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The Challenge to Democracies

Democracy and human rights are under threat around the world. Democracies — whether in transition or established for decades — are confronting serious challenges from within and outside of their borders. Public distrust and the failure of governments to deliver equitable and sustainable economic and political progress has fueled political polarization and the rise of leaders who are undermining democratic norms and institutions. Across the globe, weak state capacity, tenuous rule of law, high inequality, and corruption continue to erode democracy. At the same time, authoritarian leaders are reaching across borders to undermine democracies — from targeting journalists and human rights defenders to meddling in elections — all while sowing disinformation to claim their model is better at delivering for people. Hostile actors exacerbate these trends by increasingly manipulating digital information and spreading disinformation to weaken democratic cohesion.

As President Biden has said, we have to prove democracy still works and can improve people’s lives in tangible ways. To do that, democracies have to come together — to rejuvenate and improve our open, rights-respecting societies from within; to stand together in defending against threats from autocracies; and to show we can address the most pressing crises of our time. The Summit will provide an opportunity to reflect, listen, and learn, as well as to plan and act, so that we can build a shared foundation for global democratic renewal.

Students taking a selfie as they sit in a large room with rows of seats.Ukrainian school students participate in a June 2019 opening ceremony of a USAID-supported Parliamentary Education Center.
(Photo by: Press Service of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Andrii Nesterenko, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)


After the December Summit: Next Steps

The December 2021 Summit will kick off a year of action by participants to make democracies more responsive and resilient, and to build a broader community of partners committed to global democratic renewal.

We aim to show how democracies can deliver on the issues that matter most to people: strengthening accountable governance, expanding economic opportunities, protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, and enabling lives of dignity. We also will show how open, rights-respecting societies can work together to effectively tackle the great challenges of our time, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and growing inequality. The U.S. government will announce commitments in areas such as bolstering free and independent media; fighting corruption; 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. The United States will also hold itself accountable to these commitments on a global public stage.

Following consultation, coordination, action, and delivery of results in subsequent months, the President will host an in-person Summit approximately one year later. During the second Summit, we can take stock of the progress made and forge a common path ahead.

Woman in a pink headscarf holding up her index finger with ink on it.Zainab shows her inked finger after voting for the first time in May 2018 at the Harsham camp for Internally Displaced Persons in Erbil, Iraq.
(Photo by: Jim Huylebroek for Creative Associates International, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the Summit for Democracy?

  • The Summit for Democracy is a flagship presidential initiative that illustrates the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to putting democracy and human rights at the heart of U.S. foreign policy.
  • President Biden will convene a broad and diverse group of world leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector at a virtual Summit for Democracy on December 9 and 10, 2021.  The Summit focuses on three themes:  strengthening democracy and countering authoritarianism, fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights.
  • The U.S. government views the Summit as an opportunity to listen, learn, and speak about the challenges facing democracy within the United States and abroad.
  • Participating governments—including the United States—will pledge to support domestic and international commitments in our shared push to bolster democracy from local to global levels.
  • Civil society, private sector partners, and philanthropic organizations from around the world will be engaged in the Summit.

Q: Why is the President hosting this Summit now?

  • History and overwhelming data show that societies that respect and defend democratic institutions, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and gender equality are more stable, prosperous, secure, and better equipped to confront global challenges.
  • Individually and collectively, democracies must continually demonstrate that they can deliver for their people. President Biden expects the Summit for Democracy to serve as a rallying point to do just this.
  • The United States looks forward to learning from partner nations and other stakeholders as we share our experiences and ideas.  Working together, we will demonstrate that democracies can meet the challenges of our age.   

Q: Who will be involved?

  • Well-functioning democracy relies on the participation of many actors, both inside and outside of government, committed to transparency, accountability, pluralism, equity, and rule of law. Through the Summit for Democracy and its associated side events, the United States seeks to bring together representatives of many sectors critical to democratic health. These include:
    • Governments
    • Members of the private sector
    • Human rights defenders, advocates, and civil society organizations
    • Members of the media
    • Influential individuals in politics, arts, culture, and sports, including emerging leaders from the next generation, and
    • Multilateral institutions charged with democracy and human rights advancement.

* We welcome all countries, organizations, and individuals to support the goals of the Summit *

Q: What are the Summit’s areas of focus?

  • The Summit for Democracy has three pillars of focus:
    • Strengthening democracy and defending against authoritarianism;
    • addressing and fighting corruption; and
    • promoting respect for human rights.

Q: When will the Summit take place?

  • Summit for Democracy will take place in two stages. The first Summit will be a virtual leader-level event on December 9-10, 2021.  The second, which the U.S. Government intends to be in-person, contingent on public health considerations, will be held approximately one year later. Between the two Summits the U.S. Government and its partners will embark upon a “Year of Action” to advance the Summit’s goals.

Q: Where will the Summit take place?

  • For the virtual Summit from December 9-10, 2021, most of the programming will be livestreamed on www.state.gov

Q: How will you ensure that civil society has a meaningful opportunity to connect with government representatives at the Summit?

  • The U.S. Government is engaged with national, regional, and international civil society on democratic renewal and in designing concrete commitments and deliverables for the Summit. We have asked all Summit participants to involve relevant civil society in a meaningful and collaborative manner.
  • The voices of civil society will be featured throughout the Summit’s agenda and at the gathering’s many side events.

Q: What kind of commitments will be made?

  • All democracies, including the United States, face challenges.  Participating in the Summit provides an opportunity governments, civil society, and members of the private sector to make meaningful public commitments in support of democracy, human rights, and the fight against corruption at home and abroad.
  • The U.S. Government will announce new actions and commitments in areas such as bolstering free and independent media; fighting corruption; 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.

Q: What role will partnerships play in the Summit for Democracy?

  • The Summit provides an opportunity to highlight the importance of partnerships—with local and national governments, legislatures, civil society, philanthropic organizations, and the private sector. At its core, a prosperous, well-functioning democratic society welcomes partnerships that are collaborative, cooperative, and collegial.
  • At the government level, the Summit can reinvigorate and enhance the goals of other multilateral venues.  Partnering with civil society is critical in achieving Summit goals as we turn to leaders and experts on-the-ground so that government pledges positively impact societies at the citizen level.  By tapping into the strength of the private sector, countries can partner on innovative and impactful initiatives to address the core themes.

Q: Why were some countries invited while other countries were not invited?

  • The United States reached out to a regionally diverse set of well-established and younger democracies whose progress and commitments will advance a more just and peaceful world.
  • Our goal is to be as inclusive as possible. We are working to ensure that all relevant voices and viewpoints feed into the Summit process.
  • We will continue engaging with Summit participants and other governments around the world to counter democratic backsliding, promote respect for human rights, and fight corruption both at home and abroad – whether that work occurs within or outside of the Summit framework.
  • We seek to engage any and all countries that show a genuine willingness in making commitments that support the Summit’s goals.

U.S. Department of State

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