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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Harold Hongju Koh, Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

On-the-Record Briefing, Community of Democracies Conference
Office of the Spokesman, U.S. Department of States, June 19, 2000

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SPOKESMAN BOUCHER: Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming this afternoon. I'd like to introduce Assistant Secretary Harold Koh, who will brief you on the upcoming Community of Democracies Conference.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: Thanks, Richard. I'd like to provide you with a brief introduction to the upcoming ministerial conference Toward a Community of Democracies that will take place in Warsaw, Poland, from June 25th to the 27th. Secretary Albright will lead our delegation, and she's been a moving force behind this event. We think the conference will be a historic event, in that it will be the first ever meeting of all of the world's governments who are committed to the democratic path.

The conference is being convened by seven governments including that of Poland, Chile, the Czech Republic, India, Mali, the Republic of Korea, and the United States. At this point, representatives from more than 100 governments will attend, and more than 70 of the delegations will be led by a foreign minister or another cabinet level minister. So this is a very high level conference.

The purpose of the conference is quite simply to strengthen cooperation among democracies, with the goal of consolidating, promotin, and preserving democracy worldwide. Specifically, the conference will seek to strengthen our collective efforts to deepen democracy where it exists, and to defend it where it's threatened.

The participating governments recognize that a true community of democracies must include not just governments, but also civil societies, and that's why we welcome the simultaneous convening at the same time as the ministerial conference of a world forum on democracy. That forum will include several hundred experts and activists from around the world. It's being sponsored jointly by two nongovernmental organizations, Freedom House of the United States, and the Stefan Batory Foundation of Poland.

Let me briefly discuss the two most obvious questions, why we need a community of democracies, and how such a community will work. First, the "why" question. Why promote democracy? The United States government promotes democracy around the globe, because we believe that the spread of democracy not only honors our values, but also secures our interests. Simply put, what we've learned is that democracy is not just a means, but it's also an end.

It's an end in that democracy is the political system in which human beings can most fully exercise their inalienable rights, which are recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and we've learned that democracy is a means, in that it is the strongest source for developing world peace, prosperity, developments, and a system of human rights. As an international actor, the United States clearly has a national interest in promoting democracy, but why should democracies then build a community among themselves?

I think the answer to this question lies in the fact that despite the tremendous growth of democracy during the last quarter century, the state of global democracy remains fragile. Since 1974, the number of democracies worldwide has grown from 30 to 120. It's an impressive number, and thus, at least in part, the conference in Warsaw will be an occasion for celebration.

But at the same time, the number is a bit deceptive, in that this impressive figure masks the continuing inevitable struggle of new democracies to deepen their roots, both in terms of democratic institutions and in democratic culture. The irony is that, in the long run, democracy is the most stable form of government but, in the short run, it is one of the most fragile, and therefore it requires support where it's attempting to take hold.

We think it's certainly an achievement to hold free and fair elections where none existed before. At the same time, we've learned that it's a far more difficult achievement to cultivate new democratic values, to build institutions, and to develop the potential of civil society. So we believe that to accomplish the goal of democratic development will require the cooperation of democratic peoples and governments across national borders, and that's why the primary purpose of the conference is not just celebration, but consolidation of the global democratic movement.

That leads to the second question. How will we attempt to do this, or how will this community seek to establish a community of democracies? In two ways. First, by advancing international norms regarding democracy. The UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva has now, twice in successive years, voted, without dissent, to recognize democracy as a fundamental human right. This is an important intellectual development at the start of the new millennium.

What will happen, we expect, at this meeting is that the democracies that are gathered will adopt a Warsaw declaration that will lay out the core principles and practices that constitute a universal concept of democracy. Second, the governments gathered will formulate an agenda of continuing cooperation on to how to better implement these principles and practices.

At this point, the common agenda includes four areas. First, strengthening cooperation in regional and global organizations. Among the questions to be considered is whether a democracy caucus at the UN or other multilateral organizations will serve as a means to forge common positions on democracy-related issues, how to focus greater attention on the assistance of democracies within international financial institutions, and how to develop good governance, the rule of law, transparency, and accountability.

Second, sharing best practices. Each of us, or each of the democratic countries represented, have had their own experience. Rather than individually reinventing the wheel, the question is how to teach one another. The best practices that we've employed in such areas as economic reform, rule of law, anti-corruption, decentralization, post-conflict reconciliation, and civil-military affairs.

Third, responding to threats to democracy. Different regions in the world have had different experiences and differing degrees of success when democracy has been threatened. We will discuss how we can act, collectively and individually, to most effectively respond to coups, to flawed elections, or to serious erosions of civil and political liberties.

Fourth and finally, coordinating democracy assistance. No nation alone has the resources to support democracy everywhere; therefore, the challenge is how to develop a better set of multilateral mechanisms to coordinate assistance among donor countries, to new democracies. This will require stronger dialogue among donors, host governments and indigenous societies about key obstacles to democracy consolidation and the appropriate mechanisms for surmounting those obstacles.

Fifth and finally, we expect the ministerial conference will build bridges between the governmental community and the nongovernmental community. We've developed -- we've supported the development of a wide variety of -- nongovernmental forums on democracy around the world, and we think that they need to engage in an important dialogue with the governmental organizations.

In closing, let me say that the Warsaw meeting, and the products of that meeting will crystallize the notion of democracy, not just as a common aspiration among nations, but as a global community project. In 1945, after two world wars, the nations of the world gathered together to decide how best to protect peace, security, and human rights through a framework of global cooperation.

What 1945 represents to the global human rights movement, we hope that someday the year 2000 will represent to the global democracy movement, namely a moment where democratic nations gather together after the Cold War to decide how best to nurture the flowering of democracy, through a framework of global cooperation.

Thank you, and I'd now be happy to answer any questions you might have.

QUESTION: My first question is about Russia. I am asking if the United States is persuaded that Russia also belongs to the countries with a democratic past, after Chechnya war and these occasions which happened in the last time. The second question is some of the countries which take part in the conference are seeking help for their democracies in NATO, they want to become a part of NATO. Will the Secretary of State make some promise at this conference to these countries, to these nine countries which apply for NATO in 2002?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: Well I think the major point that is to be made is that not all of the countries that are attending the conference have the kinds of longevity and strength of democratic institutions. If they did, we wouldn't need to have this kind of conference. Established democracies gather all the time in various kinds of organizational settings -- Council of Europe, NATO, European Union, and the like.

I think the goal here is how both established and newly emerging democracies can get together, and figure out how they can help one another, how they can share best practices, how they can coordinate their efforts, how they can engage in cooperation. The goal, primarily, is one of fostering a consciousness, a common consciousness, among countries that have chosen the democratic path. Not just to foster that consciousness, but also to get a commitment to a common set of principles. Then operating out of those principles, all kinds of decisions can then go on to be made. The purpose, frankly, is one of forward looking and planning, not of any particular political concern of any particular country attending.

QUESTION:(Inaudible) -- you didn't answer the first part of his question about Russia, or was that included? ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: I thought it was included, but anyway.

QUESTION:Can I ask a question that's kind of the inverse of that question, also about the attendance? I'm a little unclear as to why Austria is attending, when this is a country that was in fact punished last year for actually having a democracy. ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: I think we could go through a lot of discussions about the guest list. I'm not someone who believes that you judge the quality of the wedding by who is or is not attending. The question is what is the nature of the discussion that's going to be had.

QUESTION:Yeah, what is the nature of the discussion that people are going to have with Austria?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: Well, let me go back. The way in which countries were invited in the first place is that the convening group gathered together and put together a list, and the list was an inclusive one which included not just countries that were established democracies, but those that were striving for democracies and those that had made a commitment to the democratic path. And invitations were extended. Some were accepted, not all of them were accepted, and then we proceeded on to the planning of the event.

The key issue, it seems to me, is the declarations and communiqués that come out: what nations will subscribe to by participating in the conferences? Those countries that have experienced backsliding, we hope that the conference will itself be an occasion to engage them and press them aggressively on the extent to which we found their recent progress to be lacking. And I think, in particular, the goal is to get individual nations to address the common elements of democracy and to look at their own conduct and decide whether their own conduct meets that standard.

QUESTION:I guess what I'm trying to ask is, you know, does Austria -- is Austria's democracy backsliding? You know, was -- I'm just -- you know, it seems to me this is an established democracy. They had an election and the people that nobody liked won and they were punished for it. And I'm just wondering, you know, is that going to be an issue? When you have a -- you know, in some cases, when you have a successful democracy, that's not what the rest of the world wants and basically -

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: We would argue that Austria is a government that needs participation in this to face up to its own record, as much as any country on the list. The fact of the matter is, as you say, it's a country which has had a regular set of elections; it does have democratic institutions. We've noticed difficulties and problems in the way that people are carrying forward that agenda in terms of the elected government.

After the elections of last year, the EU, supported by the United States, took strong and, I think, unambiguous action to make it clear that certain expressions of intolerance by that government were, in our judgment, major steps backwards. There have been some revisions in response. And then the question really is to what extent is the new government of Austria, having gone through this set of events, now prepared to commit itself to a certain core set of democratic principles which address not just the forms of government and the elections but the deeper issues of tolerance, civil society-building, and the like, which are key to the development of any kind of democracy.

I think for established democracies to get together and congratulate one another is not the purpose of the conference. The question is: What is the core of democracy, what is needed to be done when democracy takes a step back, and how can countries work together to help, to respond when countries take a step back?

QUESTION:Can I just ask one more kind of on the guest list type thing? I notice that there is going to be a representative from ASEAN there. But there are only two -- I think it's two -- only two members of ASEAN that are actually attending as national delegations, Thailand and Indonesia. We're missing three of the world's last, you know, kind of totalitarian, one-party regimes in Burma, Laos, Vietnam and a very struggling democracy in Cambodia.

First of all is the ASEAN rep -- is that person or people representing the entire association? And, two, are you disappointed at all that some countries such as Cambodia, and others that have very struggling democracies, are not attending?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: We're happy with the guest list as it stands. The international organizations that were invited were invited precisely because of the notion that international organizations have a critical role to play in promoting democracy. We've seen that in the Organization of American States, most recently for example in the meetings in Windsor, which discuss the sending of a mission to investigate difficulties with democracy in Peru. We've seen strong collective action, as I said, in Europe.

I think it's precisely in parts of the world in which we have no strong regional organizations dedicated to the promotion of human rights and democracy that there is an educational value, and also a dialectic value, in having those nations and international organizations interact. And to have representatives from international organizations which are dedicated to the human dimension, like representatives from the OSCE engaging with international organizations like ASEAN, which are starting to expand and develop their mandate further.

So I think that the invitation to the international organizations is a recognition that they are an important player in the development of democracy worldwide, and so that they can also compare notes with other international organizations which have similar but not identical mandates.

QUESTION:When you speak of consolidation, are you referring to the kind of political integration that is now going on in the European Community?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: No, we are talking more at this point about consolidation of democracy in individual countries.

QUESTION:What about down the road? What about at a distant point?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: I think that democratic countries, once fully developed, have a capacity to enter into regional organizations and other kinds of international entities that have governance capacities themselves. But let me make more clearly what I think the point is about consolidation.

You had large parts of the world which were liberated from one set of governance structures, clearly anti-democratic, at the end of the 1980s. There was a period of euphoria and there was some notion that somehow everything would take care of itself. Now, 11 years down the road, we see there are some countries that are partial democracies. In other words, they experience freedom, but that's not freedom accompanied by some consistent notion of good governance. And so you have societies in which people have freedom for drug lords to operate, for crime, corruption, et cetera.

Now, the question is, how to, in those countries, start working together with other nations and with those governments and citizens themselves to start consolidating within those countries the habits of democratic governance, not just the formal institutions of government but democratic institutions and democratic culture. That's what we mean by consolidating, because otherwise democracy will remain extremely fragile.

I travel around the world. I've been to some 40 countries in the last 19 months. And it's quite an astonishing thing to go into a country which is democratic in form and suddenly realize that some of the basic elements of what we consider to be democracy are missing. Internalized respect for the rule of law, strong independent traditional institutions, multi-party systems, vibrant civil society, free and independent media. And then you think to yourself, how can we get together and try to address these situations. And one way to do it is to have countries that think of themselves as democracies working together and thinking about this kind of problem.

That's what we've tried to do at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in the last 2 years, putting forward resolutions on the right to democracy. Because I think what we started to recognize is if we deal with human rights abuse alone, we're attacking the symptoms, but maybe not the cause of the underlying problem. If we start to work with other countries to develop institutions of government that protect human rights, it will have the effect of affecting the underlying sources of the problem, and maybe leading to broader structural solutions.

So what we're trying to do is to say that the move from 30 to 121 democracies since 1974, while a good sign, is only part of the story. The question is how to entrench democracy in all 121 of those countries, and how to bring other countries into the fold.

QUESTION:Can you discuss the follow-up to the conference, because conference meets in Warsaw, and the process it will take some decisions. Will there be a body to implement those decisions? Secondly, I find that one notable omission, not exactly a country, but an area, is Taiwan, even though Taiwan is not a country, though, to welcome the emergence of democracy in the region.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: Let me take the second half of the question first. The invitation were extended to United Nations members, because they're nations, they're members of a recognized international organization, and the question is those that meet the standard of a commitment to a democratic past ought to be included.

What will be the follow-on? We expect that the conference will produce a declaration, agreed to by consensus by members of the nations who are gathered. We expect that there will be working group meetings, and communiqués stemming from those working groups. And then we expect that there would be plans and announcements to be made for follow-on meetings, probably in a different region than Eastern Europe.

Part of that, I think, is the notion is what we are establishing here is a dialogue, an ongoing dialogue of democratic countries, not a one-shot meeting for this time and place only. I think we also think it's one that ought to continue without regard to who is in government in any particular country. Democratic nations have an interest in sharing views with each other, without regard to whether one party happens to win the election or another party happens to win an election. I think that's true for all of the countries that are participating.

QUESTION:You have 134 coming, but you're saying that only 120 are democracies at this point. I don't know which 14 are included in the invitation but you are not --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: To be honest, I don't know the exact number on the list. I think at this point we have 102 attendees as national delegations, and then a number of others as international organizations. As Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, I've learned that the debate over who is or who is not a democracy is something akin to how many angels are dancing on the head of a pin.

I think what we have not done is a labeling exercise. What we have done is look to governments and sought form them a statement of commitment, commitment to the democratic path. There you can have countries which are at a very elementary or incipient stage of democracy, but who have a commitment to the democratic path, and they are potentially the governments who have the most to gain by participating in a conference like this, not only to hear what some of the best practices are, not only to understand how what they are doing brings them into a different kind of light with regional and international cooperation, but also to understand what might be the consequences if they fall back from democracy.

We think that again, if this was a gathering simply of established democracies, we wouldn't need to have it. This goes back to the question that was asked earlier. What's being established here is not a new international organization; there are plenty of international organizations that exist. What is happening is really the creation of a larger scale contact group on these issues, that can meet both in long-term consideration of the problem of consolidation of democracy, and in short-term contemplation.

I think you might well be asking yourself, why didn't such a group exist before? If we had had one, we would not have had to rely on other groups that don't specifically have preservation of democracy as their purpose. If this is a success, I think it is potentially a path-breaking historic event and one which will mark the beginning of the millennium as a very important event. In thinking about democracy as itself, a subject of global consciousness and global activity.

QUESTION:Can I have a follow-up on that? I noticed Lebanon is not included on this, and she certainly has been a democracy for a very long time. I'm just wondering why. Was she invited and decided not to come?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: We have the list. There's other meetings around the world that are going on and a number of governments are attending other meetings and so the list that you have, as you see, is a list of those who have made commitments to attend. And, frankly, the question is: Did we have a critical mass to have a meaningful discussion on all of these issues? And we achieved that quite a while ago. I think the real question now is: how creative can the agenda be and how expansive can it be in terms of thinking collectively about very difficult problems which range around the world?

QUESTION:Sir, in response to a previous question, you indicated the invitation was extended through the UN, right?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: No, I did not. I said the invitations were extended to members of the United Nations.

QUESTION:Oh, okay, that's why Taiwan was not invited because Taiwan is not a member.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: Taiwan is not a UN member, yes.

QUESTION:But I suppose, in that context, China was invited. But apparently China chose not to attend because it's not on the list of the --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: We didn't say anything about who was invited. We are looking at the list of the countries who are attending. I think China has made its own position about democracy clear, and I've spoken about it from this podium many times.

QUESTION:Can I have a follow-up? I also noted that on the list of the panelists, there are representatives from China, but they're mostly dissidents. The famous one, Mr. Wei Jingsheng and somebody else from New York heading the China and Human Rights thing. There is also a representative from Taiwan. So my question is, are they attending as representatives of NGOs or what?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: Well, when you study the packet, as I urge you to do, you will see that there are actually two conferences going on. One is an intergovernmental conference. That is a conference of nation-states and governments that are being represented, as I said, at the ministerial level. We have 102 commitments to attend, 70-plus at the ministerial level.

There is a second conference, which is going on at the same time, which is a non-governmental conference. The members and convening group for the first conference did not control the guest list for the second conference. They will be discussing how non-governmental organizations and civil society can interact with and support a global democratic movement. And there are a number of names on that guest list of individuals from different countries, including from non-democratic countries, who will be speaking. And we expect that both forums will have extremely productive dialogues and that those dialogues can intersect in important ways.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: That's enough. Thanks. In the back?

QUESTION:Can you talk about whether or not Secretary Albright is going to announce any packages of aid or any monies to fund anything? Is she taking something with her besides kind words?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: She's taking ideas with her, and I think that that can be the most profound kind of commitment. Let me go back, because I think in the press there is a sort of skepticism about putting together a conference like this. The theory is, there must be some ulterior motive or that, in fact, it's much more important to talk about whether name X is on or name Y is not.

I think what's really important -- and this has been an important U.S. Government initiative for the last 2 years -- is how, when we are aware that democracy is such an important force in global advancement, both as a means to an end and as an end, why is it that we collectively don't focus enough time on building democracy as a global value? And why is it that those who have been the recipients of global democratic values, namely the democracies themselves, rarely meet as democracies? They meet as economies, they meet as security entities, sometimes they meet as UN representatives. But rarely do they meet in their role as countries committed to the democratic path, talking about the values they share in common and trying to build a communal consciousness about this.

It seems to me that this is something which Secretary Albright cares about very viscerally and from her own past. She has lived in non-democracies and she's lived in democracies, and she's now the Secretary of State in a very important democracy. And I think one of the things she and those of us who work closely with her on these issues decided some years ago was, at some point, we should step above the day-to-day and focus on building a value that all of us consider to be extraordinarily important. We should not let the global issues of the 21st century be controlled by the institutions and processes of the 20th century. And it may be the time to have a gathering at the beginning of this millennium of democracies thinking about what made them democracies and how they can help others who are democracies.

And it may well be that we don't achieve all the objectives in this first meeting. But beginning that process is a tremendously important, hopeful process. And it's one that we hope will continue long after we're all doing other things.

QUESTION:Just to follow up, even though the idea, I understand the importance of it, is there any aid package to help further her ideas?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: I think you have to be there to see what comes out. But I think the major message will be how does the Secretary of State of the United States see the promotion of democracy as an essential part of U.S. foreign policy in this day and age, and what does that mean in terms of all kinds of things, responding to democratic backsliding, coordinating democratic assistance, and building various kinds of best practices.

But I really think if the headline is simply "Plan X is Announced," you really are focusing on a tiny branch of a tiny tree and missing the forest, which is something that a lot of people have worked very hard to build.

QUESTION:Could you just talk about, personally, the significance that Poland is the host, given that it's a former non-democracy, and how you see the significance or symbolism of that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: I think the symbolism is huge and it will be partly illustrated by the speech that the Secretary will make just before the conference opens at Gdansk when she will receive an honorary degree from the university there. Poland is, in an important way, a cradle for democratic movements both on the governmental side and civil society side at the end of the Cold War. Poland has, itself, had struggles to achieve its own current status. It's had an important transition in its own government in the last few weeks.

But at the same time, I think it's an important symbol about -- and it's made an important core element of its foreign policy -- the promotion of democracy elsewhere. We saw it at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva when Poland was one of the key sponsors of a resolution about anti-democratic practices in Cuba, when it was a key actor with regard to the no-action motion on China, when it was a key player with regard to the Right to Democracy Resolution.

Here are new democracies, at a fairly early stage of their life as democracies, taking a leadership in telling the world what democracy means to them and, in a way, saying to the world, we want other nations to collectively gather together and give the kind of support to emerging democracies that we ourselves received. And I think that's a tremendously important and powerful message.

QUESTION:What is the prospect of democracy in Burma and Vietnam, and what is the U.S. doing to advance democracy in these countries?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: Well, I think with regard to Burma , I think we've made our position on that clear. And one of the sets of remarks that will be made at the plenary will be made by Aung San Suu Kyi who, as you know, has not only experienced extraordinary restrictions by the illegitimate government but has also nevertheless prevailed against that to be an important voice for the preservation and encouragement to the people of Burma to remain committed to the democratic path.

QUESTION:Will she be there?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: She will appear by video. And Secretary Albright, I think, will be giving remarks introducing her remarks.

With regard to Vietnam, just last week I completed an all-day human rights dialogue with Vietnamese Government officials, which was reported from this podium. I think that we raised a number of issues with them with regard to continuing concerns about human rights and democratic deficits in Vietnam while, at the same time, pointing to areas in which they've made positive movements or attempted to engage on the question. It was extremely intense but also open and honest, and I think it was an important step forward.

That dialogue has been going on for a number of years. It was the eighth dialogue that's been conducted. Last year's was conducted in Hanoi and this year's was conducted in Washington. And we think, again, that is an area in which we have two countries that were only 25 years ago in an adversarial relationship now continuing to have a robust and genuine dialogue about both of our stated common commitments to human rights.

QUESTION:You said that in the last 19 months you have visited some 40 countries, and that although many of them were seemingly democratic, many of them also lacked the basic elements of democracy. Could you name a few of those countries, and is Turkey included among them?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: I said that I had visited a number of countries that have some aspects of democracy, and not all of them. I think the major part of the exercise is not to engage in name calling or pointing out countries that are deficient, but discussing ways in which countries can be engaged to improve and to build and consolidate those aspects of their society which might bring them into the democratic path.

I think the main point I was trying to make, and I think this is a critical one, is we should not take established elements of democracy for granted. We live in a country in which all of you can be gathered here, and not fear oppression, where my goal as a government official is not to give you propaganda, but to engage in an honest dialogue and to accept your disagreements as often as they come.

And I think when you go to other countries of the world, you'll find that they share some of these qualities, but perhaps not all of them. Some of them have regular elections, but they have weak institutions. Some of them have regular elections, they have democratic institutions, but they have a very weak democratic culture. Some of them have no established civil society to think of. In some of them, civil society has been destroyed by some development or another, and they are trying to rebuild.

Countries lie along many different dimensions, and I think what is common in these countries is the common yearning of the people to achieve a democratic status, and those that have achieved the forms of democracy, to deepen that democracy.

The purpose of a gathering like the Communities of Democracies is to take those commitments to the democratic path and try to develop a global consciousness about it, to move governments along that path, and to empower citizens in those societies to bring about the same result.

[end of document]

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