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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at the Fifth Meeting of the Community of Democracies Governing Council

Roberta S. Jacobson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
New York City
September 25, 2012


Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here today with so many leaders who share a commitment to advancing democracy worldwide.

This is a moment of great importance for this organization and democracy as a whole around the world. From East Asia to North Africa to the Western Hemisphere, we are seeing more and more people stand up and demand to live out their lives in societies where leaders are accountable, civil society is free to flourish, and all citizens are subject to the rule of law. Realizing these goals is one of the defining challenges of our time. And it is a monumental task.

Over the past two years, the significant reforms we have implemented have remade the Community of Democracies into a platform where we can work together to realize these aspirations. We want to thank all those countries – especially the CD’s current President, Mongolia, and previous President, Lithuania, for the work they have done to initiate and carry out these transformational changes. As a result of this revitalization, we now have an internationally staffed secretariat with the leadership of Ambassador Maria Leissner, our first Secretary General, and a new opportunity to channel our common efforts to meet these great goals of advancing democracy worldwide.

We are already seeing the results of this work. The Community’s Task Forces in Moldova and Tunisia provide case studies in how the CD is providing a platform to share expertise and resources in supporting countries undergoing promising transitions to democracy. For example, in Moldova, senior officials of the Georgian Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Justice working through the CD Task Force are designing and implementing zero tolerance policies to help stamp-out corruption. Also in Moldova, a joint Polish-U.S. project on local governance is helping officials in towns and villages access the tools they need to improve lives and communities.

The CD’s working groups are also essential in accomplishing the mission of the Community. The new LEND Network is enabling leaders in new democracies to engage in real-time information exchanges with former presidents, prime ministers, and other experts on transitions as they work to build strong, accountable institutions and establish rule of law. The Democracy Education Working Group is helping to foster values and champion principles that will sustain our democracies for future generations. And the CD’s working group on Women and Democracy continues to highlight the importance of gender equality and women’s rights in countries undergoing democratization.

As we prepare for El Salvador to assume the Presidency of the CD next spring, I am particularly excited about the renaissance of CD activity in the Western Hemisphere. From Canada’s strong leadership of the working group on Defending Civil Society, to Chile’s co-chairmanship of the Poverty, Development, and Democracy working group, this activity is reinforcing the remarkable trend toward democracy that has occurred throughout the Americas in recent decades.

This Administration is committed to true partnership and shared responsibility in the Americas. That commitment demands that we be honest in re-examining areas where this Hemisphere once led, but we are now faltering. We look to our partners to join us in speaking up whenever and wherever the principles we share in the Americas – like the right to free and fair elections, or freedom of the press – come under attack. Twenty or 30 years ago, the leaders of many of today’s leading democracies in Americas were fighting for these principles against dictatorships in their own countries. In some countries today, populist leaders impatient with the institutional processes of democracy are closing down or subjugating independent media, courts and other essential components of democracy. We must stand together to support the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the principles and institutions embedded in the Inter-American system, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Today we need to redouble our efforts, and more importantly, everyone must speak out to defend strong, independent institutions of democracy—whether national, regional, or international.

All of us know from hard experiences that this work of building democracy is not easy. And, unfortunately, there is no guarantee of success. But we are convinced that our task will be easier and the odds will move in our favor if we work through the Community of Democracies to channel our individual efforts into cohesive action to support countries in transition and strengthen civil society.

No country can meet this challenge on its own. We need to work together. At the last meeting of the Governing Council in Ulaanbaatar this July, Secretary Clinton pledged up to $1 million to support the Community of Democracies, including half a million dollars to the Permanent Secretariat. The United States is also planning to provide a staff position at the Permanent Secretariat. At this moment of great need, every member of the Community of Democracies should contribute to this work. And we must work together to institutionalize the gains and sustain the momentum that we have developed within this body. Now is not a moment to be on the sidelines.

Ultimately, all of us and all of our countries are here today because we believe in the principles on which this Community is founded. And we believe that advancing those principles will improve lives, strengthen governance, and provide people everywhere with a greater opportunity to realize their potential. That is the cause that must unite us. That is opportunity we must seize. And that is the work we must move forward in our meetings today.

I thank you again for your continued efforts in support of democracy worldwide, and the United States looks forward to working with all of you to build an ever-stronger Community of Democracies.

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