Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will visit Vilnius, Lithuania, from June 30 to July 1, to participate in the Community of Democracies 6th Ministerial. The Ministerial will bring together senior government officials, parliamentarians, NGOs, women and youth leaders, and the private sector to advance the shared goals of strengthening civil society and supporting emerging democracies. During her visit, the Secretary will participate in the "Women Enhancing Democracy" gathering of world leaders, held under the auspices of the Community of Democracies' working group on women's empowerment. She will also host a session of the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society focused on challenges to the freedoms of speech and association.
During a press briefing on June 24, 2011, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner and Dr. Tomicah S. Tillemann, the Secretary's Senior Advisor for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies, previewed the upcoming Community of Democracies meeting in Vilnius and the Secretary's travel. Dr. Tilleman said:
"This trip will take place in the run-up to the Fourth of July, when Americans celebrate the importance of democracy. And it also occurs at a time when popular movements for democracy are reshaping the geopolitical landscape of countries, including Tunisia and Egypt. And against that backdrop, this is an opportunity to drive home the importance of democracy and civil society in our foreign policy, to recognize the renaissance of good activity that's occurring within the Community of Democracies, and to follow up on the ambitious civil society agenda that the Secretary announced in her landmark speech at last year's meeting of the Community of Democracies in Krakow.
"On Thursday the 30th, the Secretary will be in Budapest, where she will participate in the inauguration of the Lantos Institute. The Lantos Institute was created to advance human rights, democracy, and transatlantic relations, and continue work on these important issues that were championed by Hungarian-American Congressman and Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos. The institute was created with the support of all of Hungary's mainstream political parties, and its opening is an opportunity to reinforce our commitment to pluralism and the values for which the institute will fight. The institute will be co-chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will also be attending the opening. And the Secretary, on Thursday morning following the inauguration of the institute, will also hold a series of bilateral meetings with Hungarian leadership and consultations with members of Hungary's civil society.
"We'll then go to Vilnius that afternoon, and the Vilnius ministerial of the Community of Democracies provides a case study in how Secretary Clinton's vision for diplomacy and 21st century statecraft is reshaping the way that countries collaborate with each other. The meeting will bring together different actors in democracy, including senior government leaders, civil society representatives, women, parliamentarians, youth, and the private sector around the shared goals of advancing civil society and supporting emerging democracies. During the last two years, the Community of Democracies has undergone a transformation from a forum where democracies could get together into a platform where democracies are getting things done. And that shift from an aspirational body to an operational platform has occurred with strong support from Secretary Clinton and at a time when there is a real need for international backing for civil society and newly emerging democracies."
Assistant Secretary Posner added, "...Last July, in Krakow, the Secretary spoke about the embattled NGO environment where, increasingly, governments are restricting the space for civil society nongovernmental organizations to function. In the last several years, at least 50 governments have enacted new laws or regulations which make it more difficult for NGOs to operate. So coming out of that speech, which sort of set the tone, we've really done three things in the last year: One is to initiate the civil society dialogue, which happened here earlier this year. The Secretary will be meeting with a group of NGO activists in Vilnius to discuss the same issues -- what are the constraints, what are the challenges they face, how can we be helpful in creating a more open environment for them to operate?
"Secondly, we announced last year the establishment of a fund, a $1 million fund called the Lifeline, the Embattled NGO Assistance Fund. So we're putting our money where our mouth is, and we're saying we're going to actually provide financial support for advocacy initiatives to challenge these restrictions, but also support for individual NGOs when they get in trouble -- legal assistance, trial observation, and the like. We've also -- we're in good company. We've now got 12 other governments that are supporting the Lifeline Fund: Australia, Benin, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom, and Sweden. So 12 other governments have matched our $1 million and the fund is now going to be getting underway. We've identified seven international NGOs to help us actually implement this. So that's the second deliverable from last year.
"And then the third thing is that the Secretary has been engaged in individual countries, like Cambodia, where governments have initiated new restrictions. This is an ongoing problem. In some respects, governments are learning bad behavior from one another, and the Secretary, as a diplomatic matter, has stepped up and really made this a key priority. So those will be the things we'll be discussing in Vilnius."
You can read the full transcript of the press briefing here.