By Kathryn McConnell
IIP Staff Writer
July 12, 2013
The strategy, released July 11, affirms the importance of strong democratic institutions, respect for universally recognized human rights, and participatory, accountable governance as crucial for improving peoples’ lives in a sustainable way. It elevates and integrates, for the first time, those elements into USAID’s broader mission, emphasizing high-impact partnerships, innovation and results, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah writes in the introduction of a report on the strategy.
The strategy states that citizen voices and civic expression are essential to building and sustaining democratic societies. Civic organizations that help individuals defend their rights, the strategy says, must be able to operate freely in their societies. Such groups are some of USAID’s most important development partners, according to the strategy report.
“USAID is strongly committed to supporting civil society and standing up for fundamental rights including the freedoms of association and speech,” according to the report.
Shah says USAID works with partners to develop new ways to defend human rights and improve government responsiveness through digital applications, tailoring activities to evidence-based assessments of each country’s political system.
He says USAID increasingly integrates innovation into its work and leverages mobile technologies, social networks and youth engagement to enable democratic progress.
The strategy report states that across the globe, the explosive growth of information has democratized communication. Information technologies present new opportunities for citizens to participate in public policy decisions and to hold their governments accountable, the report states.
However, the report states, new technologies also can present challenges to democracy as some governments monitor and control access to the Internet.The new strategy promotes equality of opportunity and access to public goods and services. It elevates as a priority the protection of women and girls; persons with disabilities; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals; displaced persons; indigenous individuals and communities; youth; the elderly; and ethnic and religious minorities.
These groups often suffer from discrimination in the application of laws and policy and may be subject to persecution, the report states.
USAID is part of a multiagency U.S. effort to protect human rights and promote democratic governance around the world. The United States and more than 50 bilateral partners have agreed to the Open Government Partnership to promote transparency, increase access to technology, fight corruption and strengthen governance.
The strategy report begins with a statement President Obama made when he addressed an audience in Cairo in 2009.
“I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.”
“These are not just American ideas, they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere,” Obama said.
The strategy report (PDF, 6.83MB) is available on USAID’s website.