Thank you very much, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines.
I also wish to commend the Government of Indonesia for hosting the Seventh Bali Democracy Forum in Bali. We congratulate President Yudhoyono and Indonesia for its leadership and commitment to holding these annual gatherings to make democracy stronger in the region. I am especially encouraged by the impact of this year’s forum, because of the strong link it is making with civil society – an essential partner for government in any democracy. In the days preceding this forum, regional civil society organizations gathered here in Bali to discuss ways they can better contribute to democracies in their own countries and more broadly.
A defining characteristic of democracy is public participation – an appropriate theme for our gathering. Empowering people to participate is empowering civil society. Civil society is the foundation of every successful democracy around the world. The legacy of democracy is shaped by the people of a country — people who aspire to better opportunities are the heart of civil society, and therefore, at the heart of democracy.
The United States government has strongly supported three recent initiatives that seek to embolden civil society’s role in countries around the world: the Open Government Partnership, the Stand with Civil Society agenda, and the Equal Futures Partnership. The Open Government Partnership, which includes the US as a founding member, has united countries in an effort to improve good governance and transparency. Indonesia and Mexico hosted the latest Open Government Partnership meeting in New York on September 24 in which 65 nations committed to promoting transparency, increasing civic participation, fighting corruption, and harnessing new technologies to make government more open, effective and accountable. The Open Government Partnership is an initiative for encouraging citizens and nations to work together, because democratic progress depends on citizens who are willing, able, and free to raise their voices. These initiatives have led our own government to adopt new measures to be more open and accountable to the public, including promoting education to increase citizen awareness and engagement; utilizing information technology to deliver government services more effectively; increasing transparency in spending; and using technology to support greater openness and accountability.
In September 2013, President Obama launched Stand with Civil Society a global call to action for the US and likemindeds to support, defend, and sustain civil society amid a rising tide of global restrictions. Working in partnership with other governments, the philanthropic community, and multilateral initiatives, the United States Government has focused on three lines of effort over the past year: (1) promoting laws, policies, and practices that foster a supportive environment for civil society in accordance with international norms; (2) coordinating multilateral, diplomatic pressure to push back against undue restrictions on civil society; and (3) identifying innovative ways of providing technical, financial, and logistical support to promote a transparent and vibrant civil society. On September 24, 2014, the same day President Obama marked the one year anniversary of the Stand Initiative, the White House released a presidential memorandum directing all USG agencies operating abroad “to take actions that elevate and strengthen the role of civil society; challenge undue restrictions on civil society; and foster constructive engagement between governments and civil society.” We have recently co-sponsored a Regional Civil Society Summit in Jakarta with the Government of Indonesia, UNDP, and NGO partners in support of this call to action.
No civil society is vibrant, indeed no democracy is vibrant or legitimate, when women and girls have limited opportunities to contribute and lead. The Equal Futures Partnership, initiated in 2012, is designed to challenge heads of state to break down barriers to women’s economic and political participation. In this initiative our partner countries commit to making reforms that ensure women lead and benefit from inclusive economic growth and fully participate in public life. Societies where women and girls are safe, where women are empowered to exercise their rights and move their communities forward, are societies that prove themselves to be more prosperous and more stable because women are full partners. We are encouraged that the Equal Futures Partnership has grown to include over two dozen nations now making real commitments to break down barriers to women’s political participation.
As we come together at this forum to share our experiences in developing genuine democracy, we should remember that while systems of government may vary among democracies, the fundamental principles of democracy are universal and easily recognized. At its core, a genuine democracy is grounded in the practice of regular, free and fair elections. A genuine democracy welcomes diverse participants and multiple viewpoints, and it becomes stronger because of them.. In a genuine democracy, citizens are free to vote, debate, protest, organize, and engage in meaningful dialogue with the government – as members of the private sector and as members of civil society. When nations uphold the rights of all their people – including ethnic and religious minorities, the LGBT community, disabled persons, and women and girls – those countries are more likely to thrive. Crackdowns on civil society undermine the fundamental notion of democracy. If we want strong, successful countries, we need strong, vibrant, and inclusive civil societies.