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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor > Releases > Remarks > 2002 > January - March

Democracy and Human Rights Programs of the Department of State and USAID

Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Testimony Before the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee
Washington, DC
March 6, 2002

Mr. Chairman, Senator McConnell, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on the U.S. Governmentís efforts to assist the development of democracy abroad. Your interest in the topic is welcome, but comes as no surprise; many Members of this Subcommittee have a long-standing and intense interest in democracy building overseas. For that, many in the U.S. and in other countries are grateful.

For the United States, indeed for the whole world, 2001 was a year in which the importance of universal human rights was brought sharply into focus by global terrorism. On September 11, 2001, the world changed. As President Bush declared in his State of the Union Address, "In a single instant, we realized that this will be a decisive decade in the history of liberty, that weíve been called to a unique role in human events. Rarely has the world faced a choice more clear or consequential.... We choose freedom and the dignity of every life." This choice reflects both U.S. values and the universality of human rights that have steadily gained international acceptance over the past 50 years.

As the United States and our international partners commit resources to the fight against terrorism, we do so for all those who respect and yearn for human rights and democracy. Our fight against terrorism is part of a larger fight for democracy. In the words of President Bush, "America will lead by defending liberty and justice because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere. No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them. We have no intention of imposing our culture. But America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice and religious tolerance." This world of democracy, opportunity, and stability is a world in which terrorism cannot thrive.

This commitment to human rights and democracy around the globe continues a bipartisan tradition that goes back to our nationís founding, but which was considerably invigorated in the last quarter century. Added weight to the moral dimension of American foreign policy was given first in the 1970s by President Carter on human rights, and then in the 1980s by President Reagan on democracy building.

In the intervening years, we have witnessed great international changes, mainly through the transition of states to more democratic systems. Even in the late 1980s, few among us could have imagined the collapse of the Soviet Union and East Bloc, the end of apartheid in South Africa, a string of increasingly democratic nations throughout East Asia, and the fact that our own hemisphere would, almost without exception, contain only democratically elected leaders. Moreover, a year ago no one could have foreseen the dramatic changes in Afghanistan, a country that suffered under one of the most oppressive regimes in the world, the Taliban. While early signs are encouraging--women choosing whether to wear the traditional burqa when in public, young girls returning to school for the first time in years--the Afghan people have taken only a few steps of a long, painful journey that will take a very long time. They will need considerable help along the way.

Fortunately, after almost two decades, we have learned much about how to assist such transitions. The Administration believes it is time to examine those lessons, and if needed, update, refine and institute policies on democracy building. Along with the National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget, my office is currently carrying out a top-to-bottom review of our democracy programs to ensure that they advance, in the most useful and cost effective manner, our national interests and subsequent policy decisions. I would like to share with you some of the areas we are examining, and I would like to work with members of Congress to get input.

In undertaking the review, two prisms were taken into account. The first deals with the increasingly international nature of democracy building. The second concerns our goals in pursuing such work.

First, democracy is now accepted as an international norm; it is no longer the case that the U.S. acts alone, or with one or two other countries, in assisting democratic transitions in other nations. Since the 1990s, other established democracies have joined with us in pursuing, through policy and assistance, the advancement of democratic processes abroad. Over the past few years, nations that understood the costs of dictatorship best--nations such as South Africa, South Korea, Poland, and Chile, to name a few--began offering their experiences to those struggling for democracy and liberty. Indeed, in some regions, it is a dictatorshipís neighbors, more than the United States, that will determine the outcome of a particular nationís transition to democracy.

Additional evidence of the beginning of a set of international norms on democracy comes from efforts such as Romaniaís United Nations General Assembly resolution on promoting and consolidating democracy, which further describes the elements of democratic governance including civilian control of the military, independence of the judiciary and the right to due process. Further evidence of the beginning of a set of international norms on democracy also comes from the Community of Democracies enterprise. We are working to strengthen these efforts, which illustrate that, in every region of the globe, democracy is now considered to be a desirable norm and not an American or "Western" import. Our review is looking at ways to encourage these developments, while keeping in mind their diverse nature.

A second, broader issue in our review concerns Americaís goals and methods in pursuing democracy programs.

Electoral processes are an important component of democratic transitions. Indeed, in the early days of democracy assistance, they were regarded as the key indicator of a nationís political transition. Unfortunately, experience shows many authoritarian rulers believe that a poor electoral environment for political participation can be overcome in the eyes of some observers by a well-run election day. This is what some fear this weekend in Zimbabwe. In reality, an open electoral environment and willingness to hand over power in an orderly and prompt manner can go far to ameliorate what may be a less than perfect election day. South Africa in 1993 is a good example. We need to look at these experiences and our programs to determine when, and how best, to assist elections as a milestone in transitions to democracy.

We are also examining our approach to political party assistance. Political parties can be a prime intermediary between the governed and the government; lessening the potential for conflict in a country. To do that, they need to sink roots within the population. An elected, democratically oriented party also has the potential, more than most other institutions, to hasten a countryís transition. Our assistance to such parties is therefore invaluable, but our policies regarding such aid have undergone wide swings in the past ten years. In the early 1990s, for example, we provided material assistance to particular parties in targeted countries, but in the mid-1990s, U.S. non-governmental organizations were being asked by some in government to aid communist and ultra-nationalist parties in former Soviet bloc nations. Somewhere in between lies a policy that adheres to legislative restrictions and assists those who want to advance democracy in their countries.

We also need to determine how best to help nations trying to consolidate democratic gains achieved through the ballot box. As we are learning around the world, political freedom alone is often not enough. In an era of globalization, we are examining our programs to determine how to ensure a good marriage between efforts to enhance political freedom and efforts--bilateral and otherwise--to encourage economic liberalization. In some nations, winners in the democratic competition are many of the same forces that long resisted political and economic liberalization. In others, genuine political reformers donít have the strength or tools to stand up to entrenched economic elites. In such cases, the expected economic benefits of democratization do not materialize in an equitable manner. As a result, citizens become disenchanted with so-called "democracy" and yearn for days of economic stability, even if those days were far from ideal. In some cases, they are often willing to give up a large measure of political freedom to stabilize their economic situation.

The challenge of the first quarter century of democracy building was elections. While expanding our knowledge and honing our tools to assist electoral processes, we must, in the second quarter century, emphasize the challenge of good governance, including transparency, individual liberty, freedom from corruption, and management of transition economies--through the rule of law, a free media, accountable political leadership, labor rights, and a vibrant civil society. As Secretary Powell said, "the answer to the problems of democracy is more democracy." When democratic electoral processes are buttressed by a culture of democracy and a functioning economy, we can consider our job in transitional countries done.

We are also examining whether and how nations that are just beginning to open up economically or politically can be assisted. In most cases that means working through the existing system, trying to catalyze a dynamic that has been instituted by the present rulers. A good example currently exists in the Persian Gulf, where a number of nations with undemocratic political systems have embarked on efforts to expand legislative and electoral authority. Such efforts may, in the end, be unsuccessful, but supporting them for relatively low amounts could pay big dividends in the long run.

Keeping in mind our desire to extend democracy in a universal manner, but not having unlimited funds available to us, we also need to have a solid framework for focusing our resources. One obvious criteria must be the importance of the country to Americaís national interests, but we also need to be realistic about the conditions required to have a desired effect. Key to such considerations will be the understanding of the reality that our assistance is unlikely, in and of itself, to create the changes we seek. In countries where the local dynamic is already moving towards democracy our assistance can help leverage the cause in the right direction. The will for change at a national level is therefore pivital. It makes little sense, for example, to spend millions to train judges in a country where the ruler will not tolerate an increasingly independent judiciary, or fund programs in countries with ample private resources but without the will to pursue democratic goals.

While this interagency review is ongoing, we in DRL have tried to take these issues into account to make our Human Rights and Democracy Fund (HRDF) more responsive to the needs of developing democracies and a more effective agent of change. Created by Congress, HRDF grants are provided by DRL to support democracy and human rights projects throughout the world.

In the past few months, we have reoriented the criteria used to make HRDF grants. It doesnít make sense to sprinkle these grants among 80-plus countries of the world. Rather, our approach is to focus on countries of U.S. national interest and identify the most pressing human rights and/or democracy issues in those countries, taking into account such sources as the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the annual Report on International Religious Freedom, input from the desks, our embassies, experts in the area, NGOs, visits in-country by DRL staff, and so forth. We then formulate innovative, cutting-edge projects that address these issues.

We seek programs or ideas that often have not been tried before in that country or region, or ones that have had merit but may have been deemed too risky by other USG entities. We then coordinate these ideas closely with USAID, the regional bureaus, and posts to increase their effectiveness. HRDF projects must not, for example, duplicate or simply add to efforts by USAID or other offices. In order to maintain a continuous flow of fresh ideas and innovative approaches, we wonít use HRDF to fund programs for longer than 2-3 years. At that point, if they are successful, we will spin off responsibility to other entities.

In the short months since I have been on board, we have gotten a number of cutting-edge projects approved. One is to establish an independent printing press in Kyrgyzstan, an idea that had bounced around in one form or another for 3-4 years but could never get any funding because it was deemed too risky and not "commercially viable." This will be an extremely difficult program to implement, given resistance from the Kyrgyz Government, logistics, and the daunting challenge of setting up a completely new organization with a sound board and management team. However, this is exactly the kind of idea DRL wants to support, since independent media in Kyrgyzstan has been under enormous pressure in recent years, yet there still exists a degree of latitude in Kyrgyzstan that does not exist in, for example, Uzbekistan.

We have also developed a project to shed new light on the human rights conditions in North Korea. We are funding a program to support South Korean NGOs in their efforts to improve reporting on the human rights situation in North Korea. While the famine justifiably receives much attention, the repressive conditions under which the North Korean people live receives much less. This groundbreaking project will fill an important information gap in the U.S. and internationally. It will provide NGOs with the means to research and publish accurate, credible reporting on the human rights conditions in North Korea.

In Colombia, the foundation of its long-standing and deeply rooted democracy has been shaken by 38 years of internal conflict. Paramilitary and guerrilla violence continues unabated and these groups are increasingly targeting judicial sector personnel. Although protection programs have been established to provide assistance to many vulnerable populations in Colombia, the immediate needs of justice sector personnel have not been addressed. In response, we are creating a temporary relocation program for threatened judicial personnel, which will provide specialized training to enhance their ability to perform their jobs when they return to Colombia. This program not only serves the immediate need for judicial protection, it also serves the long-term goal of fortifying rule of law, thereby strengthening Colombian democracy.

These are just a few examples of how we are making democracy and human rights programming much more dynamic.

As I said at the beginning, we will be looking to Congress for ideas and thoughts as we undertake this review of democracy programs and continue to provide grants through HRDF. Many of you were here when such programs began in the 1980s, you have traveled to many of these countries, and have much experience and institutional knowledge from which we would benefit.

I want to conclude by noting, as I did at my swearing in ceremony last June, that democracy building has historically been a bipartisan issue. During my days at the International Republican Institute, I worked closely with my counterpart at the National Democratic Institute. Americans are best when we are united; often, the best example we can offer overseas is that politics is not a winner-take-all sport. I look forward to working with Members and their staffs from both sides of the aisle in promoting democracy overseas, for there is much to do.

Thank you. I look forward to answering your questions.

Released on March 6, 2002

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