Under Secretary Zeya: Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here with you today to launch our formal engagement with civil society for the upcoming Summit for Democracy. And there is no better day to do so than International Day of Democracy, when we reaffirm the right of every citizen to take part in democratic governance.
On August 11, President Biden formally announced his plans to convene a virtual Summit for Democracy. This flagship event reflects his deeply held belief that to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges, democracies must come together, learn together, stand together, and ultimately act together.
The Summit is envisioned as a multi-stakeholder initiative that brings together governments, civil society, and the private sector. For the Summit to be a success, we need inclusive and meaningful participation from civil society to highlight where the international community is both succeeding and where we’re still challenged, and to share innovative approaches for how we can do better in the future. We are committed to ensuring civil society representatives have opportunities to engage with us and other Summit participants prior to, during, and after the Summit.
Thank you to all of your organizations for the work you do, day in and day out, to advance democratic principles and to protect human rights. I want to say a special word of thanks for the unprecedented and heroic lift so many of you have done to help protect vulnerable Afghans and to partner with us in continuing to help the U.S. to assist and protect those who have worked so long at the front lines to protect human rights, promote democracy, and counter corruption in Afghanistan.
Globally, we recognize the work of civil society — including human rights defenders, activists, advocates, and many others — is essential to transparent, equitable, and responsive governance.
Your experience will be critical to catalyzing global momentum to renew democracy by developing and executing workstreams in each of the Summit’s three pillars: countering authoritarianism, advancing respect for human rights, and combatting corruption.
That is why we are so pleased to be here with you today. We ask that you work with us to help participating countries make and execute meaningful domestic and international commitments in support of the Summit’s pillars.
I know many of you have questions about the agenda, who the participants will be, and how you will functionally be able to engage directly with them given the virtual environment this year. Know that our teams are working night and day to finalize all of these details and I expect they will be in regular touch with you in the coming weeks to share our plans.
With that, I would like to turn it over to Lisa Peterson, Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
Acting Assistant Secretary Peterson: Thank you for those welcoming remarks, Under Secretary Zeya, and allow me to extend a heartfelt welcome to our civil society colleagues. Indeed, the breadth of expertise, courage, and devotion that each of you possess is truly remarkable, and serves as both an inspiration and a driving force for the work we do each and every day. You have our admiration and respect as valued partners.
The Administration has been clear that renewing democracy begins by looking honestly at ourselves, and by working diligently and transparently to strengthen the democratic foundations within America.
We approach the Summit for Democracy with both humility and confidence, as Secretary Blinken often says. We have humility because we recognize that no democracy, including that of the United States, is perfect. We all have room to learn from one another.
We have confidence because we understand that democracy’s inherent capacity to self-correct gives it a powerful, built-in resilience. Moreover, history and data indicate that societies that respect and defend democratic institutions, the rule of law, human rights, independent media, and equity and inclusion for all, are more stable, prosperous, and secure, and are better equipped to confront global challenges.
This Summit, therefore, reinforces the United States’ commitment to placing democracy and human rights at the center of our foreign policy. It has three principal themes: supporting democracy and defending against authoritarianism; fighting corruption; and promoting respect for human rights domestically and abroad.
The U.S. government views the Summit as an opportunity to engage, listen, and speak honestly about the challenges facing democracy within the United States and abroad; to work together with partner governments, civil society, and the private sector, to craft meaningful new commitments and initiatives; and to cooperatively strengthen the foundation for democratic renewal globally.
Today, we will discuss with you our shared vision for your engagement. We are interested to hear your feedback. We have a robust agenda planned, including what we hope will be an active Q&A session.
In support of this Presidential Initiative, the National Security Council at the White House is leading overall Summit planning with support from Departments and agencies across the U.S. government.
Among other responsibilities, the Department of State and USAID are jointly leading the effort to ensure civil society has meaningful opportunities to participate, including by contributing to Summit deliverables.
The Department of State has a robust workforce from across its different offices dedicated to supporting the Summit. It is my pleasure to introduce the following individuals who form part of State’s Summit Core Group:
From Under Secretary Zeya’s office, we have Coordinator for Global Democratic Renewal Erin Barclay. From the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, we have Deputy Assistant Secretary Kara McDonald, Lynn Sicade, Christina Droggitis, Kourtney Pompi, Lilly Calafell, and Erin White.
And from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, we are joined by Shawna Wilson, Christine Cline, Danielle Angel, and Schuyler Miller.
I will now turn it over to my USAID colleague, Deputy Assistant Administrator Johnny Walsh, for his welcome remarks and to introduce USAID’s Summit Team.
Deputy Assistant Administrator Walsh: USAID’s work advances civic engagement. USAID’s work strengthens democratic governance around the world including helping develop effective institutions and citizen-responsive governments. It supports democratic ambitions which foster stability, prevent violence, and sustain development progress.
Revitalizing democracy is essential to meeting the unprecedented global challenges of our time. The first of two Summits for Democracy, which will bring together leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector, will set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic commitments and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today through collective action.
Today democratic backsliding is occurring in even the most established democracies. The Summit presents an opportunity to discuss how to strengthen democracy in times of peril and to show how democracy still works and can improve people’s lives in tangible ways. It will also 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.
We see civil society as a vital partner in our efforts to catalyze momentum for renewing democracy around the world. We know that the commitments made by participating governments will not be fully executed without the support and watchful eye of a broad range of civic actors. The fulsome engagement of civic actors in the governing process is democracy in action. Democracies aren’t only democracies because of governments, they’re democracies because of the people.
Our priority is that our engagement with you all is genuine and that we avoid the rubber stamp or a checkbox exercise that too many engagement processes inevitably become. This applies both for the planning of the Summit events as well as in-country commitments and follow up and monitoring. And while Summit 1 is just around the corner, we view it as the launchpad to the larger efforts underway for the coming year. Your early engagement in December’s virtual Summit will set the stage for enhanced roles in the interim and post Summit period.
We’ll work hard to enable a range of touchpoints so you can let us know how best we can support your efforts. We know all too well the constraints you are operating under — security and other practical concerns alongside the sheer logistical difficulty of putting on such an event during a pandemic, and we’ll do our best to accommodate the various barriers to access and participation.
We’ll also work hard to engage a diverse representation of civic actors. Inclusivity is at the forefront of our vision for civil society engagement. This includes diversity of location and size that represent diverse interests, CSOs from the emerging democracies and CSOs representing states that weren’t invited. Further, we want to help ensure that side events are inclusive of traditionally underrepresented populations, including women and girls, persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+ people, displaced persons, migrants, Indigenous Peoples and communities, youth, older persons, religious minorities, ethnic and racial groups, people in lower castes, and people of diverse economic class and political opinions.
The USAID team working on the Democracy Summit who are joining us for today’s call include Rosarie Tucci, Andrew Friedman, Laura McKechnie and Sharon Carter. We’re eager to hear your thoughts now and continue to engage with you over the coming year.
AA/S Peterson: I invite our colleague my colleague, Erin Barclay, Coordinator for Global Democratic Renewal here at the Department, to provide an overview of President Biden’s National Security Study Memorandum, which establishes the fight against corruption as a core national security interest of the United States and its relationship to the Summit for Democracy’s anticorruption pillar.
Coordinator for Global Democratic Renewal Barclay: As you all know, the Biden Administration has placed anticorruption at the top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda by designating fighting corruption as a core national security priority via his National Security Study Memorandum on the Fight Against Corruption, published June 3. To guide our engagement, the United States has launched a strategy process for whole of government approach to tackle corruption, and many of you have already spoken to us or sent papers on this process, which we have eagerly taken onboard. Through this process, our government is reviewing and making recommendations on how we can modernize, coordinate, and resource efforts better to fight corruption, tackle illicit finance, hold corrupt actors accountable, improve foreign assistance, and build international partnerships.
Informed by this process, the United States is advancing several anticorruption priorities multilaterally, namely combating kleptocracy and foreign bribery, improving beneficial ownership and real estate transparency, preventing corruption in lending and investments, and promoting the role of civil society, independent media and investigative journalists, and the private sector in anticorruption efforts. Across these areas, we are focused on strengthening and effectively implementing existing international anticorruption standards and frameworks.
These are the same themes we are working towards at the upcoming U.S.-hosted Summit for Democracy. The Summit offers an important opportunity to make collective progress, and our whole-of-government approach in the forthcoming report as required by the NSSM will be very much in line with how we will be approaching the combatting corruption pillar at the Summit. We look forward to your input into both parallel and complementary processes.
AA/S Peterson: Thank you Erin. I would like to provide a few updates on the timing and format of the Summit.
The Summit is divided into two high-level events. The first will take place virtually on December 9-10, 2021. The second, which we intend to be in-person, public health conditions permitting, will be held approximately one year later, following a year of consultation, coordination, action, and delivery.
The periods leading up to both Summit events will be critical moments for engagement. Prior to December 2021, the United States will build support for the Summit’s main objectives and demonstrate that democracies can deliver together.
We welcome collaboration with civil society and the philanthropic community to support development of participating governments’ commitments, find new areas for cooperation between civil society and government at the local level, and exchange ideas on good governance as partners based on lessons learned. Civil society engagement with participating governments is key, in particular, to ensuring their Summit deliverables meet local needs and are sustainable.
The Summit for Democracy is one of several major democracy-related multi-national events in 2021 and 2022, including the G7, the Community of Democracies ministerial, the Open Government Partnership global forum, the Media Freedom Coalition global conference, Human Rights Council sessions, and the UN General Assembly.
There are also a number of anticorruption events this year. The UN General Assembly Special Session on Corruption took place in June 2021. The biennial convening of the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption will occur in December 2021 and the United States will put forward its candidacy to host the 2023 UNCAC Conference of States Parties.
These fora provide us with different platforms to mutually reinforce and intensify our efforts to address democratic challenges, combat corruption, and promote respect for human rights, both at home and abroad.
Civil Society Engagement Vision
AA/S Peterson: Today, many autocratic governments advance the falsehood that political systems which deny citizens their human rights most effectively advance prosperity and security. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is where your participation is critical. We believe that together, we can encourage our partners and the international community to demonstrate that democracies deliver most effectively for their people. President Biden expects the Summit for Democracy to serve as a rallying call to do this, but he needs your help. Many of you are doing this work each and every day — and we look forward to teaming up to help ramp up these efforts.
We appreciate the ideas many of you have shared already with Summit planners. We encourage you to connect with one another after this call and ensure the recommendations of smaller grassroots organizations are reflected as part of the Summit’s civil society “constituency” perspective. We also urge you to help these smaller organizations contribute to the Summit goals.
We welcome your views and inputs on participating governments’ commitments, what is and is not working in terms of engaging them on Summit themes writ large, and where we can push for reform abroad. I understand many of you are already thinking about what commitments you would like to see participants make and how you can collaborate with them.
We also welcome your views about how you would like to participate in the Summit, where we envision civil society having an active role. Let me offer a few ideas, informed by what Summit planners have heard directly from many of you.
We are eager to continue to hear how you would like to engage in participating governments’ development of meaningful commitments and initiatives that meet the goals of the Summit.
During the Summit, we expect civil society participation will be interwoven into the agenda. We welcome your suggestions about who from your sector is best positioned to host and chair panel discussions; participate in plenary sessions; and participate in open and closed-door roundtables. We also encourage you to host and participate in relevant side events and viewing parties.
We welcome the formation of an online network to formalize and continue engagement. We encourage you to include in this effort smaller, grassroots and informal issue-based groups that may be unable to engage or participate in the Summit.
For organizations that have stronger capacity, please let us know how we help you host stakeholder consultations and open meetings to generate civil society commitments to advance democratic principles across the three Summit themes both in the U.S. and in Summit participant countries.
In collaboration with U.S. missions or multilateral platforms like the Open Government Partnership, let us know how best we can support you to host listening sessions and plan meetings with governments to ensure views from a diverse range of civil society are reflected in their pre-Summit commitments.
We encourage you to monitor implementation of participating governments’ commitments and hold them — and us — accountable. Some of you have proposed creating a public registry of Summit-related commitments to facilitate accountability for implementation. It’s a great idea and we look forward to hearing how this idea develops, including how you will promote its visibility and use.
As some of have suggested, there is great value in developing an action plan to promote accountability for the implementation of Summit commitments. We look forward to hearing more about your plans, especially those which include mutually agreed upon monitoring indicators, evaluation and accountability measures, and opportunities for follow-up action at future multilateral or regional events.
I would also like to provide an update on efforts within the U.S. government to develop our own commitments for the Summit. In addition to commitments, reforms, and initiatives we will make domestically, the State Department and USAID will work with partners to announce several high-impact “marquee” initiatives and pledges. We hope to share those plans in the coming weeks.
Interagency discussions are underway concerning possible initiatives in such areas as bolstering free and independent media, fighting corruption technology and democracy, strengthening civil capacity, and promoting free and fair elections.
We will seek civil society partnership and support on potential high-impact marquee deliverables.
Ongoing Engagement with Core Team and Next Steps
AA/S Peterson: To ensure that we are able to get input from a full range of stakeholders, we encourage you to self-organize to contribute to the Summit.
We would like to suggest a framework to facilitate engagement with Summit planners, participating governments, other civil society actors, the private sector, and philanthropies.
Recognizing there are many different groups, coalitions, and alliances with important insights, we would like to establish a Summit for Democracy Civil Society Advisory Council, to which we invite you to become members. Our wish is for the Advisory Council to be representative and inclusive with international, regional, and local civil society members. This advisory council would provide a direct link to Summit planners to share your ideas and concerns.
We also envision working groups, coordinated and organized by steering committees composed of civil society for each of the summit themes: combating authoritarianism and defending democracy, combating corruption, and protecting human rights. These working groups would regularly meet amongst themselves but also meet directly with Summit planners on a regular, frequent schedule.
We recommend these working groups launching in the very near term, ramping up in advance of the December 2021 Summit, continuing between the virtual and in-person summit and engaging more directly for the follow-on summit.
After this call, we will send you a survey to gauge your interest in joining the Council and to ask you to identify the Summit themes you would like to work on. The survey results will allow us to develop working groups for each summit pillar, headed by a civil society-led steering committee. These steering committees will serve as the primary points of contact between the Advisory Council, civil society writ large, and the State and USAID Summit organizing teams.
For practical purposes, the steering committee will be limited in number, but there is no limit to those contributing to the Summit and the working groups.
AA/S Peterson: We hope that you found this first call to be informative. We hope to schedule a second call soon. During the second call, we will provide updates on Summit planning and we will be eager to hear about your progress in self-organizing and other efforts. We will also dedicate time to discussing your ideas for civil society involvement during the year of action between Summit 1 and Summit 2.
On behalf of the National Security Council, the State Department, and USAID, we thank you for your time and commitment to this effort. Moreover, we appreciate your energy and eagerness to engage with us on this important endeavor. I know I speak for President Biden, Secretary Blinken, and Administrator Power, when I note how excited we all are to collaborate with you on our shared vision for the amazing work ahead.
For anyone who has further questions that we were not able to answer today, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we will respond.