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Remarks at the Ministerial Meeting of the Community of Democracies on Global Challenges to Democratic Governance

David J. Kramer, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery before the Community of Democracies Ministerial
New York City
September 26, 2008

10:30 a.m.

Thank you, Foreign Minister Amado, for arranging this meeting of civil society and government leadership today in the opening days of the 63rd UN General Assembly. We commend your stewardship of the Community and offer our sincere cooperation in ensuring the success of your tenure. I am honored to be here today representing the United States before the Community of Democracies, an organization launched at the beginning of the 21st century that is uniquely positioned to advance democracy and democratic principles around the world.

The commitments adopted by the Community in Warsaw in 2000, in Seoul in 2002, in Santiago in 2005, and in Bamako in 2007 testify to the Community’s recognition of our responsibility to help emerging democracies by sharing our common values, supporting conditions for robust civil societies, and promoting good governance.

The Bamako Ministerial last November marked the first time that the CD met at the Ministerial level in Africa, and the first time that the Community comprehensively addressed the strong connections between democracy and development. At the same time that the Bamako Consensus broke new ground in asserting principles and best practices of democratic development, it also reaffirmed the Community’s need to forthrightly address threats to democratic governance – threats that unfortunately have become tragic realities in too many countries this past year.

Unchecked transnational organized crime, trafficking in persons, terrorism and infectious diseases deprive countries of the human capital needed for development and promote social breakdown. External threats to territorial integrity, as seen in Georgia, and interruptions or irregularities in the democratic process, as in Zimbabwe and Mauritania, erode democratic authority and undermine human rights. And terrorism – one of the gravest threats of our time to – established and nascent democracies alike – challenges our ability to protect innocents and our deepest hopes to build societies where everyone is able to live in freedom and dignity.

The CD must find a way to advance its core principles and to respond effectively when democracy is under threat. The Community can ill afford to stand on the sidelines of issues that are the raison d’êntre for its creation.

In this, the 60th year since the adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we must counter challenges to the very human rights that we as democracies pledged to support and defend. Today, Freedom of Expression remains under serious threat in many countries around the world.

Governments continue to imprison people for trying to exercise these rights peacefully – to speak their views, to gather in public, to publish opinion and to seek or disseminate information, including through the internet.

There have been increased attacks on and even killings of journalists and media workers. We have also seen governments tighten restrictions on freedom of speech and on the domestic press, and increase efforts to control and censor the Internet.

In Bamako, we affirmed “that freedom of expression and association, and access to information and communication technologies, including the Internet, serve to strengthen civil society, enhance citizen participation and provide a basis for protections against government abuse.”

We must work to promote respect for freedom of expression by the media, and to fully respect the freedom to seek, receive and impart information. Freedom of expression within civil society allows for discussion and dialogue, necessary elements in combating racism, discrimination, and other forms of intolerance and in helping prevent human rights abuses.

In Bamako, we also reaffirmed the strong interest of democracies in supporting and partnering with civil society. Civil society activists continue to face a difficult working environment as anti-democratic regimes attempt to restrict their efforts. The people of Cuba, North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe and elsewhere are looking for our solidarity and assistance in helping them support democracy’s emergence in as-yet unfertile soil.

The CD has begun to address the essential relationship between governments and civil society – and the role that diplomats can play – through the development of a Diplomat’s Handbook. My government has committed to implement the Diplomat’s Handbook in the training of U.S. diplomats in an effort to improve government-civil society cooperation. We invite others to consider how they can integrate positive experiences and lessons learned from the global promotion of democracy in their own diplomatic training.

In fulfilling the Bamako Consensus, the Council for a Community of Democracies has circulated a draft resolution text on Democracy and Education for UNGA Third Committee, which presents another opportunity for governments and civil society to work together to advance the Community’s goals. I urge the CD take this opportunity to jointly support the Democracy and Education resolution through the Democracy Caucus.

In Bamako, we agreed to establish a Permanent Secretariat to help the Community coordinate its initiatives and permit it to more effectively address democracy challenges. The U.S pledges to work with the CD chair, Portugal; the new Executive Director of this nascent secretariat, Bronislaw Misztal; and the Community, to ensure its success. To that end, I will be signing an agreement with Professor Misztal immediately following this event to present the Permanent Secretariat with a generous initial donation from the U.S. Government.

In the same vein we welcome the candidacy of Lithuania to succeed Portugal as the chair of the Community of Democracies. As a country that has suffered under the yoke of totalitarianism, yet today is a model to emulate. Lithuania is well positioned to lead the Community.

Approaching Lisbon 2009, my government looks forward to addressing threats to democracy through continued fruitful exchanges, purposeful projects and joint actions guided by the principles of the Community and ably led by Portugal

Released on September 26, 2008

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