe. Today, thankfully, thanks to some of you in this room, that iron curtain has fallen. But we must be wary of the steel vise in which many governments around the world are slowly crushing civil society and the human spirit.
Today, meeting together as a community of democracies, it is our responsibility to address this crisis. Some of the countries engaging in these behaviors still claim to be democracies because they have elections. But, as I have said before, democracy requires far more than an election. It has to be a 365-day-a-year commitment, by government and citizens alike, to live up to the fundamental values of democracy, and accept the responsibilities of self government.
Democracies don’t fear their own people. They recognize that citizens must be free to come together to advocate and agitate, to remind those entrusted with governance that they derive their authority from the governed. Restrictions on these rights only demonstrate the fear of illegitimate rulers, the cowardice of those who deny their citizens the protections they deserve. An attack on civic activism and civil society is an attack on democracy.
Now, sometimes I think that the leaders who are engaging in these actions truly believe they are acting in the best interests of their country. But they begin to inflate their own political interests, the interests of that country, and they begin to believe that they must stay in office by any means necessary, because only they can protect their country from all manner of danger.
Part of what it requires to be a true democracy is to understand that political power must be passed on, and that despite the intensity of elections, once the elections are over, whoever is elected fairly and freely must then try to unify the country, despite the political division.
I ran a very hard race against President Obama. I tried with all my might to beat him. I was not successful. And when he won, much to my surprise, he asked me to join his Administration to serve as Secretary of State. Well, in many countries, I learned as I began traveling, that was a matter of great curiosity. How could I work with someone whom I had tried to deprive of the office that he currently holds? But the answer for both President Obama and I was very simple. We both love our country. Politics is an important part of the lifeblood of a democracy. But governing, changing people’s lives for the better, is the purpose one runs for office.
In the Community of Democracies, we have to begin asking the hard questions, whether countries that follow the example of authoritarian states and participate in this assault on civil society can truly call themselves democracies. And to address this challenge, civil society groups and democratic governments must come together around some common goals. The Community of Democracies is already bringing together governments and civil society organizations, some of whom are represented here. And it is well suited to lead these efforts. I know that the Community of Democracies working group on enabling and protecting civil society is already working to turn this vision into a reality. The United States pledges to work with this community to develop initiatives that support civil society and strengthen governments committed to democracy.
With the leadership and support of countries like Lithuania, Poland, Canada, and Mongolia, I believe that the Community’s 20th anniversary could be a celebration of the expanding strength of civil society, and the true institutionalization of the habits of the heart that undergird democracy. To make that happen, our joint efforts, I believe, should include at least four elements. First, the Community of Democracies should work to establish, as Radek recommended, an objective, independent mechanism for monitoring repressive measures against NGOs.
Second, the United Nations Human Rights Council needs to do more to protect civil society. Freedom of association is the only freedom defined in the United Nations declaration of human rights that does not enjoy specific attention from the UN human rights machinery. That must change.
Third, we will be working with regional and other organizations, such as the OAS, the EU, the OIC, the African Union, the Arab League, others, to do more to defend the freedom of association. Many of these groups are already committed to upholding democratic principles on paper. But we need to make sure words are matched by actions.
And, fourth, we should coordinate our diplomatic pressure. I know that the Community of Democracies working group is focused on developing a rapid response mechanism to address situations where freedom of association comes under attack. Well, that can’t happen soon enough. When NGOs come under threat, we should provide protection where we can, and amplify the voices of activists by meeting with them publicly at home and abroad, and citing their work in what we say and do. We can also provide technical training that will help activists make use of new technologies such as social networks. When possible, we should also work together to provide deserving organizations with financial support for their efforts.
Now, there are some misconceptions around this issue, and I would like to address it. In the United States, as in many other democracies, it is legal and acceptable for private organizations to raise money abroad and receive grants from foreign governments, so long as the activities do not involve specifically banned sources, such as terrorist groups. Civic organizations in our country do not need the approval of the United States Government to receive funds from overseas. And foreign NGOs are active inside the United States. We welcome these groups in the belief that they make our nation stronger and deepen relationships between America and the rest of the world. And it is in that same spirit that the United States provides funding to foreign civil society organizations that are engaged in important work in their own countries. And we will continue this practice, and we would like to do more of it in partnership with other democracies.
As part of that commitment, today I am announcing the creation of a new fund to support the work of embattled NGOs. We hope this fund will be used to provide legal representation, communication technology such as cell phone and Internet access, and other forms of quick support to NGOs that are under siege. The United States will be contributing $2 million to this effort, and we welcome participation and contribution from like-minded countries, as well as private, not-for-profit organizations.
The persecution of civil society activists and organizations, whether they are fighting for justice and law, or clean and open government, or public health, or a safe environment, or honest elections, it’s not just an attack against people we admire, it’s an attack against our own fundamental beliefs. So when we defend these great people, we are defending an idea that has been and will remain essential to the success of every democracy. So the stakes are high for us, not just them.
For the United States, supporting civil society groups is a critical part of our work to advance democracy. But it’s not the only part. Our national security strategy reaffirms that democratic values are a cornerstone of our foreign policy. Over time, as President Obama has said, America’s values have been our best national security asset. I emphasized this point in December and January, when I delivered speeches on human rights and Internet freedom. And it is a guiding principle in every meeting I hold and every country I visit.
My current trip is a good example. I have just come from Ukraine, where I had the opportunity not only to meet with the foreign minister and the president, but with a wonderful group of young, bright Ukrainian students, where I discussed the importance of media freedom, the importance of freedom of assembly, and of human rights. Tonight I will leave for Azerbaijan, where I will meet with youth activists to discuss Internet freedom, and to raise the issue of the two imprisoned bloggers, and to discuss civil liberties. From there I will go to Armenia and Georgia, where I will be similarly raising these issues, and sitting down with leaders from women’s groups and other NGOs. This is what we all have to do, day in and day out around the world.
So, let me return to that three-legged stool. Civil society is important for its own sake. But it also helps prop up and stabilize the other legs of the stool, governments and markets. Without the work of civic activists and pluralistic political discourse, governments grow brittle and may even topple. And without consumer advocates, unions, and social organizations that look out for the needs of societies’ weakest members, markets can run wild and fail to generate broad-based prosperity.
We see all three legs of the stool as vital to progress in the 21st century. So we will continue raising democracy and human rights issues at the highest levels in our contacts with foreign governments, and we will continue promoting economic openness and competition as a means of spreading broad-based prosperity and shoring up representative governments who know they have to deliver results for democracy.
But we also believe that the principles that bring us here together represent humanity’s brightest hope for a better future. As Foreign Minister Geremek wrote in his invitation to the inaugural meeting of the Community of Democracies 10 years ago, “Regardless of the problems inseparably associated with democracy, it is a system which best fulfills the aspirations of individuals, societies, and entire peoples, and most fully satisfies their needs of development, empowerment, and creativity.”
So, ultimately, our work on these issues is about the type of future we want to leave to our children and grandchildren. And anyone who doubts this should look at Poland. The world we live in is more open, more secure, and more prosperous because of individuals like Lech Walesa, Adam Michnik, others who worked through the solidarity movement to improve conditions in their own country, and who stand for freedom and democracy.
I think often about the role of journalists. Journalists are under tremendous pressure. But a journalist like Jerzy Turowicz, a son of Krakow, asked tough questions that challenged Poland to do better. And Pope John Paul II, who, as Stalin would have noted, had no battalions, marshaled moral authority that was as strong as any army. We all have inherited that legacy of courage. It is now up to us.
Every Fourth of July Americans affirm their belief that all human beings are created equal, that we are endowed by our creator with unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today, as a community of democracies, let us make it our mission to secure those rights. We owe it to our forebears, and we owe it to future generations to continue the fight for these ideals.
Thank you all very much.
Last July at the Community of Democracies meeting in Krakow, Secretary Clinton announced that the United States would create an international fund to support embattled Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and invited like-minded governments to join in this global effort.
One year later, the Department of State, together with twelve other democratic nations spanning the globe, launched the Lifeline: Embattled NGOs Assistance Fund in a meeting in Vilnius with the international consortium of organizations who will be implementing the Fund’s activities.
The Department of State is honored to partner with Australia, Benin, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom in this unique effort to protect and support civil society worldwide. Together they have seeded the Lifeline Fund with over $4 million to begin a multi-year effort.
Located around the world from Johannesburg to Prague to Bangkok, the seven consortium members CIVICUS, FORUM-ASIA, Freedom House, Front Line, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, People in Need, and the Swedish International Liberal Centre will carry out the programs of the Fund, which are to:
Provide emergency assistance to embattled NGOs for needs including, legal representation, appeals, and trial monitoring; medical bills arising from abuse; transportation costs for prison visitation of incarcerated members; and replacement of equipment damaged or confiscated as a result of harassment and
Support discrete advocacy initiatives that raise awareness of the difficult, often hostile environments in which NGOs and civil society operate and to address the barriers to their freedom of association.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Minister Azubalis, and thank you for your vigorous leadership of the Community of Democracies during the Lithuanian chairmanship. And I especially appreciate the president being here to welcome all of us, and to be joined by so many distinguished representatives of government, civil society, business, young people, and women.
I think it is important that we use this session to take stock of where we are 10 years on, after the Community of Democracies was begun. And it is a perfect place to do that, here in Lithuania. Today the streets outside this hall are peaceful. But 20 years ago they were filled with Soviet tanks. And they rang out with the chants of protestors and the shouts of soldiers. The world held its breath.
Thankfully, those tanks retreated, and the Soviet empire began to crumble. But the future was far from certain. The transitions to democracy in Central and Eastern Europe were fraught with challenges. In the former Yugoslavia, ethnic strife sparked years of war. In some former Soviet republics – including next door in Belarus – authoritarianism retained an iron grip. And in nearly every newly-free nation, wrenching economic and social changes tested the resolve of people.
But today, here in Lithuania and across most of Europe, democracy is thriving. Protesters who helped bring down Communism went on to raise up strong democratic institutions and civil society. Leaders put the needs of their countries and their peoples ahead of their personal interests. So this region has become a model for the world, and its experiences – both the struggles and the successes – have taken on new relevance in recent days, because the world is once again holding its breath.
This year we have seen citizens across the Middle East and North Africa demand the same universal rights, dignity, and opportunity that Eastern and Central Europeans claimed two decades ago. Again, the future is uncertain. It is too soon to tell whether democratic institutions, pluralism, and the rule of law will emerge, or if those hopes will prove little more than a mirage in the desert.
What we do know is the outcome will be determined by the people themselves. And this moment belongs to them, particularly the young people who have inspired the world with their courage.
But I would argue that all of us here in this Community of Democracies have a stake in that outcome and a responsibility to help. We see our own stories in theirs. And we know that, just as any one democracy depends on people working together, a community of democracy depends on all nations, not only working together, but renewing our commitment. And we believe that established democracies have a special duty to help those that are emerging because these new democracies are fighting for their life. There are vicious autocrats clinging to power. There are interest groups pretending to support democracy, and only waiting until they can assume power. This is an hour of need, and every democracy should stand up and be counted.
Unfortunately, there is no playbook that we can pass on to those struggling to form their own democracies with a clear outline of the steps that can be taken and the results that will be assured, like a recipe in the kitchen. Every transition in every country in every era is unique. Here in the Baltics, citizens could draw on centuries of democratic traditions. People in the Middle East and North Africa are, in many ways, navigating uncharted territory.
But for all the differences, there are shared lessons. And we need to be sure we learn them and apply them, to take that hard-earned wisdom and put it to work. Because from Europe to Latin America to Africa to Asia, people have learned the fundamentals of successful democratic transitions: accountable institutions rooted in the rule of law; equal protection and participation for all citizens, especially women; a vibrant civil society; a free press; an independent judiciary and economic opportunity; integration into the international community and its norms and institutions; and leaders who understand that legitimacy flows from consent, not coercion.
Today I want to say a few words about these lessons and how they can help bring new members into the Community of Democracies.
First, we have learned that sustainable democracies are built on the strength of institutions that guarantee the rule of law and universal rights, including freedoms of assembly, association, expression, and religion.
Amid all the graffiti that covers the public spaces in Libya today, one message painted on a wall in the town of Derna stands out. It reads: “We want a country of institutions.” That means, among other things, independent courts, a free press, competitive political parties, and responsive government agencies. And yet, in my conversations with so many who are so eager to help lead the way to democracy in their own countries, these concepts are very difficult to understand and to apply.
But there are examples. In the 1990s, Estonia used cutting-edge technology to deliver unprecedented accountability and transparency. Twenty years on, expenditures from the budget can be tracked online in real time, government archives are paperless and open, investors can register a business in a matter of minutes – the quickest in the world – and citizens can vote online.
So today, Estonians are helping more than 25 countries around the world follow their example, including a number of projects in the Middle East, where in too many places bribery is rampant, institutions are corrupt, and political parties are repressed.
The region’s new democratic transitions can change that. I want to acknowledge Tunisia establishing an independent Electoral Commission, made up of jurists and civil society leaders. And we hope that transitional authorities in Egypt will invite international observers to witness their upcoming elections. Because while democracy is about far more than voting, free and fair elections are essential. And they require a level playing field for political parties, a free press, and transparent voting procedures. That’s the standard that all citizens have a right to expect, whether they are voting in Tunis, Cairo, or Moscow, for that matter.
Now, a second lesson of successful transitions is that democracy only works when there is equal protection and equal participation for every citizen, including women, ethnic and religious minorities and young people, because transitions can be particularly perilous for these groups. They are often the first to be excluded. But when they are included, they enrich and strengthen new democracies. We saw this in Poland, where women kept Solidarity alive when thousands of men were imprisoned. And after the revolution, they kept organizing. They ran for office. And the underground newspaper they started in the Gdansk shipyard became one of the most important publications in a free Poland.
In the Middle East and North Africa, women have marched, blogged, and put their lives on the line. But as I discussed last night, they have seen their participation limited in this transition period. One Egyptian woman recently remarked, “The men were keen for me to be there when we were demanding Mubarak should go. But now that he has gone, they want me to go home.”
This is not just a problem for women. It’s a problem for men too. It’s a problem for every citizen. And it’s a problem for the community of democracies. I hope that what we will do is make it very clear that, as parties are organized, as platforms are written, as campaigns are waged, and elections are won, no one can claim to be representing the democratic will if their intention is to marginalize women. We are watching closely the parties that are forming in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, and we have said we are, in the United States, willing to engage with parties that are pledged to non-violence and the political process. But we expect every party in a democracy to recognize the rights of women.
We are also watching closely to make sure that what happened in the Balkans in the 1990s does not reoccur. Ethnic and religious minorities are at risk. I remember talking with a group of Bosnians shortly after the Dayton Accords were agreed to. It was a group of Serbs, Croats, and Muslims. And one woman said that when the violence started she asked a friend, “How could this be happening? We’ve known each other for so long. We’ve been at each other’s families’ weddings and funerals. Why is this happening?” And her friend replied, “We were told that if we didn’t do this to you, you would do it to us.” That’s what they read in the newspaper, and that’s what they heard on the radio. It’s what extremists whispered in the night.
Today, the people of North Africa and the Middle East need to resist those whispers. This year, violent attacks from Egypt to Iraq to Pakistan have killed scores of religious and ethnic minorities. These fault lines cannot be permitted to open up. They will swallow the hopes for a better future for all.
And finally, young people cannot be left behind when the action moves from the streets to the parliaments. In many of these countries today, young people actually represent a majority. And transitional authorities must work with them to meet their aspirations. But young people themselves must enter the political process. When I visited Cairo this spring and met with young activists, they were still searching for unity and for their next goal. They need to organize and be part of politics, if they expect to see change take hold and be sustainable.
It also takes far-sighted leadership for this to work. And that is the obvious third lesson. We have seen great examples of leadership in transitions. Nelson Mandela is certainly the prime example. But too often we see leaders who derail the transitions, who put their own interests or the interests of their group ahead of the national interest, leaders who think democracy is one election, one time, or who rig elections to favor those already in power. That is not democracy. That is the path back to dictatorship. And we have seen revolution give way to repression in places like Iran.
So we need leaders to be held accountable. And we need to ensure that they know what is expected of them in a democracy. We saw it here in Central and Eastern Europe, as poets and professors rose to become presidents and prime ministers, and then stepped aside for other statesmen to take their place.
Fourthly, healthy democracies depend on healthy civil societies. We see it here in the Baltic States, where journalists are exposing official corruption and helping bring accountability to government. We see it in the Middle East and North Africa, in so many examples of people who are putting everything on the line.
But we have to protect civil society. And I thank the Community of Democracies for establishing a new alert system to galvanize a global response when governments propose laws that would restrict civil society. Five times we have raised the alarm, and five times the law has not passed. We have also worked with partners to establish a fund to help NGOs resist repression. We call it the Lifeline. And I thank all of the countries who are supporting this effort.
We think that engaging with civil society, as the United States is doing in our new strategic dialogue with civil society, helps us know better about how to help them. They are the ones going to prison, they are the ones being beaten up, they are the ones on the front lines of democracy.
And the fifth lesson is that democracy has to deliver for people a sense of dignity — intangible, but essential — and economic opportunities. In post-Communist Europe, governments made difficult decisions as they refashioned the social safety net and opened their markets. They knew that painful though it was, free markets unleashed human potential. Today, in so many of those places struggling to become democracies, the economies are stunted by cronyism and corruption. So we have to also work for economic reform.
We are hoping to launch Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt, as we did in the Baltics at the beginning of their transitions. We are working with our European partners to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to support economic modernization in the Middle East and North Africa. And we join with the EU and the G8 to offer a new vision for regional trade and economic integration.
Democracies flourish when they are connected to and supported by other democracies. That is why this organization is as important as it has ever been. It was created almost as a looking back at how much had been accomplished in 2000. But now it needs to be vibrant and responsive to what lies ahead. And I applaud the Lithuanian chairmanship for the reforms that the community has adopted under its leadership. And we need to be doing more to prepare for the next meeting under the chairmanship of Mongolia
I think it’s critical that the new partnership challenge formed by the community will include, as the first two participants, Tunisia and Moldova, who each will be paired with an international task force of activists and experts. And we thank the Dutch and the Slovaks for taking the lead in Tunisia. And Poland and the United States will co-chair the task force for Moldova. We will contribute $5 million from USAID to support this new initiative.
So, as we look forward to help those who are emerging, let us also be clear that we must prevent any setbacks to democracy in our own countries and regions. We should speak out when countries like Belarus brutally repress the rights of its citizens, or where we see opposition figures facing politically-motivated prosecution, or governments refusing to register political parties.
So, we have a very healthy agenda. But I don’t know of any more important work that could be done in the world today. Let us be sure that we support these new democracies, and we keep moving ourselves toward perfecting our own democracies. I think we are up to the challenge, but it does need a community of democracies to make sure we meet it.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: (In progress) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. First, statements by the President and Secretary of State. Later, two questions. I advise the President of Lithuania to begin (inaudible).
PRESIDENT GRYBAUSKAITE: (Via translator) In the international stage and also in bilateral relations we have many mutual points of contacts, and our interests were in the progress of our conversation. Firstly, (inaudible) security, military security, and also the neighborhood, democratization processes, and opportunities to help those countries who need our help.
It is in the framework of NATO and the European Union and also in direct relations with the United Nations, Lithuania sees energy security as of primary urgency. I am very pleased that our nuclear energy projects has attracted interest of — to foreign companies, including an American company, and Lithuanian Government will be now assessing the bids. I am happy that the project has attracted international interest.
We also discussed the wish of the neighboring countries to build a nuclear power plant around Lithuania. We need to ensure their nuclear safety, not only Lithuania, but also beyond this border. And I heard the Secretary’s support in this respect. We also spoke about military security and the challenges that face us in the global space, firstly in the near neighborhood, and also in the far neighborhood. We also discussed cooperation and the benefits that both of our countries have when our people travel and have close personal contacts, and we discussed people-to-people contacts.
So, there was a range of issues that we discussed. And I am delighted that the Secretary of State expressed the support and understanding of the United States on all the issues that we discussed.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Madam President, and it is a great honor for me to be once again in Lithuania, an example to the world of what democracy can deliver for people, and also a strong ally and partner.
We did have a broad-ranging discussion, and I appreciate greatly the cooperation that exists between the United States and Lithuania. Lithuania is making a major contribution in Afghanistan, where it trains police and helicopter pilots, and leads a provincial reconstruction team in Ghor Province.
Lithuania also takes seriously its responsibilities as a NATO ally, and so do we. So that is why we are working together, not only to advance security and democracy, but most importantly to emphasize the core mission of NATO: our solemn commitment to each other under Article V of the Washington Treaty to collective self-defense.
We also discussed Lithuania’s efforts to achieve a secure, sustainable, and safe supply of energy. We strongly support Lithuania’s energy independence strategy, which includes regional development of nuclear power, liquefied natural gas, unconventional oil and gas, as well as gas and electricity links between the Baltic States and the rest of the European Union. By focusing on regional cooperation and energy security, Lithuania is strengthening its own independence, but also the independence and security of its neighbors. And we are especially pleased to see United States companies being considered to take part in these important projects.
2011 is a banner year for Lithuania on the world stage. As chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Lithuania has been instrumental in raising awareness of the very difficult situation in Belarus. Together, we demand that Belarus release political prisoners and embark on a path of democratic reform, because it seems very sad for the people of Belarus that they stand in such stark contrast to their neighbors. And it reminds us that building a whole and free Europe is still an unfinished task.
We look to Lithuania for its leadership as host of the OSCE ministerial conference in December. All of us are inspired by the progress we have seen over the last 20 years in Lithuania. But we know that there is still more to be done, and we appreciate greatly all of the steps that Lithuania is taking.
I am especially pleased to be here for the Community of Democracies, and to have this opportunity to strengthen our bonds as fellow democracies. And I greatly appreciated the President’s co-hosting of the forum yesterday on women and democracy. So, for me it is a personal pleasure to be here in Lithuania and to see the great progress that is being made on behalf of the people of this country. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Now, (inaudible) questions. One question from American journalist and one question from Lithuanian journalist. Question for American journalist , Mr. Schmidt, AFP Agency.
QUESTION: Good morning. The State Department said earlier this week that the opposition meeting in Damascus signaled a step in the right direction for the Syrian regime. Then yesterday we saw troops sweep into new villages in the northwest and protests erupting in Aleppo. So, what, Madam Secretary, is your assessment of this situation? Was allowing this opposition meeting a real move toward (inaudible) change, or just a sham? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Christophe, it doesn’t appear that there is a coherent and consistent message coming from Syria. We know what they have to do. They must begin a genuine transition to democracy. And allowing one meeting of the opposition in Damascus is not sufficient action toward achieving that goal. So I am disheartened by the recent reports of continued violence on the borders and in Aleppo, where demonstrators have been beaten, attacked with knives by government-organized groups and security forces.
It is absolutely clear that the Syrian Government is running out of time. There isn’t any question about that. They are either going to allow a serious political process that will include peaceful protest to take place throughout Syria and engage in a productive dialogue with members of the opposition and civil society, or they are going to continue to see increasingly organized resistance. We regret the loss of life, and we regret the violence. But this choice is up to the Syrian Government. And right now we are looking for action, not words, and we haven’t seen enough of that.
MODERATOR: And question for Lithuanian journalist, (inaudible).
QUESTION: (Via translator) I would like to pose two questions, one to Madam Hillary, and then perhaps to the Lithuanian President. Firstly, why is it that the United States (inaudible) supports the nuclear power plant that is soon to be built in Belarus? This question is of great concern to Lithuania.
And the second question is with respect to the events in (inaudible) today. We are now speaking about democracy, human rights. And in this context in Lithuania we still have some accusations that have not been dispersed. Only several kilometers off from (inaudible) there was a secret CIA imprisonment facility where human rights might have been violated. Does the United States think that the transparency should exist in this sphere as well? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say, with respect to the proposed plant in Belarus, we have made clear that even though Belarus, like any country, has a right to explore civil nuclear power as an energy option, we have deep concerns about safety and security. Any plant would have to operate under the full IAEA safeguards. The plant would have to be initiated and established in a transparent, commercial process.
And so, any support that you have heard from us is abstract, because it is contingent on all of the conditions that I have just mentioned. And we understand — the President has made very clear — Lithuanian concerns about the location of the plant, in addition to the safety, the security, the maintenance operation, and all the other issues that we also have raised. Part of what we hope to see are guarantees about safety and security, and we certainly encourage that there be consultations about any location issues that could be considered problematic for Lithuania. I think we are a long way from that, but if Belarus were to pursue this idea of a plant, we would expect the international community to demand the highest standards of transparency, safety, and security.
With respect to your second question, I cannot comment on that. And I think it is clear that in the Obama Administration there has been a very transparent process that we have followed with respect to the problems that we all face because of the global terrorist threat.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
The Community of Democracies (CD) is a global intergovernmental coalition of democratic countries, with the goal of strengthening democratic norms and institutions around the world. The organization was founded in 2000 during a Ministerial Conference in Warsaw, Poland. The conference was the idea and initiative of the then Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Bronisław Geremek, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
JULY 1, 2011 – COMMUNITY OF DEMOCRACIES SIXTH MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE IN VILNIUS, LITHUANIA
“On July 1, the Sixth Ministerial Meeting of the Community of Democracies will take place in Vilnius, Lithuania. The conference will focus on strengthening of the Community of Democracies and enhancing its activities. Special attention will be given to emerging democracies and civil society’s involvement in governance. At the conference, which is expected to be attended by about 900 participants, Lithuania will officially hand over the two-year presidency of the Community of Democracies to Mongolia.”
Youth Forum: “Young Leaders in Support for Democracy: Challenges and Possibilities”
“In cooperation with the Lithuanian Presidency of the Community of Democracies, the Young Leaders Forum–in partnership with the Institute of Democratic Politics, the Atlantic Council of the United States, and the World Youth Movement for Democracy–will convene a group of leading young activists, democracy practitioners, and diplomats from around the world to discuss their experiences supporting democracy, share best practices, and propose recommendations for how the Community of Democracies can strengthen youth engagement in support of democracy. Over the course of two days (June 29-30, 2011), young activists will take part in a special series of thematic panels focused on democratic trends around the world, as well as workshops on new generation democracy tactics.”
TechCamp Vilnius, Lithuania – June 29-30, 2011
“TechCamp is a program under Secretary Clinton’s Civil Society (CS) 2.0 initiative – an effort to galvanize the technology community to assist Civil Society organizations across the globe by providing capabilities, resources and assistance to enable them to harness the latest information and communications technology (ICT) advances to build their digital capacity. TechCamp Vilnius is taking place at the Raddison Hotel in Vilnius, Lithuania, on June 29-30 in association with the Community of Democracies Ministerial Conference.”
DEMOCRACY PARTNERSHIP CHALLENGE
“As a new wave of democratization spreads across the Middle East, the Community of Democracies (CD) is refocusing its efforts on supporting successful transitions to democracy. As part of that commitment, the Community is launching a new initiative – the Democracy Partnership Challenge – to encourage reform in countries emerging from authoritarian rule. The CD enjoys strong backing from countries that have come through democratic transitions and many of these states are looking to assist other nascent democracies. The Democracy Partnership Challenge creates a “race to the top” so that the CD and its members can encourage progress in countries that are committed to successful transitions and leverage their investments across the entire category of emerging democracies.”
PARTNERING IN SUPPORT OF DEMOCRACY
“Partnering in Support of Democracy is an on-line communication tool to track activities undertaken to support democratic transformation in Tunisia by governments, international organizations, and NGOs. It is managed by the Permanent Secretariat of the Community of Democracies as part of its mission to support democratic transition and consolidation worldwide The platform facilitates coordination and exchange of information and oversight by the international community, Tunisian government, and civil society organizations.”
For more information on the Community of Democracies and Civil Society, visit the Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies.
CONTEXT: Last year Secretary Clinton delivered a speech at the Community of Democracies 10th anniversary High-Level Democracy Meeting in Krakow, Poland. In her speech, the Secretary outlined a robust set of initiatives to strengthen civil society and provide protection to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) under siege. Since that time, the United States has worked closely with its partners to achieve each goal that she set forth in Krakow.
UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Rights of Freedom of Assembly and Association. In September 2010, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously passed a historic resolution creating a new mandate on the Rights of Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Association. In March 2011, Maina Kiai was appointed as the first UNHRC Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and of Association.
OAS General Assembly Resolution on Rights of Freedom of Assembly and Association. The OAS General Assembly adopted the first-ever OAS resolution on promoting the rights of freedoms of assembly and association. The resolution was sponsored by the United States with the co-sponsorship of Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Panama. As a result, the Permanent Council will hold for the first time a meeting on the subject of freedom of assembly and freedom of association with the goal of strengthening observance of these rights in the member states and civil society participation in the OAS.
Community of Democracies Alert Mechanism. The Canadian-led Community of Democracies Working Group on Enabling and Protecting Civil Society created an alert mechanism that is activated when civil society is threatened by proposed legislation that restricts civic space. Coordinated diplomatic pressure resulting from the five alerts issued by the working group has contributed to the shelving of four laws that would restrict civil space, while a fifth has been pending for more than six months. The evidence is clear: coordinated diplomatic pressure in response to regulatory threats to civil society has deterred governments from enacting constraining legislation.
Launch of the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society. In February 2011, the Secretary announced the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society to expand the State Department’s engagement with civil society. Using the architecture of the high-level dialogues that the Department conducts with bilateral partners, the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society is designed to elevate the importance of the Department’s engagement with civil society, produce concrete results, and underscore our commitment to supporting and defending civil society around the world. The Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society has become a forum for cooperation on issues such as empowering women, human rights, and good governance where the United States shares a common agenda with civil society. As part of the Dialogue, the Secretary and senior U.S. officials will meet with activists from around the world on the margins of the Community of Democracies Vilnius Ministerial to discuss efforts to address restrictions on civil society and NGOs through legal, regulatory and other means.
TechCamps for Civil Society Activists. U.S.-sponsored TechCamps are providing a forum to empower civil society activists and give them the hands-on training they need to better execute their missions in the 21st century. In an increasingly networked world, it is essential that civil society organizations have the tools they need to compete and succeed. TechCamps focus on exploring the challenges and needs of civil groups and providing the necessary training and one-on-one technology consultations to address those challenges through technological solutions. The goal is to increase the digital literacy of Civil Society Organizations and connect activists to local, regional and international technology communities. From Santiago to Jakarta, the Department is bringing together trainers and practitioners and helping them to expand their digital capacity and meet their goals. Eighty-five activists will participate in a TechCamp held on the margins of the Vilnius Ministerial.
Doubled Funding for Legal Enabling Environment Program. The United States has more than doubled its funding of the global NGO Legal Enabling Environment Program to provide technical assistance to both civil society and governments, both in cases of regulatory threats to civil society and where opportunities arise for positive legal reform. This program also includes small grants to local NGOs, fellowships for NGO practitioners to build local capacity in the process of defending and promoting a more enabling legal environment for civil society. It will support the second Global Forum on Civil Society Law, in Stockholm in August 2011.
Launch of the Lifeline Fund. Last year at Krakow, Secretary Clinton challenged other democracies to support civil society worldwide. Now, one year later at Vilnius, the United States and the first twelve international donors launched the “Lifeline Fund” to provide emergency assistance to embattled local NGOs and civil society organizations. A truly global effort, the first governmental donors include Australia, Benin, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The Lifeline Fund will address urgent needs such as legal representation, medical bills arising from abuse, transportation costs for prison visitation of incarcerated activists, and replacement of equipment damaged or confiscated as a result of harassment. Lifeline Fund will also be used to help local NGOs fight back against government restrictions and environments hostile to civil society. An equally global consortium of international NGOs will implement the over $4 million program, including CIVICUS, FORUM-ASIA, Freedom House, Front Line, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, People in Need, and the Swedish International Liberal Centre.
Freedom of Association Network and SOS Early Warning System for NGOs. As part of the work of the Lifeline Fund, the consortium of NGOs will establish a freedom of association network and SOS early warning system to monitor when governments crack down on civil society and quickly disseminate that information to governments and other international NGOs for rapid reaction.
FACT SHEET: The Community of Democracies’ “Democracy Partnership Challenge: A Race to the Top for Emerging Democracies”
CONTEXT: As a new wave of democratization spreads across the world, the Community of Democracies (CD) is working to support successful transitions to democracy. During the upcoming Community of Democracies 6th Ministerial in Vilnius, Lithuania, the organization will launch a new initiative, the Democracy Partnership Challenge, to encourage and support reforms in countries that have experienced recent democratic breakthroughs. The Democracy Partnership Challenge creates a global “race to the top,” which seeks to facilitate progress by leveraging the resources and expertise of countries within the CD to assist those that have demonstrated the will to democratize, but who need external support to consolidate their gains.
Moldova and Tunisia selected as the first winners of the Democracy Partnership Challenge. After a rigorous review process, Moldova and Tunisia have been selected as the countries to inaugurate the Challenge. Both have demonstrated a strong commitment to strengthening democracy, and their governments are eager to work with partners to build on their progress.
Moldova takes an introspective look at the state of its democracy. The democratic leadership of Moldova is committed to carrying out fundamental reforms which continue the country’s transition to a European democracy, including ensuring a separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and respect for human rights and freedom of the media. In its application, Moldova requested small amounts of assistance in the areas to bolster its efforts in the areas of security sector reform, government transparency, decentralization, migration policies, and judicial reform.
Tunisia looks forward and identifies areas in which small amounts of assistance will have a critical impact. The new Tunisian leadership is dedicated to essential reforms that will ensure the stability and longevity of their new democracy. In their application the Tunisians specifically sought assistance from the Community of Democracies to reform public administration, the security sector and the judiciary, support regional development, and promote the role of civil society to succeed in their transition to a democratic state.
The Community of Democracies calls upon countries to “Pay it Forward.” Two task forces are being established to channel resources and expertise to the priorities that have been designated by Tunisia and Moldova. As President Obama recently announced in Warsaw, the United States will co-chair the Moldova task force with Poland. Countries represented at the Ministerial have come through transitions of their own and each has had help in overcoming immense challenges. During the Ministerial, countries committed to the success of Moldova and Tunisia’s transitions will be asked to join the task forces, dig deep in support of these new democracies, and repay the help they have all received along the way.
TechCamp Vilnius will be the third event in a series supporting Secretary Clinton’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative to build the digital literacy of civil society organizations around the world. TechCamp is a key program of this initiative: a two day training event through which the State Department pairs leaders in the technology community with civil society organizations to provide training, resources and assistance that enable civil society organizations to harness the latest connection technologies to build their capacity and advance their missions.
From June 29-30, 2011 TechCamp Vilnius will focus on convening over 70 civil society groups working in the areas of democracy, transparency, and citizen engagement. Representing more than 15 countries from across Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia, participants will get hands-on training in a variety of areas ranging from how to use social media, organize online, practice digital safety, leverage mobile applications, and more. These civil society groups will be poised to use connection technologies to grow their networks, communicate more efficiently and be able to keep pace with the changing world.
Announcing Civil Society 2.0, Secretary Clinton said, “This organized effort will provide new technologies to civil society organizations. We will send experts in digital technology and communications to help build capacity.”
TechCamp will be hosted on the margins of the Community of Democracies, and will send an important message about our commitment and support for democracy and 21st Century Statecraft. As these tools build new networks, relationships and create new avenues for communication, civil societies’ adoption of them and use in support of democracy, transparency and good governance are integral to moving forward in the 21st century.
Following Vilnius there is a TechCamp planned in Moldova in July focusing on open government. For more information about Civil Society 2.0, TechCamps or hosting a future TechCamp, visit http://techcampglobal.org/.
Assistant Secretary Posner and Senior Advisor Tillemann On the Upcoming Community of Democracies Meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania
MS. FULTON: Good afternoon and welcome – or excuse me, good morning and welcome to the Department of State. We’re very pleased to welcome you here to our special press briefing this morning. Before we get into that, I would like to make a brief announcement. This is going to be issued – released in a statement by our spokesperson, Toria Nuland, very shortly. The statement is about Secretary Clinton’s upcoming travel to Budapest and Vilnius.
Secretary of State Clinton will travel to Budapest, Hungary June 29th to participate in the dedication of the Lantos Institute. The establishment of the Lantos Institute has been supported by the Government of Hungary to promote Hungarian-born Congressman Tom Lantos’s long commitment to democratic principles and the protection of individual and human rights. While she’s there, Secretary Clinton will meet with Prime Minister Orban, Foreign Minister Martonyi, and representatives of civil society while in Budapest.
Moving on, she will then travel to Vilnius, Lithuania from June 30th to July 1st in order to participate in the Community of Democracies Sixth Ministerial. The ministerial will bring together senior government officials, parliamentarians, NGOs, women and youth leaders, and the private sector to advance the shared goals of strengthening civil society and supporting emerging democracies. During her visit, the Secretary will participate in the Women Enhancing Democracy gathering of world leaders, which is held under the auspices of the Community of Democracies’ Working Group on Women’s Empowerment. She will also host a session of the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society, which is focused on challenges to the freedoms of speech and association. While there, the Secretary will also hold bilateral meetings with the President Grybauskaite, Prime Minister Kubilius, and other Lithuanian officials.
And so here to elaborate on the Secretary’s participation in the Community of Democracies meeting, we are fortunate to have with us today Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner and Dr. Tomicah Tillemann, who is the Secretary’s Special Advisor – excuse me, Senior Advisor for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies. I’d like to invite our two speakers to the podium and we’ll be followed by a few short questions. Please.
DR. TILLEMANN: Thank you very much. This trip will take place in the run-up to the Fourth of July, when Americans celebrate the importance of democracy. And it also occurs at a time when popular movements for democracy are reshaping the geopolitical landscape of countries, including Tunisia and Egypt. And against that backdrop, this is an opportunity to drive home the importance of democracy and civil society in our foreign policy, to recognize the renaissance of good activity that’s occurring within the Community of Democracies, and to follow up on the ambitious civil society agenda that the Secretary announced in her landmark speech at last year’s meeting of the Community of Democracies in Krakow.
On Thursday the 30th, the Secretary will be in Budapest, where she will participate in the inauguration of the Lantos Institute. The Lantos Institute was created to advance human rights, democracy, and transatlantic relations, and continue work on these important issues that were championed by Hungarian-American Congressman and Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos. The institute was created with the support of all of Hungary’s mainstream political parties, and its opening is an opportunity to reinforce our commitment to pluralism and the values for which the institute will fight. The institute will be co-chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will also be attending the opening. And the Secretary, on Thursday morning following the inauguration of the institute, will also hold a series of bilateral meetings with Hungarian leadership and consultations with members of Hungary’s civil society.
We’ll then go to Vilnius that afternoon, and the Vilnius ministerial of the Community of Democracies provides a case study in how Secretary Clinton’s vision for diplomacy and 21st century statecraft is reshaping the way that countries collaborate with each other. The meeting will bring together different actors in democracy, including senior government leaders, civil society representatives, women, parliamentarians, youth, and the private sector around the shared goals of advancing civil society and supporting emerging democracies. During the last two years, the Community of Democracies has undergone a transformation from a forum where democracies could get together into a platform where democracies are getting things done. And that shift from an aspirational body to an operational platform has occurred with strong support from Secretary Clinton and at a time when there is a real need for international backing for civil society and newly emerging democracies.
There are a number of important initiatives that will be highlighted in conjunction with this meeting. I’ll let Secretary – Assistant Secretary Posner speak to most of those, but I want to highlight a few. One is a tech camp that will be occurring in the run-up to the ministerial. This is an initiative that will bring together 85 civil society activists from around the region, but primarily from Belarus, and provide them with training from technology experts in how to make their work more effective. We’ll also, as you heard, be holding a session of the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society. And then the following day, at the main ministerial, the Secretary will be delivering opening remarks and speaking about several new initiatives that have come out of the Community of Democracies.
One of these is something called the Democracy Partnership Challenge, which creates a new race to the top for emerging democracies. It’s a mechanism for coming together with other nations that share a commitment to supporting countries in transition, and it will focus this year – in its inaugural year – on Tunisia and Moldova. And we’re looking forward to a very good discussion about how the ministers, leaders, and civil society representatives gathered in Vilnius can support transitions in those two countries.
Secretary Clinton will also be highlighting the Community of Democracies’ new mentorship initiative, which is using an online platform that was developed in partnership between the Community of Democracies Secretariat in Warsaw and the National Democratic Institute in the United States to make an online clearinghouse for sharing information on democracy support and linking individuals who played key roles in past democratic transitions, particularly in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, with individuals who are currently playing key roles in transitions in other parts of the world.
Secretary Clinton will also highlight her very successful efforts to operationalize the civil society agenda she outlined in Krakow, and Assistant Secretary Posner can speak to some of the specifics and the great initiatives that she will be discussing in the context of that work.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Thanks, Tomicah. Just to follow up with three quick points. Last July, in Krakow, the Secretary spoke about the embattled NGO environment where, increasingly, governments are restricting the space for civil society nongovernmental organizations to function. In the last several years, at least 50 governments have enacted new laws or regulations which make it more difficult for NGOs to operate. So coming out of that speech, which sort of set the tone, we’ve really done three things in the last year: One is to initiate the civil society dialogue, which happened here earlier this year. The Secretary will be meeting with a group of NGO activists in Vilnius to discuss the same issues – what are the constraints, what are the challenges they face, how can we be helpful in creating a more open environment for them to operate?
Secondly, we announced last year the establishment of a fund, a $1 million fund called the Lifeline, the Embattled NGO Assistance Fund. So we’re putting our money where our mouth is, and we’re saying we’re going to actually provide financial support for advocacy initiatives to challenge these restrictions, but also support for individual NGOs when they get in trouble – legal assistance, trial observation, and the like. We’ve also – we’re in good company. We’ve now got 12 other governments that are supporting the Lifeline Fund: Australia, Benin, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom, and Sweden. So 12 other governments have matched our $1 million and the fund is now going to be getting underway. We’ve identified seven international NGOs to help us actually implement this. So that’s the second deliverable from last year.
And then the third thing is that the Secretary has been engaged in individual countries, like Cambodia, where governments have initiated new restrictions. This is an ongoing problem. In some respects, governments are learning bad behavior from one another, and the Secretary, as a diplomatic matter, has stepped up and really made this a key priority. So those will be the things we’ll be discussing in Vilnius.
MS. FULTON: Okay. With that, let’s open it up for a few questions. Dave.
QUESTION: I presume that Belarus will be discussed in Vilnius. Where do you stand now with Belarus? They seem to have gone completely retrograde with the election and the arrest of the presidential candidates. What’s your strategy now to improve things there?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We are indeed greatly concerned. My deputy, Tom Melia, has been there and has been trying to create a coordinated strategy with our Western European allies. The environment there is terrible, as you say. The government has cracked down not only on the political opposition but civil society and a range of others. So we’re deeply concerned about it. We’re going to continue to press. We can’t do it by ourselves, but we need our European partners and we’re pushing. We will have this very much on the agenda in Lithuania.
MS. FULTON: Andy.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that. I was wondering if you could characterize what role Russia might be playing in the Belarus situation. Are they being helpful? Are they someone you’re looking to help – for help on this?
And the second is on the Hungary stuff, the Hungarian ruling party recently sort of rammed through a new constitution over the objections of its opponents. People are saying it’s – the Council of Europe is saying it’s a threat to democracy. Is the Secretary going to take this up with the Hungarians? Is there any concern that on this democracy trip she’s visiting a place that’s going in the wrong direction?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I’ll let Tomicah answer the second, but let me answer the first. On – with respect to Russia, we have had an ongoing discussion. We had a Russian bilateral a couple of weeks ago where this issue was raised. We don’t see eye-to-eye on this, and so one of the challenges, frankly, for us right now is to try to increase the dialogue with the Russians but also to make sure that we, with our Western European and Central European partners, are actually ramping up the pressure on the Lukashenko government because we’re not satisfied now with what we’re seeing.
QUESTION: Is Russia a member of the Council of Democracies?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Yeah.
DR. TILLEMANN: On the Lantos Institute, we’re obviously very aware of the concerns that have been expressed regarding the passage of the revisions to Hungary’s constitution. And it is precisely in that context that we feel it’s important to go and support the Lantos Institute, which is a place where all of Hungary’s mainstream political parties have come together and agreed on priorities, have agreed to work together to strengthen human rights, to strengthen democracy, and to strengthen the core values that should be the foundation of a pluralistic society.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary going to make any sort of personal representations to the Hungarian prime minister about this or to the party?
DR. TILLEMANN: I expect –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: She’ll be meeting with senior leadership of the Hungarian Government and will raise a range of these issues.
MS. FULTON: Yes.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a question about your visit to Bahrain? What did you achieve with your meetings? And also on Syria, how far did you go to consider the violence in Syria and to equate it to a crime against humanity, or are you going to refer it to the ICC? Can you tell us what you are doing on this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I think this briefing is really about the Europe trip. I will say about Bahrain is, as I’ve done everywhere, I met with representatives of civil society across a broad spectrum. It is a place where there are very real pressures on civil society, so again, keeping with the theme of this briefing, it’s part of what we do when we travel anywhere.
I did a press conference in Bahrain. You can – it’s on our website. You can – it was quite extensive in what I said.
And on Syria, as you know, we continue to be gravely concerned about the escalating violence, very concerned about the deterioration of the humanitarian situation. We’re pressing hard and we will keep – it’s very much on our agenda.
QUESTION: Are you –
MS. FULTON: I think we – sorry.
MS. FULTON: We have time for about one more question. Do you have a follow-up? Or –
QUESTION: Yes. I mean, are you doing anything with all these YouTube images about the violence in Syria?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We are both addressing this diplomatically in every way we can. We’ve raised – we’ve made a number of public comments. But we’re also very concerned and working with the Turkish Government in terms of the humanitarian consequences. The situation is very serious. It’s getting more urgent every day and we are clearly calling on the government there to stop the violence. We’re very aware of the human cost of this, and we will continue to press.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. FULTON: Okay. Last question, Goyal.
QUESTION: Thank you. Sir, thank you, and welcome again. Since we met last time here, what is the change as far as human rights and democracy is concerned, let’s say the wave of freedom in the Middle East and also in Burma and in Sri Lanka? Also there is now – I don’t know whether you have concern or not with going on in India, I mean, in different directions, but because of corruption. And civil society is coming out because of corruption and black market money and all that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Maybe I can – I’d be glad to come back at some point and have the larger conversation. I will say with respect to this agenda that one of the things that’s so important to us, important to Secretary Clinton, is that we help empower and amplify local voices. Societies change from within, and a critical element of a sustainable democracy is that people have the right to speak their mind, to organize, to communicate on the internet, to meet in the public square. That’s what this agenda is all about: creating more opportunities for people to speak freely, to organize, to operate, and to challenge these violations wherever they occur.
QUESTION: And finally, is this good for the United States or is the U.S. ready to handle all these changes around the globe?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, we are doing our best, and I think we are responding appropriately. And again, the notion is that change occurs from within societies; we want to reinforce the agents of peaceful democratic change by giving them ample voice and ample opportunity to engage within their own society and have a stake in what happens.
DR. TILLEMANN: One last little point on that question. I think it’s precisely for that reason that it’s important to come together with other nations that share our values, share our commitment to democracy, and work together to find mechanisms for addressing some of these changes. And that’s one of the reasons why we view this as an important trip.
MS. FULTON: Okay, I’d like to thank our speakers for their time, and thank you for joining us today.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I wanted to come by and welcome and give you a little bit of a respite from hearing from the three advocates for human rights, each in their – in his own way truly devoted to the work that we do here at the State Department. And in particular, on this day, I want to thank Mike Posner and everyone in DRL who works with him and for all that you are doing. I want to thank Harold Koh and everyone in L who keeps pushing, pushing, and trying to make sure that our human rights policy continues to lead the world. And I want to thank P.J. Crowley and everybody in his shop who have to explain everything we do or don’t do, which is sometimes the most difficult of all tasks.
But mostly, I came by to thank you, members of civil society, human rights organizations, college students, Hill staffers, State Department colleagues. Thank you very much. Because we thought it was important to really have a chance on this day where we commemorate the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by a vote of 48-0 in the United Nations, the very core concept that each of us, all of us, are born with equal and inalienable rights.
Those words hearken back to our own Declaration of Independence, which was such an incredible, historical event in addition to representing the very best of our values and aspirations. But from the beginning, the United States has recognized that our rights are inextricably bound up with the rights of others. And we remain committed as a nation, and certainly in the Obama Administration, to working toward realizing a world that was envisioned by both of these declarations, in which every person has a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential.
Those of us in this great Dean Acheson Hall who lived through the civil rights movement, the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid, and so much else knows that these singular achievements are by no means the work of governments alone. In fact, it took civil society pushing governments, and sometimes pulling them against their natural inclination, to just protect the status quo. It took groups of citizens in shipyards and lunch counters and even prisons to keep prodding the conscience of governments and the rest of us.
So for the United States, supporting civil society around the globe is a crucial priority. I made that clear in a speech I gave last summer at the Community of Democracies in Krakow, where we laid out an agenda of support for civil society, because we think it’s not only a matter of good global citizenship, but it’s a key to advancing so many of our national security priorities.
So we intend to make engagement with civil society a defining feature of our diplomacy. We’ve asked our embassies and missions around the world to develop strategies to elevate support for and protection of civil society. Next year, I will launch the new strategic dialogue with civil society to bring together representatives from government and civic groups for regular consultation, just as we do in our strategic dialogues with other countries.
We have seen increased efforts by governments to restrict civic space, whether in Cuba or China’s efforts to somehow divert the world’s attention from the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony today. We really know that we have our work cut out for us. And in Krakow, I called on the UN Human Rights Council to do more to protect civil society and announced the creation of a new fund for embattled NGOs. And I want to thank Lithuania, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Poland, and the Czech Republic for their pledged contributions to this fund and for joining us in providing a lifeline to NGOs under siege. We also have worked with a coalition of countries on the Human Rights Council to create a new special rapporteur on freedom of association.
Now, just last week, Mike and I were in Central Asia, a place where civil society faces severe challenges. And we worked hard to give civil society a voice at the OSCE summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. And in each country, from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan, I met with the brave men and women who are committed to improving the lives of their fellow citizens, often at significant personal risk. These meetings, as they always are for me, were inspiring and deepened my appreciation for the difficult work that you and many others on the front lines of human rights and civil rights actually face every day.
As Mike said, earlier today, I presented the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights to outstanding individuals: Sarah Cleto Rial, an activist who sought refuge in the United States from Sudan; Wade Henderson, with whom I have worked over many years; and Louis and Alice Henkin, who together helped to promote and protect human rights in international law. And so we’re working to lead by example and hold ourselves accountable. And actually, we’re trying to live up to Eleanor Roosevelt’s challenge that America should be the best possible mirror of democracy that she can be.
So this year’s State Department Human Trafficking Report, for the first time, graded our own efforts as well as others. Last month, we presented our own human rights record as part of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review. And just as we ask other governments to work with civil society groups, we also held a special event to allow NGOs from around the world to speak directly with officials from 12 different federal agencies, and we webcast the proceedings.
We’re doing that and a lot more, but we need your advice, your support, your recommendations, your constructive criticism, because we want to help. Human Rights Day is a celebration of you and of what you are doing, and it is also a reminder and a challenge about how much more we all have to do.
So with that, I will turn you back to the triumvirate at the front here to take all the hard questions, because I am moving on. (Laughter.) Thank you very much.