Biden’s Summit to address challenges to Democracy, Corruption, and Human Rights
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(13 August 2021) –– I applaud U.S. President Joseph Biden, Jr. for his proposed virtual “Summit for Democracy”. The Summit, which is set for December 9-10, 2021, will be the first of two summits to be organized and hosted by the American President that “will bring together leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector to set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today through collective action.” Who better to initiate and to host such a summit than an American president who has experienced one of the greatest challenges to democracy and his presidency even before he was sworn into office?
The challenge to American democracy by the Trump-inspired insurrection on January 6, 2021, shook democracies around the world. Trump’s corruption-laced autocratic leadership during his four-year tenure as U.S. president encouraged autocratic tendencies in certain countries around the world. America’s experience revealed the tenuous state of democracies globally and awakened the international community of democracies to the urgency to act collectively to preserve democracy as a form of government that guarantees freedoms for all people. Leading democracies must ensure that the ‘democracy dividends’ are reality and not mere concepts. There is an urgency for these discussions, and for individual and collective actions to save democracies.
Support for democracies must be meaningful. The penalties for creeping autocracy by would-be dictators and autocrats must be sufficiently effective to dissuade these types of aberrant behaviors and reverse the autocratic trends I have been warning about in The Ward Post. The path to a better world for all peoples begins here. This must be a determined and sustained effort from strong democracies with buy-in from nascent democracies across the developing world.
Support for democratic governments, particularly those with limited resources, to ensure the human security of their populations should be a priority coming out of the Summit. When I speak of human security I am specifically focusing on quality-of-life issues – social and economic upliftment, eliminating poverty, guarantee of free quality education through the tertiary level, access to affordable quality healthcare for all regardless of social and economic status, equity and equal opportunity, physical security, and protection of fundamental freedoms and human rights. I speak of realization of the democracy dividends of development putting people at the center of these efforts.
Human security must be the foundation of the democracy dividend we expect, and, as history has taught us, which can only be derived from truly democratic societies. But nothing can be taken for granted. As President Biden said in the White House announcement, “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.” I fully agree!
Weak democratic institutions must be strengthened, and governments must be prevented from cheating their populations of their fundamental rights, the rights to free and fair elections included. Ignoring autocratic trends and constant nibbling at the margins of democracy and failure to hold political leaders and governments accountable weaken democracy not just for the population directly impacted but for the entire global community. The erosion of democracy and subversion of democratic institutions and processes anywhere is a threat to democracy everywhere. Erosion of democracy anywhere creates a democracy deficit for all of us.
Major areas for discussion at the Summit: (1) Defending against authoritarianism; (2) Addressing and fighting corruption; and (3) Advancing respect for human rights, are important issues to kick-start the process. But these are not the end in themselves. These discussions must be broadened to engage democracies on guarantee of human security. I will discuss corruption and protection of human rights and their debilitating effect on democratic societies in greater details in later articles. Suffice it to say, corruption and greed are two elements of the rot that challenges democracy and destroys the institutions that support good governance and the rule of law. Strengthened democratic institutions and laws, including international institutions and norms, must be zealously engaged, and applied to protect human rights and to prevent nefarious individuals from committing crimes against humanity. The responsibility to protect is everyone’s obligation.
The White House announcement further explained that the “Summit will kick off a year of action by participants to make democracies more responsive and resilient, and to build a broader community of partners committed to global democratic renewal.” Partners in this process must include old and new democracies, large and small countries, the rich and the poor, and the resourced and under resourced democracies. We need a community of partners across all spectra for the process to work and the objectives achieved.
Democracy must not be a top-down process and there are no trickle-down benefits to be derived by the broad population. Democracy is built from the ground up, in the neighborhoods and communities to the society at large. And it is the responsibility of governments, civil society, and the private sector to protect democracy and the democratic process. It is the responsibility of the people, individually and collectively, to be vigilant, vocal, and persistent in holding governments and their enablers accountable, and support measures to arrest any trend away from democracy and towards autocracy. We can’t wait until the negative forces of autocracy succeed.
© 2021 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post
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