Via Teleconference

(December 9, 2021)

5:04 P.M. EST

MODERATOR:  Hello, everyone.  Welcome to our on-background conference call to discuss day one of the Summit for Democracy.  For your reference today, our speakers will be [senior administration official], [senior administration official], and [senior administration official]. 

From this point on, all three should be referred to as “senior administration officials.”  We will begin with remarks from our speakers and then, of course, open it up for a question-and-answer session. 

The ground rules today are that the call contents are embargoed until the end of the call.  By joining this call, you’re agreeing to these ground rules. 

With that, I’ll turn it over to our first senior administration official.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Great, thanks.  And hi, everyone.  Thanks for joining us today.  So today, President Biden opened the summit’s official program building on 20 side events that have already galvanized commitments and connections between a number of different and important democratic actors around the world, including lawmakers, mayors, and civil society leaders. 

Throughout the day, leaders delivered remarks highlighting their own government’s commitments.  The Summit for Democracy is unique in that it is a leader summit, but it also elevates sub-national and non-governmental actors, because we know and recognize that democracy is a consultative process.  We see democracy as about being more than just a single leader or single party or a single moment in time.  So one of our objectives has been to highlight the great work that’s being led in some countries and around the world by local leaders at various levels of society. 

This morning, the President convened a private discussion with leaders followed by a session hosted by European Commission President von der Leyen.  Our panel sessions today addressed, together with heads of state and civil society leaders, democratic resilience as we build back better from COVID, and tackling corruption.  And both of these sessions really underscored how democracies can deliver for their people. 

This combination of events and official sessions is designed to build momentum to renew democracy.  So we see this as not just a conference or a conversation, we see that leaders are not only announcing commitments unilaterally and multilaterally, but we’ve designed the summit as a process. 

So we’re kicking off things with summit one this year.  We are embarking on a year of action together with each other, with civil society, and then a second summit to showcase progress.  We see civil society as essential to this process.  They’ll be providing input and feedback and also taking stock of commitments and ensuring that they’re implemented. 

So with that, I’ll turn it over to [senior administration official] for more on the deliverables.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks.  And hi, everybody.  As I hope you all saw this morning, as part of his remarks opening the Summit for Democracy, President Biden announced his Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal.  The Presidential Initiative, as we’re calling it, is a set of policy and foreign assistance initiatives that are intended to really build on what the U.S. government is already doing to defend and bolster democracy, human rights, and the fight against corruption globally. 

So as we mentioned in our factsheet, we’re going to work closely with Congress, and subject to the availability of appropriations, the administration is planning to devote up to around $424 million toward various aspects of the presidential initiative.  And that’s an amount that could be expanded upon in future budget cycles. 

And we’ve organized the Presidential Initiative around five lines of effort that the departments and agencies that played a role in putting it together deemed particularly important to robust rights respecting democratic governance.  And those are:

One, supporting free and independent media, which I hope this audience knows is the lifeblood of an informed citizenry.

Two, fighting corruption, which is a crime that both, of course, steals resources, but as importantly, or even perhaps more importantly, corrodes trust in government.

Third is bolstering democratic reformers.  That’s the category that we’re using to include supporting human rights defenders and organized labor organizations, among others, as well as growing the political and civic participation of women and girls and members of the LGBT community. 

Fourth is advancing technology for democracy.  Here we’re trying to help ensure that technology serves as a tool for economic growth and freedom of expression and other human rights and (inaudible), and all of its other many positive uses, rather than as a tool for repression. 

And fifth and finally, defending free and fair election process — elections and political processes, which, of course, are the essential ingredient in any representative democracy. 

So, recognizing that many of you will have in front of you the factsheet we released this morning, I’ll just highlight a few examples of what the Presidential Initiative entails. 

First, in terms of supporting and protecting journalists, we plan to invest up to around $30 million as, essentially, seed funding for a new multi-donor fund called the International Fund for Public Interest Media, or IFPIM.  We’re also going to invest roughly $12 million for new programs that are going to provide journalists with things like legal aid and training on digital and physical security, including what we hope is a relatively innovative program that provides insurance to journalists that are subject to so-called “SLAPP lawsuits.”

To empower those on the frontlines of fighting corruption, we’re planning to invest up to roughly $75 million to strengthen partner governments’ anti-corruption and anti-money laundering capacity, to protect anti-corruption whistleblowers, and to support investigative journalists and anti-corruption activists. 

To bolster democratic reformers and activists, the Department of Labor made a significant investment over $120 million to support workers and labor rights.  And that includes on things like labor law reform and enforcement.

And on the technology front, to ensure we’re doing all we can do to make sure that dual-use technologies aren’t supplied to repressive governments that might use them to violate human rights, we’re establishing a new Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative.  And we’ll announce with a group of like-minded governments tomorrow a commitment to work together over the coming year and beyond to determine how export-control tools could better monitor and, as appropriate, restrict the proliferation of such technologies. 

To help defend against free and fair elections, we’re also going to launch what we’re calling a Coalition for Securing Electoral Integrity.  This will be a first-of-its-kind multilateral partnership that will bring together the electoral observer community, governments, international organizations, and together come up with common standards for election security and integrity. 

And then finally, to show how new and fragile democracies can deliver at moments of transition and following transition, USAID is planning to invest up to around $55 million to launch a program it’s calling Partnerships for Democracy.  And this is geared towards working with partner governments to make sure that they can deliver the kind of visible benefits to those countries’ populations in areas such as healthcare and education. 

So, in sum, we believe that the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal is going to make a meaningful difference in protecting democracy, in line with the Biden administration’s goals and those of the Summit for Democracy.  And we really believe that it’s going to help catalyze similar work with like-minded governments.  We’ve seen some commitments from our partners in the Summit for Democracy come in over the course of the day — I’m happy to describe some of those for you — as well as with nongovernmental organizations, philanthropies, and the private sector in the Year of Action to come and the years after that. 

So with that, I will turn back over to the moderator and with [senior administration official] take your questions.  Thank you.

Q    Thanks very much.  My question is, could you give us a little bit more detail on the export control initiative that you just talked about?  And is that connected somehow to the human rights-related sanctions that you plan on unveiling tomorrow on a range of countries?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks, Dimitri.  So, not directly related in terms of the various targeted sanctions that we’ve been rolling out over the course of the year, but I will say that this — excuse me, the week; it feels like a year.  But I will say that the initiative is really born of some actions we have taken recently into the listings related to intrusion software, the NSO Group and other private firms that have been using technology to — or whose end users are using technology to violate human rights. 

And so, we really feel that that working with like-minded partners, there’s room to grow additional standards.  And our hope is that in the course of the year to come, with the group that we’ll announce tomorrow and then others that we hope to join us in the months and years to come, we’re going to be able to work toward what will start as a non-binding code of conduct around how governments can better control their licenses for these dual-use technologies that can be used to violate human rights.  And then, from there, hopefully can expand both the circle of involved governments and perhaps work through regulations and laws over time to make sure that these technologies are used for good and not for ill.

Q    Hello, thank you for doing this and taking my question.  You just mentioned an initiative to support and protect journalists.  Mexico, who was the participant in this summit, has been named by numerous nongovernmental organizations the most dangerous country without an active conflict for journalists due to the high number of journalists that are killed each year.  What is commitment that has been reached with Mexico, in particular, to tackle this situation?  And has Mexico been receptive to this?  And have you decided how much of those $30 million are going to be invested in that country?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks for that.  So with all of our programming, we’re just announcing it.  And so, allocations, in terms of where the funds themselves will be applied, haven’t been made yet. 

I can tell you, though, for instance, that one of the programs that we’re launching is what we’re calling a “journalist protection platform,” where the U.S. government is going to offer support to those who provide support for journalists that are under specific and particular threats, including freelancers.  That includes by providing physical and digital security training and psychosocial care and comprehensive emergency protection. 

So, it’s situations not unlike that which we see, unfortunately, in Mexico, among many countries around the world.  But, again, how the funds will actually be used will be subject to a decision-making process within the grant-making departments and agencies.

Q    Thank you for taking my question.  I’m interested in the Coalition for Securing Electoral Integrity.  Can you explain more about that?  How is it different from existing mechanisms — for example, the one — the international effort that’s sponsored or supported by NDI and IRI?  My second question is: Do you have any more information about countries who have backed out of attending the summit other than Pakistan?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, so just on the coalition first, I’ll take that part and then maybe [senior administration official] can chime in on the second question. 

So, the idea behind the Coalition for Securing Electoral Integrity is that although there have been piecemeal efforts to address emerging and under-addressed challenges to democratic elections, leaders in the electoral integrity community haven’t strategically collaborated on an effort. 

So that’s really what USAID is going to be trying to do through this coalition — is bringing together all actors.  And that’s a group that could be inclusive of NDI and IRI — to the point of your question — but will include, as I mentioned at the outset, inter-governmental organizations, NGOs, think tanks, global and regional networks of election observers and election management bodies, and youth and women’s groups, among others, all kind of hopefully coalescing over the long term on how to develop norms and guiding principles and best practices. 

And then, in addition, you’ll see in the factsheet that we issued that, kind of corresponding to the coalition, USAID is putting forward around $17 million in what it’s calling a “Defending Democratic Elections Fund” that’s actually going to work with those partners to, over time, put those standards into practice.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  And I’ll just jump in and quickly say that, when it comes to all countries, whether participating in the Summit for Democracy or not, we’re going to continue engaging with all who would like to work with us to address ways to strengthen democracy, promote respect for human rights, and fight corruption. 

And, again, we’re eager to work with all who would like to do that, whether it occurs within or outside of the summit framework.

Q    Hi, thank you so much for taking my question.  I just had a question about China.  I know that, you know, Taiwan was invited and the Hong Kong activist, Nathan Law, is also going to be there.  Given this summit and also the recent boycott of the Olympics, do you think that the U.S.-China relations is now at the point of no return?  I know the Biden administration have said that the relationship is based on healthy competition and not conflict, but do you think, with the summit, that the relationship is going to be based more on conflict?  Thank you. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So maybe I’ll just chime in, which is that, you know, in the context of this summit, we don’t see this as about being about any one specific country.  We really are emphasizing at the summit that we’re seeking to build democratic momentum.  And you can see that in the official program.  You can see that at all the side events.  You can see that in the leaders that are engaged in today’s conversations, and tomorrow. 

So, you know, I’m not going to speak to the specifics of that particular relationship, but I will say that we do see the summit as an affirmative project and something that we’re going to keep iterating over the coming year.

Q    Hello, can you hear me?  Hello?  Hello?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yep.  We can hear you.  We can hear you.

Q    Yeah.  Okay, thank you.  I was wondering if you could talk about, you know, as these new initiative (inaudible) support Libya, in Africa, in particular.  As you know, the North African journalists are not (inaudible).  So are we — does this new initiative supports (inaudible) that do investigative work (inaudible) on the frontlines in the continent of Africa?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, I — after saying I could hear you, I actually had trouble with a little bit of that, but if I could maybe just respond.  And I apologize if I don’t get everything correct in terms of answering your question. 

As I mentioned earlier with respect to Mexico, the programs that we announced today are essentially universally global in nature.  And so, the allocations to particular regions will occur in the coming months. 

But what I can say generally is: What we’re trying to do with this package is both accelerate support to independent media as a matter of sustainability, given that — I probably don’t have to tell this crowd — that media is under significant pressure both by governments and by the simple rules of economics in terms of how advertising, for instance, has moved online in recent years, on the one hand, and then complement that with this program specifically geared toward protecting journalists in every sense on the other. 

So, the strategy here is sustain and protect.  And on the sustained side — well, I should say on both sides — for the U.S. investment to catalyze other investments from both other governments and other sources. 

So I mentioned at the outset the International Fund for Public Interest Media — IFPIM.  The United States is making a fairly significant donation, and, as part of the summit process, is urging all of our partners, both governments and non-governments alike, to invest with us in what we think is a really meaningful and useful multi-donor fund to sustain journalists in fragile environments in the long run. 

We’ve already seen some commitments come in.  As you may know, there was a channel of the virtual summit today in which leaders were putting their commitments forward.  We’re still digesting a lot of what was said over the course of the day, but we do know that other governments are meeting our challenge in terms of financial support. 

I’ll leave it there.  Thanks.

Q    Hi, thank you, everyone, for having this.  Are you — can you hear me? 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, just fine. 

Q    Okay, that’s great.  So, my question is — more general question: I would like to know if you have the expectation of having a general commitment and a broader statement that will be signed for every country that is participating in this summit and which kind of commitment would it be.  So what is the expectation for the end of this summit tomorrow?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks for that question.  So we’re not planning on having an outcome document at the conclusion of the summit tomorrow.  We really — [senior administration official], I believe, mentioned earlier — see this summit as really a launch of the work that’s to come, and so we didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. 

I think we are seeing some real commitments come out of leaders both in their private session today and then also through the public national interventions that I mentioned earlier will be running — were running today and will be running tomorrow. 

But we really want to spend the year to come working with our partners and then may produce a joint-outcome document after the second summit.

MODERATOR:  And since that ends the question-and-answer session, I wanted to give our speakers one last opportunity for any closing remarks. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  None for me.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Nope, I’m good.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  All right.  As a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to “senior administration officials.”  The embargo has lifted. 

Thank you, everyone, for joining.  And thank you to our speakers.  Have a great night.

5:27 P.M. EST

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