Remarks at the Community of Democracies Governing Council
Secretary of State
Thank you very much, Minister. And thank you again for hosting us here in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thank you so much, Mr. President, for being part of this fourth meeting of the Governing Council of the Community of Democracies. I’m delighted also to have this opportunity to be here with all of you. Mongolia has done great work in advancing the reforms that we began last year in Vilnius, reshaping the community from a group that highlights democratic ideals to one that provides concrete support to emerging democracies. And let me also congratulate the Community’s first Secretary General, Ambassador Maria Leissner, on her new role. And we look forward to working with you.
As I said earlier at the Women’s Leadership Initiative meeting, I’m very pleased that this is occurring here in Asia and that the ministerial will be in Mongolia next year. Because it is important we dispel the myth that democracy is somehow antithetical to Asian values and Asian experience and Asian history and Asian aspirations. People everywhere want a voice and a vote in the decisions that affect their lives, and they deserve governments that protect their rights and respect their dignity.
Advancing democracy, as all of us who are here at this Governing Council meeting know, is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing as well. Democracies are more stable, more capable partners with vibrant open economies that can foster innovation and new ideas, and the world needs more of that. And although every country’s democratic journey is unique, there are universal principles we share and that’s what I think brings us together – to support each and to help emerging democracies succeed.
I’m particularly proud of the work the Community is doing to defend civil society groups. And in too many places, we see that there is an unfortunate resurgent effort by governments to tighten their grip on civil society. And it’s been quite distressing to see governments introducing laws that would severely restrict the ability of civil societies to act. As I said back in 2009 at our meeting in Krakow, this kind of legislation, these actions, are a grave challenge to democracy.
I was recently in St. Petersburg and met with a group of Russian civil society activists who are quite disturbed by new legislation being passed in the Russian Duma that not only goes after foreign NGOs and funding from foreign NGOs, but goes after local, national NGOs and civil society, which is really a great disturbance to the brilliance and the creativity of the Russian people, who have so much to contribute. That’s one of what could be, unfortunately, numerous examples, and I think the Community of Democracies needs to speak out, because whenever a reporter is silenced or an activist threatened or a civil society organization shut down, it really weakens the social fabric of a nation. So I really commend the steps that are being taken by the Community of Democracies to elevate the role of civil society.
Last summer in Lithuania, we agreed our countries needed to increase support for the Community. And I would like to announce two steps the United States is taking. First, we intend to provide up to a million dollars for the Community of Democracies this year – half in support of Mongolia’s democracy and good governance initiatives and half to fund the activities and programs of the Permanent Secretariat in Warsaw. This support reflects our determination to build a more action-oriented Community that strengthens cooperation among democracies worldwide.
Second, we will send a full-time staff member to the Permanent Secretariat to support the Community’s ongoing activities. I hope other members of the governing council will join us in following through on our commitments to provide the Permanent Secretariat with the resources and personnel to carry out its work. This was a very important step. Now we have to make sure that it can function as we hope.
Last year, we also discussed the need to provide support for emerging democracies. And over the past 12 months, we’ve deployed new democracy support task forces in Moldova and Tunisia. In the future, we hope the Community can help support reform in Burma and Kyrgyzstan as well. And I know that Roza Otunbayeva has great interest in seeing that we do just that.
Earlier today, we launched a new Community of Democracies initiative, the LEND Network for Leaders Engaged in New Democracies. And LEND will use the latest communications technology to give leaders access to a global network of experts to share best practices on building institutions, implementing democratic reform, and strengthening the rule of law. The Community of Democracies is proving that we can take on big challenges, follow through on our commitments, and help strengthen democracy and civil society worldwide. And I think actually now, more than ever, is such the right time for this Community because the world needs what this organization has to offer.
So I’m very pleased to be here with you and once again reaffirm our deep commitment to our shared democratic ideals. I look forward to continuing the cooperation between the United States and the Community of Democracies to advance our agenda. And I once again thank the Government of Mongolia for hosting us. (Applause.)