This past month, President Biden hosted the first-ever and first-of-its-kind Summit for Democracy, a flagship initiative that convened global leaders to engage and speak honestly about the challenges and opportunities facing democratic governments. The Summit asked government, civil society, and private sector leaders to work together to advance an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal – and our work is just getting started.
The Summit for Democracy was the largest leaders-level and largest virtual Summit the U.S. government has ever hosted with over 100 government and non-government speakers across three days. I was proud to join President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary Blinken, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, Administrator Power, and several other Administration officials in a global conversation about how – now more than ever – democracy needs champions. We must use collective action to ensure that democracies deliver for their people, and that democratic renewal puts universal human rights at the center of its work.
I want to share some key moments from the Summit and invite all to participate in making, implementing, and monitoring commitments to address democratic backsliding, counter corruption, and advocate for human rights.
President Biden has made clear that renewing democracy begins by working diligently and transparently on strengthening its foundations – both at home and abroad. During his opening remarks , he said:
“And, yes, democracy is hard. We all know that. It works best with consensus and cooperation. When people and parties that might have opposing views sit down and find ways to work together, things begin to work. But it’s the best way to unleash human potential and defend human dignity and solve big problems. And it’s up to us to prove that.”
So what motivated world leaders from across the globe to come together, learn together, and act together? We solicited bold commitments centered around three principal themes:
- Defending Against Authoritarianism
- Addressing and Fighting Corruption
- Promoting Respect for Human Rights, Both at Home and Abroad
United States Commitments and Actions
As for U.S. commitments at the Summit, President Biden launched the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, which will focus efforts across our diplomatic and foreign assistance to bolster democratic resilience and human rights globally.
We also focused on bolstering free and independent media, including announcements to support independent media with funding for the International Fund for Public Interest Media , the launch of a Media Viability Accelerator, and support for a global Defamation Defense Fund for Journalists in parallel to the establishment of a Journalism Protection Platform.
Fighting corruption is also a key priority, as outlined in the new U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption . The Strategy reflects that addressing corruption is a core U.S. national security interest and will improve the United States government’s ability to prevent corruption. This means more effectively combatting illicit finance, better holding corrupt actors accountable, and strengthening the capacity of activists, investigative journalists, and those working diligently to expose corrupt acts.
The Biden-Harris Administration has made clear that renewing democracy begins by working diligently and transparently to strengthen its foundations at home. Demonstrating that democracy can deliver to improve people’s lives and address the greatest challenges of our time is at the heart of the Build Back Better agenda, from the historic effort to prioritize equity across the federal government to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
We are committed to defending free and fair elections, strengthening civic capacity, advancing the civic and political leadership of women, girls, and marginalized community members, and harnessing technology for democratic renewal. We’re excited to be working with our global partners to initiate bold and innovative change in these areas because we know that democratic renewal requires collective action. You can read more about U.S. commitments and actions here.
What’s Next: A Year of Action
The Summit was not an assertion that any democracy is perfect or has all the answers – the Summit focused on sharing ideas on how we each have a role in making our democracies better and learning from each other in order to make concrete commitments to strengthen democracies, push back on authoritarianism, fight corruption, and promote and protect human rights for all people everywhere. The Summit was not just another talk fest; it’s a springboard to a Year of Action.
The Year of Action begins now, giving Summit participants the next 12 months to follow through on commitments and return for a second iteration to report back on progress made. In case you missed Summit I, you can still view programming and side events on the Summit’s website, and follow @StateDept to keep up with the Year of Action between now and Summit II. President Biden has said that no democracy is perfect and no democracy is ever final . Worldwide, democracy is facing a moment of reckoning. Collective action to protect human rights, counter authoritarianism, and revitalize democratic principles is neither easy nor inevitable. But it is the world’s best hope, not because it is perfect, but because it delivers for the people and by the people. We invite you all to join this diverse and growing global coalition and vital work.
About the Author: Uzra Zeya is the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.