MODERATOR: Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing. Today, we’re very honored to be joined by Uzra Zeya, the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights at the Department of State.
And finally, a reminder that today’s briefing is on the record. And with that, let’s get started. Under Secretary Zeya, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll turn it over to you for opening remarks.
UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Thank you, Andrea, and thank you, everyone, for joining me today to talk about the second Summit for Democracy.
Allow me to take a moment to say that we are deeply concerned by Russia’s widely reported detention of a U.S. citizen journalist, and are in contact with The Wall Street Journal on this situation. In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and civil society voices.
This incident underscores the importance of the second Summit for Democracy. President Biden and our four regional co-hosts – Costa Rica, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, and the Republic of Zambia – convened an even larger grouping this time of diverse democracies. We came together alongside civil society and private sector leaders to protect independent media, stand up for human rights, fight corruption, bolster technology for democracy, and advance free and fair elections.
Before getting to your questions, let me share with you three takeaways from this week’s summit events on four continents and the 15 months of action that led up to this.
First, we expanded the chorus of democratic champions. At this second summit, there were more than 120 invited governments and authorities. In recognition of the important work already underway by governments worldwide to advance the summit’s objectives, we invited eight new countries to the second summit. Half of these new invitees are from the African continent.
Broadening the course also means engaging beyond governments to elevate and innovate with civil society and the private sector. Throughout the summit process, more than 1,400 nongovernmental organizations from Armenia to Zambia actively took part in consultations with governments and newly formed democracy cohorts. Over a dozen cohorts brought governments, NGOs, and the private sector together on equal footing to develop and fulfill summit commitments with remarkable results.
For example, one cohort – led by Lithuania, Freedom House, and the Alliance of Democracies – produced a risk assessment to help protect potential victims of transnational repression. Another cohort – which the United Kingdom, Estonia, and Access Now led – created a portal to provide vital information on internet shutdowns. The State Department partnered with the AFL-CIO in leading an action-oriented democracy and labor cohort, where governments and unions put forward a set of good practices to combat forced labor.
In the months and years to come, the United States along with summit partners will continue supporting cohorts’ work as we expand coalitions to solve the world’s most pressing challenges. Additionally, the private sector stepped up at this week’s summit by making their own commitments to safeguard human rights, fight corruption, and respond to authoritarian overreach. For example, Microsoft, Meta, Cisco, and Trend Micro spearheaded an effort that brought together over 150 companies to endorse a set of principles focused on minimizing the risks associated with commercial spyware.
A second takeaway is that summit participants turned words into action, implementing over 750 pledges in the last 15 months. For instance, Ireland adopted an electoral reform act that established an elections commission. The Dominican Republic adopted a landmark civil assets forfeiture law that targets ill-gotten gains that fuel transnational crime. Zambia reopened two independent media houses that were shuttered by the previous administration. Australia developed and released a 10-year national plan to end violence against women, while Nepal adopted new legislation punishing rape and acid attacks and gender-based violence.
Alongside our global summit partners, the United States is doing its part to strengthen democracy at home and abroad. At home, President Biden powered the strongest and most equitable job creation in American history, with 12 million jobs added to the economy over a two-year period, the majority of which went to women. Meanwhile, to protect the right to vote and the civil rights of all Americans, President Biden signed into law the bipartisan Electoral Count Reform Act a few months ago. And just this week, President Biden signed a new executive order that will prohibit U.S. Government use of commercial spyware that poses a significant risk of abuse by foreign governments for repressive ends.
Our commitment to deliver for the American people propels our resolve to strengthen democracy internationally. As unveiled by President Biden during the summit, we’re providing an additional $690 million in new funding, subject to congressional approval, for the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, which is an innovative targeted expansion of U.S. Government efforts to defend and grow democratic resilience. Additionally, over the course of three years, the Biden administration intends to work with Congress to commit up to $9.5 billion across all our lines of effort to strengthen democracy around the world.
Some of the transformative global efforts under the presidential initiative include our new Multilateral Surge and Sustain Fund for Anti-Censorship Technology, which will provide millions of people in repressive environments with greater access to the internet. Another breakthrough is the development of new guiding principles on government use of surveillance technology, endorsed by over 40 countries this week, which outline how governments can protect human rights and respect democratic values in their use of such technologies.
Lastly, the summit underscored the value of partnership and co-leadership. During his closing remarks for the summit yesterday, Secretary Blinken emphasized that we are in a better position to address today’s most urgent shared challenges when we do so through strong, inclusive coalitions.
Through the two-year summit process, we have revitalized traditional partnerships and woven together new ones of common purpose. A prime example of this is the Summit Focal Group, which brought together over 60 geographically diverse government representatives to develop and negotiate a summit declaration reaffirming participants’ commitment to democracy and collective action. It has already been endorsed by more than 70 governments and authorities from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America, with hopefully more to come.
Co-leadership also means recognizing global leaders and their significant contributions to defending democracy. All people, nations, and sectors have ideas to offer and work to showcase. It’s in this vein that the second summit was co-hosted and planned with our four governmental partners. Additionally, President Biden announced the Republic of Korea will host a future third summit, and we’re grateful for their partnership and leadership.
As we prepare for the next Summit for Democracy, we look forward to sustaining the incredible momentum of this week, and we’re energized to continue to renew and revitalize our democracies, to help one another, and to prove that they can deliver for our people and the world.
Happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We’ll now turn to the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing.
And with that, let’s go to our first question, which goes to Alex Raufoglu from the Turan News Agency. Alex, you can unmute yourself and ask your question.
QUESTION: Andrea, thank you so much for doing this. And Madam Under Secretary, thank you for your time and for laying down the results of the summit. Let me start from there. Do you consider results of the summit applicable for people living in Azerbaijan, in Türkiye, and in other countries that were not part of the conversation?
And secondly, leaving aside all the grumbling, concerns about who was invited, who wasn’t – but in the end, people showed up. Dozens of heads of states participated. It does send a signal that there’s still some demand for U.S. leadership on this issue. Now that the next summit will not be held in Washington, D.C., any concern on your end that this might not receive same attention *
now that the next summit will not be held in Washington, D.C., any concern on your end that this might not receive same attention and appetite, if you want, during the next Year of Action? Thank you so much.
UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Thank you so much for your question, and I’ll try to address all your points sequentially. On the first point, in terms of does this apply to countries beyond those who took part in the summit, I would say yes, absolutely. Our Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal – the lines of effort include – are simply global. We want to advance this agenda with all of our partners in every country where we’re represented, whether it’s supporting free and independent media, supporting democratic reformers, and pushing back against the trend of closing space for civil society that we see, sadly, all over the world; elevating the fight against corruption, which is a core national security priority which President Biden put forth at the very first Summit for Democracy in December 2021; the agenda on tech for democracy, where Secretary Blinken led a really groundbreaking session with international partners from government, the private sector, and civil society yesterday – this is an issue that affects every country in the world. So certainly our open and inclusive approach to the summit guides our diplomacy, and certainly we want to advance this agenda with partners in Azerbaijan and elsewhere.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: And I didn’t answer the last point about the third summit. I just want to say we are grateful to the Republic of Korea for their readiness to host a third Summit for Democracy, and we anticipate that this will be a continuation of this thriving effort that we and others have undertaken to really help democracies large and small, emerging and established, deliver for their people and the world.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: And thank you very much. And our next question will go to Danila Galperovich from the Voice of America. Danila, you can unmute yourself and ask your question.
QUESTION: Thank you very much indeed, Andrea, and thank you very much for doing this. So I have two questions. Speaking of the arrest of Evan Gershkovich, The Wall Street Journal suggested in their statement that Biden administration, I quote them, “will have to consider diplomatic and political escalation. Expelling Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., as well as all Russian journalists working here, would be the minimum to expect.” Is the administration considering the possibility of such actions?
And my second question is about the fate of Russian political prisoners and human right activists, in particular Vladimir Kara-Murza. Even during the height of Cold War, United States found ways to help free political prisoners in the USSR. So what is the administration and the State Department in particular doing now to help the release of Kara-Murza? I remind that his family lives in U.S. Thank you very much.
UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Thank you very much for your questions. On the first point that you raised, I am unable to offer any additional details about this case due to privacy considerations, but I would refer you to a statement made by President Biden on this very issue this morning. And certainly I would underscore the importance of this issue to the United States, and that was certainly the point of my – opening my remarks on this topic.
On the second topic, on the detention of Nobel laureate Kara-Murza, this is a focal point for the United States. And here I want to draw to your attention a campaign called Without Just Cause which the Department of State launched earlier this year to draw international attention and solidarity to the plight of political prisoners worldwide, unjustly detained for simply exercising their peaceful rights of freedom of expression and association. I was honored as part of our summit events to take part in an event earlier this week hosted by the embassy of Lithuania, who has been a valued partner in the Summit for Democracy effort, where I had the opportunity to meet Yevgeniya, the wife of Mr. Kara-Murza, and I can assure you that we will continue to do our utmost to call for his release and to urge others to join in solidarity in demanding release of all unjustly detained political prisoners.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And as a reminder to our journalists, if you’d like to ask a question, you can either type your question in the chat or raise your hand in the Zoom application.
And for our next question, I will go to one that’s been submitted in the chat by Katalin Halmai from Népzava in Hungary. Katalin asks, “This is the second time that Hungary has not been invited to the Summit for Democracy. This was the reaction of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry to the decision,” and I quote, “Joe Biden does not invite Donald Trump’s friends. Hungary does not agree with President Biden’s policies on war, migration, or gender. On these issues, we agree with President Trump,” end quote. And Katalin writes: “I would like to ask you to react to this comment. I this the real reason Hungary has not been invited to the second Summit for Democracy?”
UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Thank you for this question, and I was not familiar with the excerpted quote in your question, so I would just say that I reject the suggestion that there was a politicization of the decision making with respect to who was invited to the Summit for Democracy. We’re not going to discuss the internal deliberations regarding invitations, but I just want to underscore that our objective was for the summit to be inclusive and representative of a regionally and socio-economically diverse slate of countries. It was based on our best assessment of where we see governments ready to work with us on the agenda for the Summit for Democracy that I articulated in my opening remarks.
But at the same time, I want to underscore that the United States is committed to further strengthening our relations with Hungary, our NATO Ally, and working with them on many issues of mutual interest, particularly in the security, law-enforcement, economic, and energy sectors. I also want to say that NATO Allies’ unity and solidarity is as strong as ever, and NATO and Allied support for Ukraine, as it defends itself from Russia’s brutal invasion, is steadfast.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And I believe that’s all the questions that we have in our queue and from our journalists. And so with that, I’d like to turn it back over to you – oh, actually, I take that back. We have one follow-up question from Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency. So Alex, you can unmute yourself and ask your question.
QUESTION: I really appreciate the opportunity. I have one more question about the connection between the coalition of democracy and the need – we need to have alliance to respect – for international legal order, and the invasion or threatening Ukraine’s democracy and its independence is a topic that you guys have discussed throughout the week. My question is: When you look at the list, you see, yes, some countries did not necessarily support the U.S. and Ukraine at the UNGA voting process, were part of this week’s summit.
Is it your expectation that, moving forward, that those countries will align with you throughout the next Year of Action since you are – it seems like trying to connect those dots between, again, the alliance of democracy and the need for supporting Ukraine. And my second question, if you please speak to the fact that Russia is today starting its term at the UN Security Council, and its implications. Thank you so much.
UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Thank you so much for asking this important question, and I would just say, with respect to solidarity in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the defense of its democracy, I think we’re seeing actually overwhelming support from the Summit for Democracy partner governments. In fact, in the last major UN General Assembly resolution on this issue calling for a just peace in Ukraine and Russia’s immediate withdrawal last month, 90 percent of Summit for Democracy participating governments voted for this resolution.
So I think this is yet another dimension where we’re seeing the shared resolve of democracies large and small, emerging and established, coming together. Thank you.
QUESTION: And the second part of my question was about Russia’s leadership at UN Security Council. Is there any chance to address that, please?
UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Oh, I’m sorry. I mean that issue, I think, is outside the purview of our Summit for Democracy effort, but certainly I’d refer you to the Office of the Spokesman and our fantastic Mission to the United Nations in New York.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And I believe we have time for one last question. I’ll turn it over – back over to Danila Galperovich from the Voice of America.
QUESTION: Thank you very much indeed. I would like to ask you about further efforts of United States, and the Department of State in particular, in connection with recent support from United States to international tribunal of the crime of aggression, which may be organized against Russia, and International Criminal Court. So what concrete steps will be taken by U.S. administration to support both of these legal ways to hold Russia accountable? Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Thank you very much for your question. And here, I would refer you to statements that we issued earlier this week announcing U.S. support for a special tribunal with respect to the crime of aggression committed against Ukraine. Accountability for Russia’s ongoing brutality against the Ukrainian people is a critical element of our support for Ukraine’s democracy. And let me be clear there is no doubt that Russia is committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other atrocities in Ukraine. And we have been clear that those responsible must be held to account.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And with that, actually, I will take now the very, very last question from Alexandra Sharp from Foreign Policy magazine. In the question is, according to CIVICUS Monitor, 36 percent of the summit attendees are not fully free nations. What signal does that send to countries who are not fully free, but not invited? How are those attendance determinations made?
UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Thank you. I want to say here that we welcome the vital contributions of civil society actors, like CIVICUS and others, holding us and other governments to account. But simply put, it’s not the role for the United States to define which countries are and aren’t democracies. As I explained earlier, the aim for the summit from the inception was to be inclusive, to be geographically, socio-economically representative. And one of the points which President Biden and Secretary Blinken make often is that one of the greatest strengths of democracies is our readiness to acknowledge and confront our own shortcomings and work to resolve them. And that is a fact that sets us apart from autocracies.
So certainly we or any other participant in this summit process are not perfect, but I think what you’re seeing coming out of this two-year summit effort is a shared resolve and very specific lines of efforts to try to redress and improve our democracies to work as our constitution exhorts us to do in the United States, to always work towards a more perfect union.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And unfortunately, that’s all the time that we have for today. Thank you to all of our journalists for your questions. And thank you, Under Secretary Zeya, for joining us. Before we close the call, I’d like to see if Under Secretary Zeya has any final remarks for the group.
UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Thank you so much, Andrea. Thank you to all of you, free – representing free and independent media, for your vitally important work. And I appreciate all of your interest in the Summit for Democracy. I would just underscore President Biden’s own words about the summit when he said the power of these summits is not just to speak high-minded words and shine a spotlight on critical issues, but to galvanize action that translates to concrete progress for people around the world. That’s how we make democracy deliver for everyone. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: And thank you. Shortly, we’ll send the audio recording of the briefing to all participating journalists, and we’ll provide a transcript as soon as it’s available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub@state.gov. Thanks again for your participation, and we hope you can join us for another press briefing soon. This ends today’s briefing.
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