Farewell address by the Secretary General Maria Leissner

The farewell address by Maria Leissner, whose tenure as the Secretary General of the Community of Democracies
ended on July 31.

“Dear Governing Council Member States, Partners and Friends of the Community of Democracies,

Today marks my last day as the Secretary General of the Community of Democracies.

When I first visited Warsaw in 1976 for an international youth conference marked by the censorship and lack of freedom of the communist era, little did I know then that I would return to Warsaw 36 years later as Secretary General of a global intergovernmental organization that connects countries in a common belief in democratic principles.

A lot has changed since we celebrated the global success for democratic values by founding the Community 17 years ago. The world has suffered a period marked by an upsurge in terrorism as well as global democratic recession. The values enshrined in the Warsaw Declaration, the founding document of the Community of Democracies, have been questioned in many countries around the world and overall negative trends for global democratic development and respect for democratic values have been highlighted in several reports. These worrying trends made the Community’s aspirations to strengthen the global democratic voice much more needed, but also more complicated.

At the same time, this challenging period was marked by a very fruitful cooperation with all participants and partners of the Community of Democracies, being diverse but sharing the same values on the importance of democracy. The Community has grown in scope of activities, degree of institutionalization as well as size and strength. We continued working together to share knowledge, best practices, and deliver support for emerging democracies through a number of projects, initiatives, and working groups.

I have sought to form the Community of Democracies as the meeting place for democratic governments to be connected with global civil society, experts, multilateral efforts, and other stakeholders whose common aim is to safeguard and foment democracy. A place to transcend regional differences to seek global understanding based on shared values. A place for discussions to achieve common understanding, and decisions to achieve joint action in support of democracy, that would not otherwise have had any home. If I wish for anything, then it is that these efforts shall continue and be intensified.

I depart with feelings of satisfaction of what we have achieved. Let me mention a few things.

Driven by the belief that civil society is an integral part of democracy, supporting civil society and giving civil society a voice has been a top priority in the Community of Democracies before and during my tenure. Combining the strengths of diplomacy and civil society has led to many successful activities and processes aimed at promoting and enabling civil society and civic space.

Assisting countries undergoing democratic transition has been a top priority, as emphasized in our mission statement. Despite global democratic recession, many countries, like Tunisia and Myanmar, have made progress on the democratic journey. Our programs supporting emerging democracies expanded and made great strides over the past few years. Nowhere is that clearer than our efforts to help the people of Myanmar solidify their democratic gains and contribute to Myanmar’s ongoing transition toward constitutional democracy.

As part of one of our long term thematic priorities, democracy and development, we have engaged with the UN, committed countries and experts to produce supplemental indicators that would help implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, mainly Goal 16. I hope this will benefit the entire international community, and help emphasizing democratic principles not only as means but also as end goals for human development.

Promoting women’s political empowerment as a key aspect of democracy has been a focus for the last years’ regional consultations on women’s political participation, held across the continents, serving as a basis to develop a set of recommendations for women’s full democratic participation.

These consultations, as well as the flagship of our activities the last few years, the Democracy and Security Dialogue chaired by the “mother” of Community of Democracies, Secretary Albright together with former Prime Minister Jomaa, has been the start of a new feature of the Community, underpinning political recommendations with knowledge production. I believe the results from the Democracy and Security Dialogue will be thoroughly fascinating and very important, representing new knowledge and helping to form key messages of the Community.

It is impossible to mention all the important activities conducted throughout these years. But one thing is sure – all of our accomplishments would have not been possible without a strong sense of partnership and commitment shared by our member states and partners. It is the consistency of partnership, shared values and international cooperation that helped build the Community as a meaningful multi-stakeholder platform for cooperation and cohesion among democracy stakeholders.

As a Secretary General, it has been a great privilege and honour to support the Community’s Presidency, Governing Council and partner organizations in our collective efforts to uphold common democratic values and standards.

I wish to express my sincerest thanks and gratitude to our Governing Council member states, civil society, academia, and all other partners that have worked with us over these years and supported me in accomplishing my mandate. Thank you so much for all your contributions, engagement and support.

I would also like to extend my thanks and appreciation to all the staff at the Permanent Secretariat of the Community of Democracies for their commitment, dedication, and hard work.

I wish you all every success in future developments within the Community of Democracies as in these challenging times for democracy, our collective efforts to stand by the values of the Warsaw Declaration are more important than ever.”