Sep 1, 2010


‘Defending Civil Society’ Efforts Boosted by Clinton Speech in Krakow

The efforts of the World Movement for Democracy in Defending Civil Society received an important boost from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she used a keynote speech to focus on the importance of civil society in advancing democracy, and on the growing challenges posed by restrictive legal environments. The subject emerged as one of the leading issues at the 10th Anniversary High Level Democracy Meeting of the Community of Democracies (CD) in Krakow, Poland, in July.

Secretary Clinton addressed these challenges directly in her conference speech, which was entitled, “Civil Society: Supporting Democracy in the 21st Century:”

"Over the last six years, 50 governments have issued new restrictions against NGOs, and the list of countries where civil society faces resistance is growing longer…

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...

In the Community of Democracies, 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…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."

Defending civil society has been a focal point for the World Movement for Democracy (for which NED serves as the Secretariat). Not surprisingly, the World Movement has been intensively involved with the CD’s Working Group on Enabling and Protecting Civil Society (chaired by the Canadian government), and World Movement staff were active in the Krakow Working Group discussions.

Along with the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, CIVICUS, and Article 19, the World Movement has been working with governmental members of the Working Group to formulate recommendations for the CD’s Global Action Plan, which will be presented at the CD’s Ministerial Meeting in Lithuania in July 2011. These recommendations, presented in Krakow, include:

  • establishing an International Contact Group of individuals who can share best practices in dealing with repressive NGO laws;
  • developing an Alert System to inform and activate the Contact Group;
  • producing a Toolkit for Diplomats dealing with repressive legal environments;
  • and developing a CD mechanism to direct technical assistance to CD member states in the process of drafting legislation that affects civil society space.

Following Clinton’s speech, the World Movement joined its NGO partners at the conference in issuing a press release welcoming Clinton’s remarks, including her announcement of a commitment to establish a new fund to provide legal representation, communication technology, such as cell phone and Internet access, and other forms of quick support to NGOs under siege. The statement also urged all governments to take immediate measures to reverse the growing backlash against civil society and human rights defenders.

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