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The Community of Democracies: Strengthening Democracy & Engaging a Global Civil Society

July 22-24, Erika Veberyte, Senior Advisor to the President, and I led a delegation of civil society representatives from Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Russia, and Serbia to the Community of Democracies (CD) VIII Ministerial Conference hosted by the Government of El Salvador.

Established 15 years ago by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the CD serves to strengthen, solidify and consolidate democratic ideals among its 100 member nations. This year’s gathering, focusing on development specifically addressed youth, social inclusion, entrepreneurship, protection of journalists, elections, education, digital democracy and engaging civil society.

Building upon the Institute’s commitment to democratic ideals, the delegation actively participated in a Day of Dialogue among civil society and government representatives. Erika shared perspectives on the political participation of women, Oleg Kozlovski, Director, Fund Image of Future, provided insights on human rights in Russia and Iscelle Marsicovetere, Project Manager, Red Ciudadana, highlighted anti-corruption, accountability and transparency related initiatives in Guatemala. IRI partners attended closed door sessions with activists from Russia and Venezuela. These meetings provided a safe environment to share experiences, best practices, and lessons learned with colleagues and representatives from the international community on the happenings in increasingly authoritarian societies. They also helped foster an informal network for growing democratic activists, a democracy network of sorts that help maintain ongoing conversations among those working peacefully toward a democratic opening.

During the Ministerial, the CD applied for United Nations observer status with plans to present a Declaration of San Salvador at the upcoming General Assembly Meeting in September 2015. Among action items, the CD resolved to advance international cooperation on issues related to transparency and easing of government corruption as well as promote a culture of peace through open dialogue forums that advance democracy, empower women, and engage a growing civil society, among others.  The United States, moreover, was unanimously elected to preside over the CD for the next two year term (2015-2017).

The United States has pledged to focus on governance as an area of special interest in strengthening democracy. This includes encouraging investment in civil society, reinforcing democratic institutions, encouraging good governance, upholding universal human rights and inclusion of marginalized groups. The VIII Ministerial represented an important milestone in the CD by extoling universal democratic values and providing a platform for engaging a global civil society. The next two years should build upon this momentum. 

IRI Central America Resident Director Tony Garrastazu, Senior Advisor to the IRI’s President Erika Veberyte at far left, and IRI Guatemala Program Officer Sergio Bustamante at far right join participants and folkloric performers at the Community of Democracies conference in San Salvador, El Salvador July 24.