World Day for Decent Work is commemorated each year by millions of working people around the world. Today on farms and in factories – in cities and small villages – people who work hard every day mobilize for good jobs, basic rights, and social protection in their societies. Decent work gives dignity to people’s lives, and it underpins more broadly shared prosperity in the global economy. As Special Representative for International Labor Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, I work to strengthen respect for worker rights, improve workplace conditions, contribute to sustainable livelihoods, and engage with workers and their organizations across the world.
This week in the Dominican Republic at the Ministerial meeting of the Pathways for Prosperity program, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discussed the importance of global economic growth, but noted: “I don’t want us ever to forget that growth is not the end in and of itself. It is to lift millions of people, to improve their lives, to give their children better futures…My question is: Will that growth include more and more people? Will that prosperity reach down into the middle class and the poor? Will more families realize their own dreams?”
In that spirit, on this World Day for Decent Work, we are convening the first meeting of the Labor Working Group of Secretary Clinton’s Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society. The working group consists of leaders from worker organizations, NGOs, the International Labor Organization, and some of the world’s leading experts on the crucial issues facing workers across the world. Over the next year, the group will offer policy recommendations for better incorporating the concerns of working people in U.S. foreign policy, including advice on promoting equality of opportunity and economic inclusion for young people, women, vulnerable workers, migrants, and the hundreds of millions of people working in the informal economy in countries across the world.
This year’s World Day of Decent Work comes as millions of workers worldwide continue to face enormous challenges of finding employment and decent work. We hope that our discussions with civil society and our broader initiatives to promote labor diplomacy and worker rights can make substantive contributions to improving the lives of working families everywhere.
Assistant Secretary Posner’s Remarks at Afhad Women’s University “Civil Society and U.S. Foreign Policy”
I wish all of you a happy and blessed Ramadan. At this time of self-reflection and renewal, I am especially pleased to be invited here. I wanted to come to Afhad Women’s University today to speak to you but also to listen to you and engage in a dialogue. I believe that Sudanese youth, and particularly Sudanese women, can and must play a leading role in building peace, stability, and broad-based economic growth in your country. I hope that some of you will do this within government, but that all of you will do it as members of civil society.
The United States government and particularly my boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — have been emphasizing the importance of civil society in crafting strong constitutions, building stable societies and developing sustainable democracies.
In our country, and in a growing number of countries around the world, it is no longer unusual for young people to work in non-governmental organizations — NGOs — and then go into government. And after serving in government, many go back to being active in civil society.
As you may know, Secretary Clinton began her career in an NGO. She was a lawyer for the Children’s Defense Fund. And President Obama started his political career as a community organizer in Chicago. In those roles, both of them represented vulnerable populations, and both urged the U.S. Government to serve its citizens better.
Now, that’s not to say that in a democracy, governments and NGOs always see eye-to-eye. They don’t — and they shouldn’t. But there is a common recognition that it takes the work of many different kinds of citizen groups to improve democracy and governance. They do it by informing governments about issues that may not yet have hit the radar of busy officials. They do it by advocating for vulnerable people whose needs are not being met through existing government policies or programs. They do it by pushing government to do better, to work more efficiently and to spend its time and resources on the issues that matter most to the people. And they do it by holding those of us in government accountable for our actions.
These functions are indispensible. I say that from my personal experience. I began my career as a lawyer and then did human rights work at NGOs for more than 30 years before joining the government. Over these three decades, I have been able to see with my own eyes how the interplay between civil society and government has helped countries emerge from conflict and corruption and become stronger.
Let me give a few examples:
– When I first started working in sub-Saharan Africa in the mid-1970s, there were virtually no NGOs except in South Africa and Zimbabwe, which was then called Rhodesia. Now there are civil society groups on every part of this continent, trying to turn weak democracies into truly representative and strong ones, and make strong democracies grow more transparent and responsive. The new constitution that was adopted by Kenya last year was the result of a decade-long struggle by civil society and government to create a constitution based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. And William Matunga, the former head of the Human Rights Commission, a leading NGO, has become the new chief justice.
– As an American, I find many parallels with civil society in my own country’s history. Of course Kenya’s constitution is an entirely Kenyan document, which is why the people have placed their hopes in it. But the open, consultative nature of the constitutional process was much the same in spirit. And by the way, the framers of the U.S. Constitution were at it for a decade. There were sharp regional divisions and different political histories and wide differences of opinion among the original 13 states. And if you think that process was easy, I encourage you to read their papers. Their debates over such questions as how to enforce the rule of law, how to put checks and balances on power, how much secrecy a government should be allowed and how much transparency should be required are still being reread and re-argued today.
That Constitution was in the broadest sense the product of civil society at its best. Of course it was flawed – it allowed slavery and failed to give women voting rights. Though we amended the constitution to abolish slavery in the 1860s and to give women the right to vote 60 years later, today we are still constantly working to build a more perfect union.
I have had the privilege of seeing civil society transform other countries in my own lifetime. In the Philippines, which grappled with serious problems with corruption, flawed elections, and lack of rule of law, I was involved with several human rights and legal organization that became part of a broader an open, electoral system. That resulted in the 1986 election of Corazon Aquino, the first woman leader and freely elected president of the Philippines. Civil society organizations pushed the government to create an independent electoral commission that presided over her historic election.
Likewise in Indonesia, hundreds of civil society groups are working on promoting democracy, human rights and religious tolerance and a range of other issues. Their efforts have been central to transforming a country with a history of ethnic conflicts into a vibrant young democracy. It’s a pluralistic system and one that respects religious diversity. Indonesia’s political stability has created as an environment that has attracted domestic and foreign investment. The economy has boomed. And this month Secretary Clinton flew to Bali to take part in a Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society.
This dialogue is part of a broader U.S. diplomatic effort to reach beyond government-to-government relationships and engage directly with the people of other countries. We seek to find ways to cooperate on issues of mutual interest, whether it’s human rights or environmental issues, improving education and employment opportunities for women and girls, or cooperating on global heath issues.
And finally, I’d like to say a word about the critical role we have seen women play in building peace and security around the world. Women suffer disproportionately in wartime and they continue to be grossly underrepresented in peace negotiations. Yet women have played a critical role in resolving conflicts, from Northern Ireland to Sri Lanka, especially by insisting that peace settlements address the chronic unresolved issues that tend to make conflicts simmer on and then reignite again in a few years.
It is also worth studying the examples set two women who have helped countries wracked by violence build peace from the ground-up: former President Roza Otunbayeva of Kygyzstan and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. And as you may know, President Otunbayeva set an interesting precedent for her young democracy by taking office and then declining to run for re-election in order to create a tradition of peaceful and prompt transfer of power. But I will leave you with a quote from President Sirleaf. She said, “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
So I hope you will dream big dreams, and then get involved. Democracy is not a spectator sport, and young people around this inter-connected world understand this intuitively. Most of those I meet are eager to get involved in shaping their societies, making them more inclusive, more respecting of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in doing so, making them stronger. The United States will support you in these efforts.
Thank you. And I’m happy to answer questions.
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.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Minister Azubalis, and thank you for Lithuania’s leadership with the Community of Democracies and with the OSCE. It’s a real privilege for me to be with all of you this evening for this Civil Society Strategic Dialogue. I know that around this table and in this audience are men and women of extraordinary courage and commitment. And as the minister said, we thought it was important to expand our dialogues beyond governments, and in fact to engage in an ongoing discussion with civil society at the same level that we do with governments around the world.
The foreign minister joined me in Washington for this launch of a Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society in February. And I want to introduce the team of people who have helped to lead this effort with me: our Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Michael Posner; Tomicah Tillemann, our Special Advisor on Civil Society and Emerging Democracies; and others from our State Department in Washington, because what we hope is that this is an ongoing networking and discussion that can assist those of you who are on the front lines, doing the hard work of creating space for freedom, democracy, and opportunity.
In Krakow last July, when we met with the Community of Democracies, I spoke then about the critical importance of civil society and the many challenges facing civil society, but I don’t think – I’ll speak for myself; I certainly did not foresee all of the changes that would occur in just half a year. We saw in Tunisia the beginning of a great movement for freedom, and we saw one of the most efficient authoritarian regimes give way to citizens demanding their basic rights. In Egypt, we saw a peaceful movement based on simple ideas of dignity and democracy, and a call for transformative change. And yet, at the same time, we have seen governments unleash brutal waves of repression against civil society around the world. We’ve seen staggering violence directed against activists in Syria and other parts of the Middle East. From Belarus to Bahrain to Burma, we’ve seen crackdowns and arrests. And there have been numerous efforts to enact regulations and legislation to restrict and even eliminate your work.
I know that some of you are here at great personal risk, and I know you have left behind family, friends, and colleagues who continue that work at great personal risk. We come together today with our own causes and interests but as part of a community of shared values and a common commitment to human rights and freedoms. Because you are on the front lines, you understand better than any of us what is facing you, what you need from us, what tools could help you do the work that lies ahead. So for the next hour, I want to hear from you.
In Krakow last year, we made specific commitments to strengthen civil society and we’ve made some progress. Together, we have refocused the UN Human Rights Council on Defending Civil Society by seeing the passage of a historic resolution creating the first special rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association. We’ve convinced regional organizations like the Organization of American States to take up this cause. We’ve made strides in marshalling diplomatic pressure around the world to stand against civil society being put under threat. Canada has led a working group in the Community of Democracies, and five times we’ve come together when draft legislation anywhere threatened civil society, and five times the laws were not enacted.
Because technology both empowers and endangers your work, we are giving activists new tools to try to circumvent the many obstacles that governments are putting in your way. The United States has invested $50 million in supporting internet freedom and we’ve trained more than 5,000 activists worldwide. Right next door, there’s another one of our so-called tech camps, where we are training several dozen activists from around the world to be able to use technology and avoid being shut down by governments using technology against them. We are also increasing our funding to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law so that when countries propose repressive laws, civil society has access to world class legal expertise. And finally, together with a consortium of NGOs, led by Freedom House and involving a dozen other countries, we created a fund called Lifeline. This fund will provide legal representation, cover medical bills arising from abuse, facilitate visits to activists in jail, and help replace equipment that is damaged or confiscated as a result of harassment.
So those are some of the promises we made and the promises we’ve kept, but we know there’s so much more to be done. You are changing your countries from within, and our priority is to do all we can to support you. So I look forward to hearing about what’s working and what’s not working, what we can do better, what we should stop doing, what we should do more of. And I thank you all for being with us as we take this time to take stock of where civil society is across the world.
And let me now turn it over to Assistant Secretary Posner.
For more information on the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society, visit the Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies.