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Esther Brimmer: Community of Democracies Experiencing a Renaissance of Activity
March 1, 2012

Assistant Secretary Esther Brimmer
Remarks at the High Level Session of the
Community of Democracies Governing Council, Geneva, SwitzerlandA group of people in a conference room

The United States is grateful to Mongolia for its continuing leadership of the Community of Democracies.

I had the opportunity to work with the Community when it was taking shape more than a decade ago.   And the values of dignity, decency, and democracy that defined this organization at its inception are more important than ever in our diplomacy.

This third session of the Community’s Governing Council represents an important opportunity to channel those values into the renaissance of activity that’s occurring within the organization today.

Over the last two years, the Community of Democracies has undergone a transformation from a forum where democracies get together into a platform for democracies to get things done.  And in the months since the Governing Council’s last meeting, Community of Democracies task forces led by Slovakia, the Netherlands, Poland and the U.S. have helped strengthen emerging democracies in Tunisia and Moldova.  CD working groups led by Canada, Poland and Mongolia have helped protect civil society and promote democracy education.  All of this progress has been welcome and well timed.  And in order for the Community to realize its full potential, this evolution must continue.

Charles Darwin once wrote that “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent… It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”  That principle holds true in the realm of international organizations as well.  And today, I would like to suggest three ways in the Community must continue to evolve.

First, the Community’s working groups are one of its most important assets.  At their best, they bring together governments and civil society to support democracy in ways that none of us could hope to replicate acting alone.  Because of their great potential, we need to ensure that all of the Community’s working groups are performing well and producing concrete results.  Working in partnership with the CD’s Executive Committee, we should not shy away from reevaluating mandates or redirecting activity when working groups are needed to address new challenges and opportunities.  For example, after careful consideration, the United States and Lithuania recently decided to redesign the working group on women and democracy that we co-chair to focus on women’s issues in countries undergoing transitions to democracy.  We are enthusiastic about this new direction, and I hope the CD’s other working groups can make similar changes where needed.  In some cases, I hope we can consider new initiatives as possible candidates for CD working groups, such as the LEND Network for leaders engaged in new democracies presented at the last meeting of the Governing Council.

Second, as we evaluate our efforts, I hope the Community of Democracies will explore opportunities to strengthen our engagement and cooperation at the UN Human Rights Council.  Much of the work that goes on in the Community of Democracies and the Human Rights Council is already mutually reinforcing.  Many of you will remember that soon after the Community of Democracies expanded its efforts to defend civil society, the UN Human Rights Council created a new Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Assembly and Association.  We need to find other opportunities to align our work in these bodies.  The proposal from civil society to create a CD working group focused on the Human Rights Council provides one promising possibility.  As we consider this proposal, we should ensure that representatives in Geneva take the lead in fashioning a framework for engagement within the CD that meets their needs and advances shared values on important issues such as internet freedom that have an impact on emerging democracies and civil society.

Finally, as we move forward, we must provide the CD with leadership and a secretariat that will be equal to the tasks ahead.  The United States applauds the concrete steps that have been taken to strengthen the effectiveness and efficiency of the CD’s governance structure.  In keeping with this progress, the Permanent Secretariat, headquartered in Warsaw, is also undergoing a reform process.  We are grateful to the Polish Government for providing the staff and space for the CD’s permanent secretariat since its establishment.  Now that the Secretariat is legally gaining its independence and will be a formal international organization, we are looking forward to having an international staff and appointing the first Secretary General.  We encourage all states to fulfill their commitment to support the new Secretariat, and second members of their diplomatic corps to serve there.  And we welcome Maria Leissner’s nomination to serve as Secretary General of the CD.

By their nature, successful democracies are always engaged in a perpetual process of self-improvement.  Again, we are excited to see the Community of Democracies embracing the task of reform as well.  And the United States looks forward to working with all of you as we build this Community, and enhance its capability to support democracy everywhere.