In March 2015 in New Delhi, the conference “Strengthening Democracy in Asia: Inclusion, Participation, and Rights” brought together hundreds of civil society organizations, media practitioners, politicians, and other champions of democracy from 15 nations. Featuring His Holiness the Dalai Lama and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, the conference highlighted challenges faced by activists, best practices in addressing them, and ideas for promoting democratic change within society.
The event also served as an opportunity to honor the historic work of George Fernandes in support of labor rights in India and democracy and human rights in Tibet and Burma. His Holiness the Dalai Lama began his inaugural address by praising the life and works of George Fernandes: “On this special occasion, we remember my old friend George Fernandes, who even after becoming the Defence Minister continued to maintain a simple, austere and a way of life based on self-reliance. Some of our friends’ attitudes change once they come to exercise power; but not George. He was sympathetic to Tibet and the Tibetan cause right from the start and never missed an opportunity to speak up for them. His face will remain in my heart until I die and I’ll remember him even into my next life.”
In closing the conference, NED President Carl Gershman noted that “there have been democratic gains in countries like Tunisia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka; and India’s extraordinary and sustained democratic stability is a source of hope for democrats everywhere. But the greatest source of encouragement is the activism and energy throughout the world of activists such as those who have been at this conference. If the global networks connecting such activists can be strengthened, and if democratic leaders and countries can demonstrate greater solidarity for those on the frontlines of democratic struggle in the world, we can reverse the democratic decline and lay the foundation for a new period or democratic progress.”
The conference was jointly organized by the World Movement for Democracy and NED grantees the Institute of Social Sciences and the Asia Democracy Network.