Travel Diary: Secretary Clinton Honors Community of Democracies 10th Anniversary

Posted by DipNote Bloggers
July 3, 2010

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In Krakow, Poland, U.S. Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton participated in the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Community of Democracies, an organization initiated by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her Polish counterpart Bronislaw Geremek in 2000. In her remarks, Secretary Clinton said:

"As we meet here on the eve of our American Fourth of July celebration, the day when we commemorate our independence, I want to say a word about why the issue of civil society is so important to Americans. Our independence was a product of our civil society. Our civil society was pre-political. And it was only through debate, discussion, and civic activism that the United States of America came into being. We were a people before we were a nation. And civil society not only helped create our nation, it helped sustain and power our nation into the future. It was representatives of civil society who were the first to recognize that the American colonies could not continue without democratic governance. And after we won our independence, it was activists who helped establish our democracy. And they quickly recognized that they were a part of a broader struggle for human rights, human dignity, human progress.

"Civil society has played an essential role in identifying and eradicating the injustices that have, throughout our history, separated our nation from the principles on which it was founded. It was civil society, after all, that gave us the abolitionists who fought the evils of slavery, the suffragettes who campaigned for women's rights, the freedom marchers who demanded racial equality, the unions that championed the rights of labor, the conservationists who worked to protect our planet and climate."

Secretary Clinton continued, "[A]long with well-functioning markets and responsible, accountable government, progress in the 21st century depends on the ability of individuals to coalesce around shared goals, and harness the power of their convictions. But when governments crack down on the right of citizens to work together, as they have throughout history, societies fall into stagnation and decay.

"North Korea, a country that cannot even feed its own people, has banned all civil society. In Cuba and Belarus...civil society operates under extreme pressure. The Government of Iran has turned its back on a rich tradition of civil society, perpetrating human rights abuses against many activists and ordinary citizens who just wanted the right to be heard.

"There is also a broader group of countries where the walls are closing in on civic organizations. Over the last 6 years, 50 governments have issued new restrictions against NGOs, and the list of countries where civil society faces resistance is growing longer."

Secretary Clinton urged the democracies of the world to address the assault on civil society. She said:

"Today, meeting together as a community of democracies, it is our responsibility to address this crisis. Some of the countries engaging in these behaviors still claim to be democracies because they have elections. But, as I have said before, democracy requires far more than an election. It has to be a 365-day-a-year commitment, by government and citizens alike, to live up to the fundamental values of democracy, and accept the responsibilities of self government.

"Democracies don't fear their own people. They recognize that citizens must be free to come together to advocate and agitate, to remind those entrusted with governance that they derive their authority from the governed. Restrictions on these rights only demonstrate the fear of illegitimate rulers, the cowardice of those who deny their citizens the protections they deserve. An attack on civic activism and civil society is an attack on democracy."

Secretary Clinton then outlined four steps the Community of Democracies can take to respond to this crisis. She said:

"We have to begin asking the hard questions, whether countries that follow the example of authoritarian states and participate in this assault on civil society can truly call themselves democracies. And to address this challenge, civil society groups and democratic governments must come together around some common goals. The Community of Democracies is already bringing together governments and civil society organizations, some of whom are represented here. And it is well suited to lead these efforts. I know that the Community of Democracies working group on enabling and protecting civil society is already working to turn this vision into a reality. The United States pledges to work with this community to develop initiatives that support civil society and strengthen governments committed to democracy.

"With the leadership and support of countries like Lithuania, Poland, Canada, and Mongolia, I believe that the Community's 20th anniversary could be a celebration of the expanding strength of civil society, and the true institutionalization of the habits of the heart that undergird democracy. To make that happen, our joint efforts, I believe, should include at least four elements. First, the Community of Democracies should work to establish, as Radek recommended, an objective, independent mechanism for monitoring repressive measures against NGOs.

"Second, the United Nations Human Rights Council needs to do more to protect civil society. Freedom of association is the only freedom defined in the United Nations declaration of human rights that does not enjoy specific attention from the UN human rights machinery. That must change.

"Third, we will be working with regional and other organizations, such as the OAS, the EU, the OIC, the African Union, the Arab League, others, to do more to defend the freedom of association. Many of these groups are already committed to upholding democratic principles on paper. But we need to make sure words are matched by actions.

"And, fourth, we should coordinate our diplomatic pressure. I know that the Community of Democracies working group is focused on developing a rapid response mechanism to address situations where freedom of association comes under attack. Well, that can't happen soon enough. When NGOs come under threat, we should provide protection where we can, and amplify the voices of activists by meeting with them publicly at home and abroad, and citing their work in what we say and do. We can also provide technical training that will help activists make use of new technologies such as social networks. When possible, we should also work together to provide deserving organizations with financial support for their efforts."

Secretary Clinton concluded, "Every Fourth of July Americans affirm their belief that all human beings are created equal, that we are endowed by our creator with unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today, as a community of democracies, let us make it our mission to secure those rights. We owe it to our forebears, and we owe it to future generations to continue the fight for these ideals."

Read the Secretary's full remarks here.

Comments

Comments

Jan T.
|
Netherlands
July 4, 2010

Jan T. in the Netherlands writes:

A very inspiring speech! Secretary Clinton has put the importance of democracy in the proper perspective. Of course, people promoting democracy for the sake of economic growth can show substantial proof of the correlation between the two. But the real significance of democracy encompasses a lot more than macro-economic indicators. We should continue to focus on respect for human rights, on dialogue and on freedom in countries in which democracy is under threat. If the Community of Democracies would succeed in establishing a rapid response mechanism, a collective effort by democracies around the globe to support democracy activists fighting for their right to be heard, that would be a major step forward.

.

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