UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Good morning and welcome, everyone. It’s great to see you all again, and I hope your 2022 is off to a healthy and strong start. For my part, I want to start with a thank you.
As some of our most valued thinkers and doers, we greatly appreciate your time and commitment and the ideas and feedback that we used from you to strengthen the summit agenda. We incorporated many of your recommendations, and we hope you saw those reflected in our December event. Some of what the Secretary will lay out today for the Year of Action may also sound familiar; the concept of establishing democracy cohorts, for example, comes directly from all of you.
I’m excited to use this call today to pick up our conversation from last year. As we move into the Year of Action, we look forward to regular consultations with civil society. This isn’t a one-way conversation, either. We plan to both listen and share, and work in partnership with civil society to achieve our shared summit goals this year. The main goal in the Year of Action is to sustain the summit’s momentum and land concrete results that shore up democracies around the world, including our own; push back against the raw deal of authoritarianism; defend and promote respect for human rights; and combat corruption. And at a time when all indicators flag continued democratic backsliding, we cannot achieve our summit goals without a meaningful partnership with civil society. So, I thank you all for your leadership.
Today we’re honored to be joined by Secretary Blinken, and thank you for being with us today. I’m also delighted to welcome Erin Barclay, our coordinator for global democratic renewal, who will moderate today’s Q&A. And as the Secretary, given the pace of world events, has been called away to a meeting at the White House, his time with us is a bit compressed. I want to hand the floor to him, and thank you, sir, for your leadership.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Uzra, thank you so much. Erin, thank you as well. And it’s great to see everyone on the screen.
Yes. I was looking forward to actually spending a bit of time this morning. Unfortunately, a larger force, as in the President, has called me over to a meeting, so I want to at least spend the top of this meeting with you. And I’m going to make sure that I hear from both Uzra and Erin exactly what was said during the meeting so that I can factor that in. But let me just say a few words, if I can, at the outset and see if we have any time for questions before I get pulled over down the street.
First and foremost, thank you for being here today. But thank you even more for being partners in this effort, the Democracy Summit, everything that is following from it in this Year of Action, and of course for, irrespective of that, the vital work that each and every one of you is doing every single day to advance democracy and human rights. We really did want to spend some time, again, hearing from you as we continue to inform our own efforts, we continue to carry forward what was started with the Democracy Summit. You know that the basic aim of the summit was to start to rally countries to try to make concrete commitments to strengthen their own democracies and to help other democracies deliver for the people that they’re supposed to serve. And then, having made those commitments, we are now in what we’ve been calling a Year of Action, where we try to turn commitments into real change. And that’s what this year is all about.
And the “we” includes all of us with a stake in advancing democracy and human rights, not only governments but the private sector, individual citizens, and, of course, civil society organizations. Earlier this week we posted online the voluntary commitments that countries made at the summit. For example, Paraguay will create an interagency task force to fight money laundering; Micronesia will put forward an access to information law; Luxembourg will create a senior-level post for advancing racial equity and diversity, to name just a few of the pledges. Putting the commitments out there for all to see is a key part of holding governments, including our own, accountable. And I have no doubt that you will all help do that.
Many countries are starting to follow through on commitments. As we meet here today, Ghana and Norway are co-chairing the Global Disability Summit. Just last week the Estonians convened the Global Conference on Media Freedom. Both were pledges made at the Summit for Democracy.
Meetings like these are not only valuable for sharing our individual efforts, they offer a chance to team up across borders and across sectors. In Tallinn, for example, the U.S. delegation that Uzra led encouraged others to join us in launching a new journalism protection platform to help reporters in hostile press environments. We’ve got tools like legal aid, training on digital and physical security, very practical things that we hope will actually advance the safety and security of journalists, and protect them when they’re under threat.
This assistance is obviously more important than ever. We’ve seen repressive laws multiply, threats and attacks on journalists increase across the globe. And we all are joined by the shared conviction that a free media is indispensable to keeping people informed, to holding governments accountable, to shining a spotlight on issues that otherwise wouldn’t get a lot of public attention. These are all core elements of a healthy democracy. That’s why we’ve made supporting independent, free public media one of our priorities for this year.
Next week we’re also going to release the U.S. Government’s plan of action for making meaningful progress on our commitments and helping other governments meet theirs. These goals are mutually reinforcing because if we’re going to address many of the challenges that democracies face, from inequity to corruption to efforts by authoritarian governments to sow distrust in free and open societies, we’ve got to have strong democratic partners by our side. We are absolutely convinced, as we approach virtually everything we’re doing around the world, that we’re stronger and more effective when we’re partnering with others than when we’re doing things alone.
We need civil society engaged in every part of the action plan. It’s as simple as that. But if I could, let me just highlight three parts of the plan where I think your leadership is especially important.
First, on your recommendation and as Uzra mentioned, we will create a series of groups that we’re calling democracy cohorts which will bring together representatives of government, civil society, philanthropy, and the private sector around priority themes. The cohorts will work to implement and expand on key commitments related to their theme as well as monitor progress, which is so critical. They’ll forge new connections among those working on the issue. The aim is for each cohort to be co-led by summit partners in government and civil society, and we really hope your institutions will consider playing a leading role.
To give just one example, given the President’s strong commitment to fighting corruption, which was one of the key pillars of the summit, the United States will co-lead a cohort focused on curbing the flow of illicit money. The group will focus on issues like improving information gathering and sharing, strengthening prevention measures like enhancing transparency in real estate transactions, and broadening tools for recovering stolen assets.
Second, we will also restart our regular consultations with civil society on a range of key summit topics. These consultations will complement the work of the cohorts by allowing us to hear from a broader cross-section of nongovernmental organizations on a wide range of issues, and what we learn will in turn help inform the broader process to shape summit number two.
Third, I’ve instructed our embassies in every one of the countries that participated in the summit to make it a part of their job to help drive progress on the commitments that were made. What that means is that our posts will regularly engage with civil society organizations in country to get their take on where governments are moving forward, where they’re falling back or falling short, as well as what the United States can do to help. And it means that our diplomats at every level, on every relevant issue, will regularly raise summit pledges with their counterparts and encourage them to work with partners outside of government to deliver on those commitments.
So all three of these efforts are intended to be responsive to something that we heard from you, which is that more regular, inclusive consultation with civil society is essential. So I want you to know that we’re listening and we’re acting on what we’re hearing.
In closing, let me again simply say thank you. We talk a lot about what makes democracy unique, why it’s worth fighting for, and a big part of that is that democracy is the only system that actually empowers people to improve on what we have, to fix our flaws, to make things better, a little bit more just, a little bit more equitable. The organizations and institutions that you’re leading, you are the primary drivers of that enduring process of self-government. So, on behalf of all of us, everyone involved in this effort, thank you, thank you, thank you for your hard work. Thank you for your service. Thank you for being champions of democracy at a time when democracy really needs those champions.
Let me stop there and see if we have any time for starting questions.