On Friday, December 10, which just happened to be International Human Rights Day, President Joe Biden wrapped up his two-day Democracy Summit, titled “Official Interventions.” Moderated by Damon Wilson, president, and CEO of the National Endowment for Democracy, and hosted by U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power, the theme of the meeting was protecting human rights and expanding civic space. World leaders gathered to discuss their opinions on the most important aspects of democracy, but not much else was accomplished.
Two of the biggest concerns were big tech and women’s rights. Initiatives were introduced to help stem big tech control and help bolster independent media which Biden said would “seed fertile ground for democracies to bloom around the world.”
Authoritarianism has grown alarmingly around the globe, Power remarked. “The world has faced an era of mass protests.” She continued, explaining that from 2009 to 2019 the number of protests increased annually by 7.5% each year. “Today, brutal violence persists against pro-democracy protesters and members of many ethnic party groups.” To help all nations achieve a productive democracy, Power introduced five U.S. led initiatives:
Partnerships for Democracy. The U.S. would offer to help other nations in various ways, such as a debt relief program, vaccine shipments, or other areas where needed.
Powered by the People. This would help “leaderless mass movements,” many of which are powered by women and youth leaders, to get focus, funding, direction, and the help they need to further their cause.
Media Viability Accelerator. Provide seed money to launch the multi-donor international fund for public interest media. “All the training in the world won’t matter if media outlets aren’t financially viable,” Powers said, adding that this initiative would help media go digital and find engaging content that would attract readers. However, as Liberty Nation’s Graham Noble warned, “it is profoundly disturbing to hear the supposed leader of the ‘free world’ announce he intends to pour money into media companies in order to foster greater press freedom.”
Empowering Anti-Corruption Change Agents Program. This would include better regulations on big tech as well as reportedly helping people protect themselves from online hackers.
Advancing Women’s and Girl’s Civic and Political Leadership Initiative. The idea here is to get more females involved in politics, which, as Powers said, is difficult because women in some countries are too afraid of reprisal and punishment.
Australia, Denmark, and Norway have agreed to a joint effort with the U.S. to stop the misuse of technology and to help develop technology that will support human rights. One part of the initiative requires establishing a voluntary written code of conduct, basically a guide, for tech companies and the governments on human rights criteria when it comes to export and licensing policies. “The United States will take greater responsibility for the digital tools we export,” Powers said. “All too often, technology originates in a hub of innovation like the United States and is exported to countries that use that technology to enable human rights abuses.”
The virtual meeting was basically a first step in what will be a very long process. Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it was a good “starting point” for a “year of action.” He continued:
“I hope the 110 leaders will rally around some basic principles for democratic societies, and the aim should be to strengthen our voice and our efforts to counter the advancing autocracies like China, Russia and other autocrats.”
But, as Liberty Nation reported, the guest list, or rather the nations that were left off the invite, has caused hard feelings and criticism across the board – especially from Russia and China, who wrote a joint letter of complaint, referring to the Biden administration as having a “Cold-War mentality.” Of the 111 countries represented at the summit, only 5% of them allow or respect civic rights such as free speech and the right to protest, according to CIVICUS Monitor. Many have questioned why countries about which the U.S. has human rights concerns and that practice anti-democratic trends were invited – such as India, Pakistan, Iraq, Poland, and the Philippines. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the invitations were not a “stamp of approval” but that the administration was trying to gather a “diverse range of voices and faces and representatives at the discussion.”
“We know how hard the work is that’s going to be ahead of us, but we also know that we are up to the challenge,” Biden said in his closing remarks. The president plans to have a follow-up gathering in person next year.
~ Read more from Kelli Ballard.