DOS – Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society 2012 Summit

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Press Releases: Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society 2012 Summit

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Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society 2012 Summit


Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State

Tomicah S. Tillemann
Senior Advisor for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies

Tara Sonenshine
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Ben Franklin Room

Washington, DC

May 16, 2012

MR. TILLEMANN: Good morning. I’m Tomicah Tillemann, and I serve as the State Department’s Senior Advisor for Civil Society in Emerging Democracies. Today, it is my privilege to welcome you to the 2012 Summit of our Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society. This event brings together civil society representatives from more than 40 countries who have gathered here in Washington and thousands more who are participating via the internet and at embassy viewing parties around the world.

This summit is taking place at a moment of profound change. The world is witnessing a fundamental renegotiation of the relationships that have historically defined interactions between citizens and governments. Civil society has been at the forefront of that change, and this dialogue represents our recognition of the rapidly expanding role that you and your organizations play in shaping our world. This dialogue now involves more than 50 bureaus and offices at the State Department and USAID. We’ll hear more about that in a moment, but it is providing a platform for translating your ideas into foreign policy. And our work on this initiative is a concrete manifestation of our commitment to elevating civil society as a full partner in our diplomacy alongside other governments.

Now, we know that the work of civil society is never easy. And in too many places it is truly dangerous. But amid this multitude of challenges and opportunities, we are fortunate to have women and men leading the State Department who understand the value and the potential of civil society as a force for progress in our country and around the world. And we are particularly fortunate that two of those women are with us today for this global town hall.

We are glad to welcome our Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has been working with and for civil society since her first job out of law school, and our Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Tara Sonenshine, who recently joined our State Department family after serving with great success in many civil society organizations and who will moderate this town hall.

Our sole speaker this morning will be Secretary Clinton, and her vision is the catalyst that brings us together today. Six months before a Tunisian vegetable seller remade the political landscape of an entire region, she spelled out the centrality of civil society in our foreign policy at a keynote address to the community of democracies. During the cold autumn that preceded the Arab Spring, she created an office on her staff that was dedicated to engaging civil society. And long before TIME magazine named the protester as the person of the year, she understood what you could accomplish.

She has been supporting civil society since before it was hip. She has been fearless, focused, and farsighted in her efforts. And frankly, as the most admired woman in the world, she needs no introduction. (Laughter.) Our Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very, very much, and thank you, Tomicah. Tomicah has done an absolutely superb job in taking this idea of a strategic dialogue with civil society and putting real flesh on the bones. And this second summit is certainly evidence of that.

So it is a pleasure to welcome you here to the State Department. A lot has happened since we launched this initiative with the summit last year. When we met for the first time in last February, the revolutions that Tomicah referenced had begun to unfold across the Middle East and North Africa. Citizens were demanding their rights and their voices which, for too long, had been denied. And amid the tumult, civil society groups everywhere sprang up to push for democracy and change. Now some emerged from those quiet places where they had been operating for years. Others formed overnight as a great result of social media connections.

But in any event, it was brave men and women, including many of you in this room, who came together to plan for a new future, and you spoke eloquently about the need for civil society. Well, your work and the work of millions of others around the world has never been more important. We are seeing people stepping up to fill the space between government and the economy.

In 1998, I gave a speech at Davos about a firm foundation for any society being like a three-legged stool where you had to have a responsive, effective, accountable government, and you had to have a dynamic, job-creating, free market economic sector. And then you had to have a strong civil society. If one of the legs got too long or too short, the balance would be thrown off. And to make the case for civil society, it’s really quite simple, because government cannot and should not control any individual’s life, tell you what to do, what not to do. The economy has to be in the hands of those who are the entrepreneurs and the creative innovators. But it’s in civil society where we live our lives. That’s where our families are formed; that’s where our faith is practiced; that’s where we become who we are, through voluntary activities, through standing up for our common humanity.

And so as we see the explosion of civil society groups around the world, we want to support you. I think that in the United States, civil society does the work that touches on every part of our life. It really reflects what Alexis de Tocqueville called the habits of the heart that America has been forming and practicing from our very founding, because we early on understood that there had to be a role for government and a role for the economy, but everything else was a role for us – individuals charting our own course, making our own contributions.

And we turn to you to help us support civil society around the world. Now this initiative is a striking example of how government and civil society, often supported by the private sector, can work together. And under Tomicah’s leadership, we’ve spent the past year consulting with civil society groups through the Strategic Dialogue and our working groups, asking you for ideas about what we in government can do more effectively, looking for more opportunities to collaborate.

Now I don’t want to give the impression – because it would be a false one – that cooperation between civil society and government is always easy, even if this dialogue sometimes makes it look that way. Most of you will not be shocked to hear that civil society and government, even in my own country, do not always agree. We have found ways to disagree without being disagreeable. But I started my career working in civil society. I did a lot to take on my own government starting in the 1970s. The first issue I worked on was to try to help change the laws about how we treated people with disabilities. And I worked for a group that went door to door in certain parts of America asking families, “Do you have a child who’s not in school, and if so, why?” And we found blind children and deaf children and children in wheelchairs and children who had been kicked out of school with no alternative. And I was a very small part of a really large effort to require that American public schools find a place for every one of our children.

And so I know that you have to sometimes stand up to your own governments. You have to sometimes help your government do things that, in the absence of the pressure you are bringing, they either could not or would not do themselves. So we understand that the space that civil society operates in, in many places around the world, is dangerous; that many of you in this room and those who are following this on the internet really do put yourselves on the line. And we want to be your partners.

Now we know too that in the face of an upsurging civil society, some governments have responded by cracking down harder than ever. Recent headlines from too many countries paint a picture of civil society under threat. But each time a reporter is silenced, or an activist is threatened, it doesn’t strengthen a government, it weakens a nation. A stool cannot balance on one leg or even two. The system will not be sustainable.

So the United States is pushing back against this trend. We’ve provided political and financial support for embattled civil society groups around the world. Just two weeks ago, our Democracy and Human Rights Working Group met with bloggers and reporters from across the region in Tunis to hear about challenges to freedom of expression. And we are trying to lead by example. We hope that by holding meetings like this one, we can demonstrate that civil society should be viewed not a threat, but an asset.

I’m very proud to announce today that the State Department is acting on every one of the eight policy recommendations that have been generated by civil society through this dialogue so far. Now, I won’t go through all of them for you – I hope that you’ll have a briefing on all of those; we’re putting the details online for everyone to see – but let me just make a few highlight comments.

First, we are expanding the reach and deepening our commitment to this dialogue by setting up embassy working groups. Our posts will help us tap the ideas and opinions of local civil society groups, and then we will channel their input back to Washington to inform our policies. We’ve already received commitments from 10 posts stretching from Brazil to Bangladesh, from the Czech Republic to Cameroon. I know many of these posts are watching live via the internet right now, and I want to extend a special word of thanks to them.

Second, our Working Group on Religion and Foreign Policy has focused on how we can strengthen our engagement with the large section of civil society comprised of faith-based organizations. Our posts in every region of the globe work with faith-based organizations and religious communities to bolster democracies, protect human rights, and respond to the humanitarian need of citizens. So these groups are our natural allies on a multitude of issues, including advancing religious freedom, and we want to work with them wherever possible. These recommendations will support our officers in the field who are engaging with religious communities to make sure they have the appropriate training to carry out their efforts.

Third, our Labor Working Group has examined opportunities to facilitate discussions among governments, businesses, and labor groups to make sure all points of view are represented at the international level and in multilateral institutions. Labor groups are another well-organized and important category of civil society, and we want to help them connect with one another and pursue shared approaches as we defend and advance workers’ rights.

And finally, bringing us back to the great changes throughout the Middle East and North Africa, our Women’s Empowerment Working Group is building awareness for women’s rights in countries undergoing political transition. And we will work closely with civil society groups and governments in the region to help make women’s rights part of new constitutions, protected and practiced, and understood as critical to the development of democratic, successful societies.

Now, our new policy recommendations do not end here. Later this afternoon, the dialogue will hear new ideas developed by our Working Groups on Governance and Accountability to improve transparency and combat corruption. And we will continue engaging with you to identify new ideas and opportunities. This summer, we will also be adding a new Global Philanthropy Working Group to our dialogue, chaired by Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine. This group will expand our cooperation with leading foundations and develop partnerships to support civil society.

Now, conversations and actions like these have ripple effects, and we have had some positive responses from governments over the last year who are reaching out and developing their own mechanisms for engaging with their own civil society. Some of the representatives from those governments are here today, and we greatly appreciate your presence, and we also stand ready to offer any assistance we can.

So thank you for being here. Thank you for what you do. Please know that are enthusiastic about the future of civil society and we want to use this dialogue, as we have for the past year, to be a vehicle for the exchange of ideas, for the promotion of new approaches, and for an accounting, because we want to do what works and quit doing what doesn’t work. So we want to be very clear that we’re going to be holding ourselves accountable and going to be looking to civil society to be held accountable as well.

So I’m looking forward to taking some questions about our dialogue and having this exchange with you and then hearing more about the work that each and every one of you are doing. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

UNDER SECRETARY SONENSHINE: Well, thank you, Madam Secretary, for the opportunity to moderate this very inspiring and loud program. I do want to welcome all of you, and particularly those who are here on ECA-funded civil society programs, the IVLP folks, the Humphrey fellows, if you’re out there somewhere. We particularly welcome you here today.

In just a few moments, we’ll be taking some questions from the audience, so as you do have a question, if you would signal us and we will get a microphone to you. But in the meantime, I’m going to begin, Madam Secretary, by picking up on this very inspired and moving thought: Each time a reporter is silenced or an activist is threatened, it doesn’t strengthen a government, it weakens a nation. So how do we explain this rise of challenges and crackdowns on civil society? And are these isolated events, or is there a trend here that we’re going to see in the years outward?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think – this is loud. (Laughter.) I hope it can be turned down. I think that the world is going through an extraordinary historic change. More people are living under governments of their own choosing and more people have the opportunity to do so than ever before in human history. But it’s also true that old habits die hard. There are all kinds of cultural, political, economic, even religious, ethnic, racial – all kinds of mindsets that are difficult to change in a short period of time.

I am very optimistic about the future, but I am also very realistic that the pathway to that future of greater democracy, freedom, human rights, human dignity is going to be a hard road for many millions and millions of people around the world. And therefore, we have to continue making the case for respect and tolerance and openness that is at the root of any true sustainable democracy while recognizing that many leaders, both old and new, are going to find such a transition very personally threatening, threatening to their group, threatening to their assumptions about power and order. And we have to continue to make the case.

So I am humbled by the courage of so many people around the world right now – dissidents, activists, political actors – who are contributing to this historic tide that is building. But I also realize that it’s not going to happen overnight, and therefore, we have to be smart about how we help you move forward on this agenda for civil society, democracy, and human rights.

So I really think, Tara, that we have to, also in the United States, remind ourselves of our own long journey. We’re living in a time of instant communication and 24-hour news, but we did not recognize every American’s human rights, we did not have fully representative one-person, one-vote democracy, when we started out. We had to fight a civil war. We had to amend our Constitution. So we have to be, I think, always advancing what we believe are universal human values, best realized within the context of representative democracy but with enough humility to understand that different peoples, different countries have different histories, different cultures, different mindsets.

So what we want to do is support real change, not just score political points or get on the evening news. At the end of the day, we want our help and support for civil society and political change to actually have advanced the cause of freedom and human dignity and human rights and democracy, and not to be used as an excuse or a rationale for clamping down even more. So navigating through all of that is especially difficult if you’re in such a country, but it’s also difficult for us who are trying to help those of you who are on the frontlines.

UNDER SECRETARY SONENSHINE: Let me go to the audience here first, and then we’ll go overseas. I notice the first hand is in the second row, three seats in. And if you would not mind identifying yourself and also asking folks to keep questions relatively short so that we can work our way around the room. Please.

QUESTION: Hello, I am Shatha Al-Harazi, a political human rights journalist from Yemen. I am so honored to be here today with you and so inspired by your speech. I have only one question. You just spoke about universal human values. When it comes to that, that just reminds me that – of a friend of mine who just told me to tell you face-to-face that Yemenis are not less important than American, and if you want to work hand to hand and counter terrorism, you have to work with the civil society. You have to strengthen the civil society. And we thank you here for the great work that NDI and the USAID are doing, but still the drone strikes are disrupting everything and it’s getting our civilian killed. So I’m just asking you here, is there any consideration or any plans on working with civil society on counterterrorism? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we certainly intend to and are working with civil society on counterterrorism, because one of the long-term solutions to terrorism is building up civil society, giving people the feeling of empowerment: their voices are heard; they don’t need to turn to violence because they can participate fully and equally in a political process.

We also are committed to working with civil society to counter violent extremism; to counter the messages of extremists who promote violence; who are not respectful of human rights or even human life, but instead are intent upon undermining the political order and, in effect, capturing it to promote a certain ideological or religious point of view.

So we do have to do more with civil society. There is absolutely total agreement on that. And in a conflict situation, as we see in many places around the country, we do try to do both. We try to support the government or the political system against the threat from violent extremism while trying to work to enhance civil society as a way of diminishing either the attractiveness or the reach of extremism.

So it’s not either/or in our view. It’s primarily on the political-civil society front, but I’m not going to sit here and mislead you. There are also people who are trying to kill Americans, kill Europeans, and kill Yemenis; who are not going to listen to reason; who don’t want to participate in a political process; who have no interest in sitting around a table and hearing your view be

Posted on May 17, 2012, in Morocco News and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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