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Remarks at BMENA Forum for the Future Subministerial Panel on "Review of G-8 / BMENA Initiatives"

David Kramer, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC
June 9, 2008

The path to democracy is neither smooth, nor straight, but it is sure. Along the way, there are bound to be stumbles and setbacks. But the way forward is clear: entrust citizens with greater freedom so that they can use it to correct the deficiencies that stand in the way of a more prosperous and freer future. 

As U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice writes in Foreign Affairs, “We recognize that democratic state building is now an urgent component of our national interest. And in the broader Middle East, we recognize that freedom and democracy are the only ideas that can, over time, lead to just and lasting stability.” 

The Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) initiative, launched by the G8 and our regional partners in 2004, has supported important steps toward reform and continues to work toward political, economic, and social change in the region. This Subministeral reinforces those steps and strengthens the dialogue between governments and civil society – a dialogue essential to peaceful and lasting change.

Initiatives launched under the BMENA initiative range from the Democracy Assistance Dialogue (DAD) to a literacy initiative to a Private Enterprise Partnership at the International Finance Corporation (IFC). In 2005 the U.S. joined other G8, European, and regional governments to launch the Foundation for the Future.

All these initiatives are valuable tools to build support for reform at governmental and grass-roots levels. The United States will continue to partner with governments, non-government organizations, and ordinary citizens to expand liberty and build strong institutions on which our democracies depend.

We applaud the DAD civil society and the governments of Yemen, Italy, and Turkey for their continued focus on advancing and regularizing dialogue between civil society and governments on critical reform topics in the BMENA region, including women’s empowerment, freedom of expression, and electoral and political processes. Since its inception more than three years ago, the DAD has facilitated effective and successful relationships between willing governments, NGOs, the media, political leaders and civil society experts in the region, and has created a collaborative and transparent environment in which to accomplish this partnership. I would like to acknowledge that DAD partners’ work on in-country programs focused on women’s empowerment in Algeria, Jordan and Pakistan, and as well programs in Morocco and Yemen that are focused on freedom of expression, political party and electoral reform.

We thank Niccolo and other DAD partners for their comments on the principles on NGO-government cooperation (NGO Principles). The DAD is to be commended for taking on this initiative and developing this set of principles, which are drawn from existing international conventions and documents. The United States endorses these principles. 

NGOs are essential to the development and success of free societies, and they play a vital role in ensuring accountable and democratic governments. Civil society – from human rights organizations to the media – are often the leading voices for change around the world. And they often bear the brunt of the pushback we are seeing by those in power who feel threatened by reform. While the specific issues NGOs deal with will vary from country to country, we believe that these universal standards can help set the framework for constructive cooperation between NGOs and governments.

We hope that with this latest initiative, the NGO Principles, the integral work in promoting freedom, democracy and human rights reform in the BMENA region will continue. I hope that all our ministers will offer their support for the principles at this year’s Forum.

We thank the UAE and Japan for their leadership in hosting the second Subministerial here in Dubai. This one day event with all BMENA partners, including civil society, has provided momentum for this year’s Forum, provided an opportunity to take stock of progress since last year’s BMENA events and reach consensus on key items to be formally endorsed at the ministerial in Abu Dhabi. 

We recognize Yemen and Germany for the important work done in preparation for the 2007 BMENA Subministerial and Forum for the Future, and commend the participation of civil society organizations at the successful 2007 Civil Society Parallel Forum in Sana’a. These initiatives demonstrate true partnership between the G8 and BMENA countries, and G8 commitment to the BMENA process.

Since Secretary Rice and other foreign ministers announced the launch of the BMENA Foundation for the Future at the Forum in Bahrain in 2005, the program has dedicated its resources to achieving reform in the Middle East and North Africa. We congratulate Ms. Nabila Hamza in her new position as Executive President of the Foundation for the Future.  We appreciate Ms. Hamza’s update for us today, and offer our continued support and collaboration. 

Secretary Rice looks forward to attending this year’s Forum in October in Abu Dhabi, and we applaud the leadership of UAE and Japan in their roles as co-hosts for this year’s Forum. The Forum for the Future has allowed civil society leaders to interact with their foreign ministers and to discuss issues of great priority, such as rule of law, transparency, human rights, and women's empowerment. On the issue of continuity, let me also reassure those assembled here today that no matter which candidate wins our upcoming presidential elections, the U.S. will stay firmly committed to the Forum and its related initiatives. This has bipartisan support. 

G8 BMENA initiatives are continuing to make significant strides in reforms throughout the Middle East and North Africa. However, we reinforce civil society’s point that, though continuing dialogue between governments and civil society is important, the objective of these initiatives is concrete progress in reforms in the region and not just holding periodic talks. 



Released on June 13, 2008

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