US President Joe Biden will bring together 111 world leaders at a virtual meeting dubbed the Democracy Summit, in what Washington hopes will be a boost to global democracy threatened by an increase in authoritarian rulers.
Biden will deliver opening remarks Thursday at 8:00 a.m. (1:00 p.m. GMT).
Senior State Department Civil Safety, Democracy and Human Rights official Uzra Zeya said the event would bring together both established and emerging democracies and help them take action for their people to “a moment of democratic calculation”.
The conference is a test of Biden’s claim, announced in his first foreign policy speech in February, that he would return the United States to world leadership to face authoritarian forces led by China and Russia.
The two countries were not invited to this week’s event, which coincides with questions about the strength of American democracy. Biden struggles to get his agenda through a polarized Congress and after former President Donald Trump contested the 2020 election result, which led his supporters to attack the United States Capitol, the legislative seat , January 6th.
An invitation list released last month included countries whose leaders are accused by human rights groups of having authoritarian tendencies, such as the Philippines, Poland and Brazil.
It also included Taiwan, stoking the anger of China, which views the democratically ruled island as part of its territory.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Taiwan’s invitation showed the United States was only using democracy as “a cover and a tool to advance its geopolitical goals, oppress other countries, divide the world and serve their own interests “.
Washington used the preparations for the summit to announce sanctions against Iranian, Syrian and Ugandan officials accused of oppressing their populations, and against people accused of being linked to corruption and criminal gangs in Kosovo and Central America.
U.S. officials hope to gain support at the meetings for global initiatives such as using technology to improve privacy or circumvent censorship and for countries to make specific public commitments to improve their democracies ahead of a planned face-to-face summit. by the end of 2022.
Annie Boyajian, director of advocacy at nonprofit Freedom House, said the event had the potential to push struggling democracies to do better and spur coordination between democratic governments.
“But, a full assessment won’t be possible until we know what commitments there are and how they are being implemented over the coming year,” Boyajian said.
Zeya, of the State Department, said civil society will help hold countries, including the United States, to account. Zeya declined to say whether Washington would turn away from leaders who fail to keep their promises.
Human Rights Watch Washington director Sarah Holewinski said making the 2022 summit invitation conditional on honoring commitments was the only way to get nations to step up their efforts.
Otherwise, said Holewinski, some “will just talk about human rights and make commitments they never intend to keep.”
“They shouldn’t be asked to come back,” she said.
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