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.)
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.
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.