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As prepared

Good afternoon, everyone.  It is a pleasure to be back in Zambia and here with you all today.  I’d like to thank the Global Democracy Coalition and the Youth Democracy Cohort for this opportunity to speak with you all today, and to William Carew and Karine Kakasi for joining this discussion.  I can’t think of a better way to start my week at the Summit for Democracy than joining this event.  I especially want to thank the Government of the Republic of Zambia for co-hosting this year’s Summit.  The theme of “Free and Fair Elections” could not be timelier.

At the United Nations General Assembly last year, President Biden underscored our government’s commitment to defend and strengthen democracy at home and abroad.  As the President put it, “democracy remains humanity’s greatest instrument to address the challenges of our time.”  With allies and partners throughout the world, we must demonstrate democracy’s unparalleled capacity to deliver for people and to channel change peacefully.

The Summit for Democracy is not a “check-the-box” event, but a catalyst for collective action.  It is a historic opportunity for stakeholders to come together to deliver concrete pledges and mobilize action to restore and strengthen democracy worldwide.  Since the first Summit for Democracy, Summit participants have been working throughout the Year of Action to follow through on the more than 750 commitments to renew and revitalize our democracies and make them more responsive to our citizens.

And Summit participants are following through on their commitments.   For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo passed landmark legislation recognizing indigenous peoples’ tenure rights, the preservation of their cultural heritage and religious practices, and their rights to protection and access to basic services.  In July 2022, Botswana delivered on its commitment to co-host a Summit on Constitutionalism and Democratic Consolidation.  Held against the backdrop of Botswana’s own ongoing constitutional review, the event helped to build upon wider discussions on constitutional term limits.  In December 2022, Zambia abolished two controversial colonial-era laws that had previously allowed the death penalty and punishment for the defamation of the president.

These are only a few examples of the progress that has been made.  And we want to sustain the momentum.  The United States is working with partners to ensure these efforts carry on well beyond the second Summit.  We took steps to develop a more inclusive agenda through robust engagement with civil society and other stakeholders, because bringing more countries and partners into the fold is what the Summit for Democracy is all about.

We are drawing attention to the need for leaders to show real results for their citizens at all levels of government.  Democracy is not easy, and while democracies do perform better, they do so over the longer run.  Newer democracies face the substantial challenges of entrenched bureaucracies, legacies of colonialism, and citizens who are learning to exercise their voices in environments that do not always protect freedom of speech.  And while liberal democracies tend to stay democratic, countries fighting to transition to freer and more open government and societies require support from within and externally.  The United States and other Summit partners are committed to seeing democratic transitions stick.  But citizens need to be able to actively shape the political decisions of their governments.  You as civil society actors, representatives of nongovernment organizations, and government officials are crucial in these efforts.

As I mentioned earlier, the Summit for Democracy has been a catalyst for collective action.  It is also an excellent example of how multi-stakeholder initiatives provide innovative ways for businesses, civil society, and governments to work together.  For instance, the Open Government Partnership, or OGP, launched in 2011, works to increase participatory governance, counter corruption, promote transparency, and strengthen engagement among governments and civil society.  As part of the Year of Action, OGP co-led a democracy cohort with the United States on financial transparency and integrity issues.  This cohort, and others like it, will be a platform for carrying on the Summit for Democracy spirit well beyond the second Summit.

We also utilize multi-stakeholder efforts to protect and promote Internet freedom, a foreign policy priority for the U.S. government.  The United States is the 2023 Chair of the Freedom Online Coalition, a group of 36 like-minded governments committed to work together to support Internet freedom and protect fundamental human rights such as free expression, association, assembly, and privacy online worldwide.  Civil society plays an integral role via the Coalition’s Advisory Network, providing expert advice to the governments and convening thematic events.

We also work with international partners in bilateral and multilateral forums to encourage strong and sustained support for media freedom and freedom of expression.  Since the first Summit for Democracy, the U.S. government has deepened its engagement with the Media Freedom Coalition, a like-minded grouping of 52 countries that advocates for media freedom, particularly in repressive media environments, and draws attention to journalists under threat.  Another example of multilateral collaboration to reach shared goals is the Community of Democracies, a global intergovernmental coalition committed to taking concerted action to promote and protect democracy.  In 2000, more than 100 countries signed on to the Community’s founding document – the Warsaw Declaration – and in doing so, agreed to adhere to the Declaration’s 19 principles of democracy.  As members of the Governing Council, the United States, Nigeria, and 26 other states work hand-in-hand with global civil society representatives to take joint action, including when democracy is under threat.

I am also encouraged by our longstanding partnership with the African Union and the critical leadership demonstrated by the AU in its efforts to promote good governance and democratic principles, including through the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance, of which most African nations are signatories.  We look forward to collaborating with the AU on the implementation of the objectives outlined in the Charter, including as related to fostering civic participation and holding democratic elections that are credible in the eyes of the people.  Democracy is also a core value of the United Nations, and we have advanced democratic norms through close engagement and multilateral funding of a variety of UN agencies – including the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDF), the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  These agencies promote good governance, conduct election monitoring, assist in the drafting of new constitutions, and support the political participation of women.

These are only a few examples of collective efforts to advance our shared democracy and human rights priorities.  I would encourage you to consider your country’s engagement in some or all of these organizations and initiatives – either aiming for new engagement, or deepening involvement for those currently engaged.  As we work to strengthen democracy throughout the world, we must continue to diversify our partnerships, looking beyond traditional ties and organizations.  In doing so, we grow the global community of individuals and entities working to protect and promote democracy.

With this historic second Summit almost behind us, we must remember that the work continues.  Democratic partners must do our part to stop enabling authoritarians; be clear and unapologetic about the virtues of democracy and tireless in our efforts to uphold and defend it; protect press freedom and personal expression; promote inclusion and equality for all; strengthen transparency and accountability for the corrupt; and dramatically ramp up support for human rights defenders and for countries and regions at critical junctures.  These commitments will require ingenuity and courage, and in some cases may require a reconsideration of priorities and budgets.  Strengthening our inclusiveness on democracy renewal is a key goal of the Summit and of the President’s policy vision more broadly.  I look forward to close partnership with you all in the months and years ahead as we continue heeding the Summit’s charge to make our countries — and the world — more just, equitable, informed, and free.  Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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