35th session of the CoD Governing Council

5-6 July, 2022

On July 5-6, 2022, CoD Governing Council Member States and representatives of the Civil Society Pillar gathered for an online 35th session of the Governing Council to discuss internal issues of the Community of Democracies and current challenges and opportunities to democracy worldwide.

Member States expressed deep appreciation for the Presidency of Romania for its supportive and visionary leadership from September 2019, and welcomed the incoming Presidency of Canada, starting in September 2022.

Remarks by H.E. Foreign Minister of Romania Bogdan Aurescu (link to the website of the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Remarks by SG Thomas E. Garrett

Dear Excellencies, Distinguished Representatives of the Governing Council and the International Steering Committee of the Civil Society Pillar,

I am pleased to join Foreign Minister Aurescu of the Romanian Presidency in welcoming you to the 35th Governing Council Meeting of the Community of Democracies. It is also an honor and pleasure to follow Mr. Robert Oliphant, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, representing Canada’s upcoming Presidency from 2022 to 2023.

During my March visit to Ottawa, where the International Steering Committee joined me, HE Foreign Minister Melanie Joly met with us and spoke about Canada’s emphasis on democracy in its foreign policy. But even beyond that, Canada’s “whole-of-government” democracy approach was apparent in our visit, in meetings highlighting diversity, civil society, and youth democracy engagement across government ministries.

I look forward to Canada’s leadership role within the Community of Democracies. And as we eagerly anticipate and plan for the upcoming Presidency, I want to express my deep appreciation for Romania for its supportive and visionary leadership, which graciously extended from two to three years until September 2022. This generous commitment by His Excellency, Foreign Minister Aurescu, has given the Community of Democracies a much-needed continuation of leadership in these times of ever-changing circumstances.

Since we last met in January of this year, much has taken place to remind us that democracy can’t be taken for granted.

We recently celebrated the 22nd anniversary of the Warsaw Declaration. The capacity of the Warsaw Declaration to serve as a road map for transitioning political systems and as a checklist for established democracies has been the subject of Community of Democracies programs in Geneva this year and on the margins of the recent Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. To counter external threats and internal challenges, there is a need to approach the Warsaw Declaration seriously, as a guiding document, not only as a catalog of friendly standards but as an essential checklist against which Governing Council Members are willing to assess themselves.

This need was made clear on February 24 of this year.

Among the 106 countries which adopted the Declaration in 2000 were the Russian Federation and Ukraine. But over two decades, the Kremlin has systematically and blatantly violated almost every principle of the Warsaw Declaration. We see the result: a lawless kleptocracy that represses dissidents, shuts down media, criminalizes civil society, and blatantly violates international laws.

In the same time frame, Ukraine has had starts and stops and complex challenges in its democratic path, but its people, civil society, and sometimes its leaders seek adherence to the Warsaw Declaration as a roadmap.

The invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation was a turning point for many democracies. The need to earlier respond to authoritarian threats, such as cyber warfare, before such aggression turns into military action, has become painfully apparent. Most Member States of The Community of Democracies identify with Ukraine, seeing Russia’s unjustified invasion of its neighboring nation as one of the most significant assaults in history on sovereignty, and territorial integrity, rights enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

As Kyiv enters Day 132 of its fight for existence and its fight for the multilateral system of freedoms and the rule of law, I hope the Community of Democracies can move in an even more united spirit to defend Ukrainian sovereignty and democracy.

Putin’s Russia isn’t the only example of an authoritarian war on democracy. In recent days, we have seen the leader of China celebrate Hong Kong’s dissolution as a democracy. The one country, two systems promise for a 50-year transition period by Beijing didn’t survive half of that commitment. And this occurs as yet again, a small democratic political system – Taiwan – is increasingly threatened by violence and war from the big neighbor next door.

There are major authoritarian attacks on freedom globally – similar violations occur within many countries’ borders.

In Myanmar, civil society reports that security forces have killed at least 2,053 civilians since the military’s 2021 coup, with other reliable reports of at least 5000 civilian deaths during an anti-coup protest or in clashes with the army.

We can’t neglect the worsening of the situation of girls and women in Afghanistan. Restrictions by the Taliban on movement and women’s dress spread across the land, as does the almost total discontinuation of education for girls.
And, of course, the ongoing challenge of the global pandemic affects many aspect of our lives. Effects of the pandemic, combined with the war in Ukraine, have already begun to present new challenges to food security. Most countries of the global democratic family managed to perform satisfactorily thanks to the long-lasting adherence to democratic principles. However COVID19 still poses a severe threat, with numbers of infections rising again in many countries.

The Community of Democracies seeks to respond to 2022’s environment of democratic challenge.

In last week’s Urgent Debate on the Situation of Women and Girls in Afghanistan, the High Commissioner for Human Rights laid responsibility for the rights of women and girls to the de facto authority in Kabul, the Taliban. Before the Urgent Debate, the Community of Democracies provided the ten Member States of the Governing Council on the Human Rights Council with the Afghan Policy Brief, which outlined commitments to gender equality made by Afghanistan drawn from a review of the implementation of SDGs in Afghanistan before August 2021. I hope that this well-designed Brief, funded by the Republic of Korea, will support the many initiatives currently undertaken by Governing Council Member States to continue helping the Afghan people.

Funding from Georgia in 2021 produced a study on digital platforms and public goods that support democratic elections – this study will form the basis for Georgia-supported programs in 2022 by the Working Group on Democracy and Technology.

Among Romania’s many contributions to the Community of Democracies is funding support for activities on the cross-cutting theme of youth inclusion.

In addition to promoting and encouraging young people in democracy and dialogue on the use of new technologies to strengthen freedom and human rights, the Community of Democracies in 2022 is working on gender equality.

The sexual violence perpetrated by Russia in Ukraine was a particular human rights focus of the Community of Democracies’ engagement on the margins of the meeting of the Commission on the Status of women in New York in March, funded by the Republic of Korea and hosted through the Lithuanian Permanent Mission to the UN.

We have worked in 2022 to increase the Community of Democracies’ capacity in Geneva; thanks to funding from the United States and with the Geneva-based support of the Polish Permanent Mission.

With virtual and in-person meetings, we have launched the new Democracy Platform, an informal, voluntary structure for joint discussion, coordinating initiatives and fostering cooperation to strengthen the presence and visibility of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law within the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Warsaw Declaration principles will serve to guide the work of the Democracy Platform.
The Platform will meet in conjunction with sessions of the Council and serve as a space for open exchange of views between participants on democracy-related issues connected with actions and activities of the Council.

For now, I’ve mentioned the challenges. Let’s look at the opportunities:

Civil society remains in the streets across the world, pressing democracies and authoritarian governments alike for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

As we said farewell this year to our founder, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and as 2022 moves swiftly towards 2023, the answer remains values-based multilateralism strongly allied with civil society. This will remain critical to efforts to protect human rights and support the resiliency of democracies.

With the engagement of the Governing Council, the Community of Democracies can continue to offer assistance to governments worldwide and work with civil society and other stakeholders to promote and protect shared human rights and democratic values.

Thank you, Chair.