Calling the defense of democracy “the defining challenge of our time,” on December 9-10, 2021, President Biden convened world leaders in the first-ever Summit for Democracy, a gathering that spurred dialogue and initiated concrete action toward global democratic renewal.
The Summit brought together more than 275 participants, representing governments, multilateral institutions, activists, journalists, parliamentarians, human rights defenders, mayors, business and labor leaders, and other actors essential to accountable, inclusive, and transparent governance and the rule of law. Culminating in three days of diverse thematic sessions attended by Heads of State or Government (schedule, participants, and video available here), the Summit process also included official supporting events (schedule, participants, and video available here) that explored issues central to the Summit’s themes.
Through their official interventions, leaders from 100 governments announced a wide range of commitments and pledges in support of democratic renewal centered on the Summit’s three themes of: (1) strengthening democracy and defending against authoritarianism; (2) fighting corruption; and (3) promoting respect for human rights. These included commitments to counter efforts to combat disinformation; strengthen electoral integrity; better promote the human rights of activists, women and girls, youth, LGBTQI+ persons, persons with disabilities, and marginalized populations; address drivers of inequality and inequity; strengthen enforcement of financial disclosures and close other vulnerabilities in the financial system that are exploited by corrupt actors; and invest in the development, use, and governance of technology that advances democracy and human rights. Non-governmental participants – among them leading activists and dissidents – echoed calls for new commitments in these areas, and implored participating governments to stand up to authoritarianism, kleptocracy, and repression.
Additional details on participating governments’ Summit commitments will be made available in January 2022.
As part of the U.S. Government’s commitment to advance the Summit’s goals, President Biden announced the establishment of the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, a landmark set of new policy initiatives and foreign assistance programs that build upon the U.S. government’s ongoing work to bolster democracy, fight corruption, and defend human rights worldwide. Working with Congress, and subject to the availability of appropriations, the United States will commit up to $424 million toward the Presidential Initiative in the coming year, a significant, targeted expansion of U.S. government efforts to defend, sustain, and strengthen democracy around the world. In line with the Summit’s themes, these efforts will center on five areas of work:
1) Supporting a free and independent media;
2) Fighting corruption;
3) Bolstering democratic reformers;
4) Advancing technology for democracy; and
5) Defending free and fair elections and political processes.
President Biden was joined at the Summit for Democracy by Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Dr. Eric Lander, and USAID Administrator Samantha Power. Governor Phil Scott of Vermont and Governor Janet Mills of Maine also delivered remarks.
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In remarks launching the Summit for Democracy, President Biden urged collective action from attendees in the face of “sustained and alarming challenges to democracy [and] universal human rights.” Calling democracy “an ongoing struggle to live up to our higher ideals,” President Biden recognized that to advance democracy, “we have to renew it with each generation,” because democracy is “the best way to unleash human potential and defend human dignity and solve big problems.” Additionally, President Biden noted progress made by his Administration on, and continued challenges to, strengthening American democracy (Fact Sheet), and urged the passage of several key bills to protect Americans’ right to vote and support continued sustainable and inclusive economic growth. Internationally, he announced the Presidential Initiative on Democratic Renewal (detailed above), a targeted expansion of U.S. support for democracy around the world. In closing, President Biden called on Summit participants not to “allow the backward slide of rights and democracy to continue unchecked” and instead urged them to work together “to once more lead the march of human progress and human freedom forward.
President Biden, along with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, then chaired closed-door plenary meetings with attending heads of state and government. In these sessions, assembled national leaders discussed their respective visions for rights-respecting democratic governance that delivers for citizens; committed to action to reinvigorate democracy at home and abroad; and identified ongoing challenges to strengthening democracy and promoting human rights, including authoritarian encroachment, radicalism and extremism, economic inequality, the climate crisis, and information integrity.
The Summit’s first open thematic session focused on bolstering democratic resilience and building back better together from COVID-19. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern opened the session with remarks focused on democracy, pluralism, and partnership; discussed the impact of COVID-19 on democratic resilience in the age of the Internet; and urged attention to lessons learned in different democracies on how representative governance can deliver in times of crisis. Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union, then emphasized the link between strong unions and a vibrant democracy, the role of trade unions in increasing political and economic power of individuals in democracies, and the importance of organized labor to helping address the interrelated crises of economic inequality, poverty, racial injustice, and climate change. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted how democracies are uniquely well-suited to fight COVID-19 and build back better after the pandemic, and announced the establishment of a new State Department Coordinator on Global Anticorruption Issues, as well as an additional $10 million in financial support for the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium.
Opening the panel discussion on democratic resilience, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo cited Ghana’s commitment to respecting democratic norms while responding to COVID-19, maintaining the population’s trust and confidence by operating transparently, and keeping the public informed at every step. Yvonne Aki-Sawyer, the mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, emphasized how trust established between citizens and local governments can enable effective responses to crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Silvia Hernández Sanchez, President of the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly, called communication between the executive and legislative branches of government critical to resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic response, noted legislatures were vital to help ensure accountability, and expressed concern about ongoing deficits of trust in government across her region. Violeta Bermudez, former Prime Minister of Peru, raised concerns about worsening inequality during the pandemic, noting that women are poorer now than they were before COVID-19; she urged media and the private sector to help bring women into decision-making roles. Douglas Rutzen, President of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, called on governments to prioritize democratic principles in planning future pandemic responses, recommending a tripartite response framework of: (1) prevention; (2) promotion of democratic values; and (3) preparedness. Secretary Blinken closed by reiterating that the international community must fight COVID-19 while defending democracy, and that government transparency and accountability are critical to both efforts.
In remarks between sessions, Venezuela’s Interim President Juan Guaidó decried the crisis caused by the authoritarian state in Venezuela, which has resulted in the displacement of millions of people and greatly exacerbated poverty. Guaidó nonetheless expressed hope, given the Venezuelan people’s support for democracy, and said that Venezuela needed to develop democratic mechanisms for protecting activists and human rights defenders, while committing to inclusive democratic solutions.
Day One’s second set of thematic sessions focused on combating and preventing corruption. In opening remarks, President of Moldova Maia Sandu highlighted the detrimental impacts that corruption has had on the economic and social development of Moldova, and outlined how the Moldovan government has fought corruption as a core tenet of a pro-democracy reform agenda. President Sandu also emphasized the importance of governments working together to address transnational corruption, noting that more cross-national investigations and the return of stolen assets would bolster global democracy. Mo Ibrahim, Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, discussed the ways in which corruption undermines democratic institutions, the rule of law, and economic development, recommending cooperation between governments and the private sector to reduce global corruption.
In her remarks opening the day’s anti-corruption panel, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen emphasized the need to eliminate opportunities for money laundering in the United States, and highlighted bold new steps the United States is taking to combat corruption and illicit finance, including through regulations, implementing legislation, imposing sanctions, and establishing new USAID and State Department programs. President of Botswana Mokgweetsi Masisi discussed his government’s efforts to address corruption, including by creating anti-corruption units in each ministry, and emphasized that governments must provide resources for anti-corruption efforts and create global partnerships to address cross-border corruption. Zuzana Čaputová, President of Slovakia, highlighted her country’s progress in countering corruption, including through new legal mechanisms like a freedom of information act, public reporting of government contracts, and specialized prosecutors and courts to handle corruption cases. Paul Radu, co-founder of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, discussed the difficulty of combating what he described as entrenched criminal infrastructures, even with appropriate anti-corruption frameworks, and noted how journalists can help track government actions and hold corrupt actors accountable. Reuben Lifuka, Vice Chair of Transparency International, identified several proposals to limit corruption globally, including beneficial ownership registries, an international data exchange treaty, and improved cross-border enforcement. Ecuador’s Attorney General Diana Salazar Méndez championed positive momentum against corruption in Ecuador, highlighting the need for improved international coordination and greater transparency, and for public-private partnership in anti-corruption efforts. Daria Kaleniuk, Executive Director of the Anti-Corruption Action Centre in Ukraine, emphasized the need for coordinated global action to fight corruption—applauding a number of U.S tools and authorities, including Global Magnitsky sanctions actions, other related tools and regimes, and proposed rule-making on real estate transparency—and called on other nations to adopt similar measures.
Remarks by U.S. governors of both major political parties highlighted the importance of democratic renewal at home. Governor Phil Scott of Vermont, a Republican, called for citizens to come together, listen more, and avoid personal attacks to ensure the values of democracy prevail. Governor Janet Mills of Maine, a Democrat, spoke about the importance of consensus-building and discussion across political divides, highlighting the passage of bipartisan legislation on voting rights reform, health care, high speed internet, and climate change.
In closing remarks for day one, Vice President Kamala Harris emphasized that democracy is the best hope for an ever-evolving world, as democratic systems are uniquely able to protect human rights, promote human dignity, and uphold the rule of law. She highlighted that democracies require constant work and maintenance, and that it is incumbent upon all leaders to forge more inclusive and open societies, including in the United States, where “we know that we have work to do.”
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The second day of the Summit for Democracy began with opening remarks by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who noted from personal experience the pain of living under constant fear of arbitrary arrest, torture, censorship, and other human rights abuses. Calling Enlightenment values the bedrock of modern democracies, Secretary-General Guterres registered his deep worry over threats to those values around the world, including populism, nationalism, various forms of racism, extremism, polarization, and attacks on rationality and science. He called for a reaffirmation of the universality of human rights, and for world leaders to summon the best in all people by honoring human dignity.
The first portion of Day Two of the Summit focused on the need for democracies to promote respect for human rights. In opening remarks on the topic, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson reminded attendees that democracy is a constant work in progress, and that democratic governance goes hand in hand with the protection of human rights and the rule of law. She warned of governments that had taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to curtail human rights, and of worrying numbers of human rights defenders and journalists who had been targeted and called for an inclusive approach to democratic governance. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, president of the International Peace Institute and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, reminded attendees that all countries “remain works in progress,” and that democracies must guard against individuals and groups that would undermine democracy from within. He also urged democracies to call out authoritarian governments when they commit human rights abuses, restrict civil society, and undermine independent media.
In introducing the ensuing panel discussion, USAID Administrator Samantha Power emphasized that democracies must do more topromote human rights, expand civic space, and empower human rights defenders and independent journalists. She warned that civil society is under attack in far too many countries, and highlighted several efforts within the U.S. Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal intended to push back on these trends. These include a major push to assist countries experiencing democratic openings, the “Powered by the People” initiative to support peaceful mass movements, and the “Media Viability Accelerator,” which is intended to increase the business aptitude of independent media outlets. In his remarks, Dominican Republic President Luis Rodolfo Abinader Corona highlighted that open civic space is best advanced by the free flow of information. President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi declared that “freedom is non-negotiable,” and called upon democracies to view civil society as a full partner in the effort to deliver for citizens. Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, squarely addressed the past and present shortcomings of U.S. democracy, and emphasized the need for civil society from across diverse sectors to “lock arms” against increasing threats to democracy. She added that activists and citizens cannot push for reforms on their own, and that elected leaders must demonstrate the same conviction today in fighting for human rights as they did during the U.S. civil rights movement a half-century ago. Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Opinion and Expression, highlighted that “media freedom is the oxygen of democracy,” and that civic space is undermined by rising attacks and intimidation against journalists. Burmese journalist Swe Win, Editor-in-Chief of Myanmar Now, stated that democracy is not just a political system, but a means to achieve peace, equality, and justice for all. Egyptian human rights defender Mohamed Zaree, Director of the Egypt Program at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, described the challenges of “eliminated space” for civil society across the Middle East and North Africa and urged the international community to revisit approaches to undemocratic states centered on a concept of stability, insisting that genuine stability in the Middle East and beyond required accountable governance and respect for human rights. In closing, Administrator Power announced ways that the U.S. Government will help partner countries get the most out of their Summit commitments during the forthcoming “Year of Action” leading up to the second Summit. These include bringing together “Democracy Cohorts” – groups of countries that make similar pledges on a topic, e.g, fighting corruption, advancing rights-respecting technology, or promoting labor rights – and may be willing to work alongside outside funders and top technical experts to bring their desired reforms to fruition.
In remarks bridging the day’s sessions on protecting human rights and defending against authoritarianism, Hong Kong democracy activist and former legislator Nathan Law implored the Summit’s assembled leaders to redouble their efforts to oppose democratic backsliding and authoritarian encroachment. Detailing the struggle of Hong Kong’s democracy movement against the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) efforts to undermine representative government and quash dissent, Law asserted that “the free world” has not shown enough determination to push back against the PRC’s efforts to undermine the rules-based international order. In conclusion, Law urged much stronger support for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and democratic values that are increasingly under assault by authoritarian regimes, noting “we must change.”
The Summit’s next session focused on strengthening democracy and defending against authoritarianism. This session featured opening remarks by President of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda and democratic opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya of Belarus. President Nausėda noted that although democracy is built on competition, it also excels at preventing conflict, and that no other system of government can provide the same protection for human dignity and support for economic and social growth. Tsikhanouskaya implored democratic governments around the world to stand up to the government of Belarus and other authoritarian regimes, urging solidarity and more forceful action because “the fight for our freedom is the fight for [democratic states’] own freedom too.”
In a subsequent panel discussion onprotecting democratic institutions, including elections, the rule of law, and a resilient information space, U.S. Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, opened by noting that democracies should not stand idly by while the institutions that underpin accountable governance are undermined, and called for greater cooperation among democracies to bolster election integrity and fight disinformation. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas shared how her country had embraced digital democracy and a “paper-free government” to increase transparency, reduce corruption, and expand democratic participation, emphasizing that a key test of democracies moving forward will be their ability to adapt to new and emerging technology. Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema underscoredhis administration’s work to build a strong and inclusive democracy in the wake of democratic backsliding under Zambia’s previous government. President Hichilema further highlighted the need for democratic governments to work in partnership with civil society, and for democracies to embrace decentralization as a means to better allocate resources according to need. Hina Jilani, member of The Elders, added that unless democratic institutions (including legislatures, judiciaries, and election commissions) work together to combat threats to democracy, support for democratic government will wane. Jessikka Aro, an award-winning investigative journalist at the Finnish Broadcasting Service, noted that, because journalists are often the first to draw attention to threats to democracy, they often encounter significant threats from authoritarian regimes. Aro also noted the essential role that independent judiciaries play in holding leaders accountable for attacks on journalists. Nicholas Opiyo, Executive Director and Lead Attorney at Chapter Four Uganda, expressed concern over the number of ostensible elections that occurred without respect for basic principles of democracy, and added that protecting elections requires constant action, not just on election day. In her closing remarks, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield noted the unique perspectives presented, and reaffirmed that democracy is strengthened when we are pushed to think in new ways that help us ensure we are delivering for our people.
Offering remarks on making technology work for democracy, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen highlighted how technology both gives rise to new opportunities and has been used to increase pressure on civil society and restrict the exercise of human rights, with authoritarian regimes using repression and censorship to silence democratic voices. She highlighted Denmark’s “Tech for Democracy” platform, which brings together governments and civil society and enhances democratic participation. She emphasized that democracies must not, in the twenty-first century, compromise ideals that they fought for during much of the twentieth century. Brad Smith, President and Vice Chair of Microsoft Corporation, added that technology and democracy have always been intertwined, and noted that the creation and use of technology depends on the freedom to think, learn, fail, and start over. Contrasting models of government based on trust with those based on force, Smith emphasized that democracies cannot sustain trust unless they sustain truth and called on the private sector to take responsibility for information on their platforms that is misused to undermine truth. He called for a new generation of laws, regulations, and international cooperation that would enable technology to work for democracy.
Opening the next session, a panel discussion focused on countering digital authoritarianism and affirming democratic values, USAID Administrator Samantha Power called for the infusion of democratic principles—including transparency, accountability, privacy, and equity—across all digital technologies, and noted that the Summit provided an opportunity to build global consensus on a positive vision of “digital democracy.” Administrator Power also announced new international technology initiatives that the United States intends to undertake during the Year of Action and beyond, including a multilateral export controls and human rights initiative announced in partnership with Denmark, Norway, and Australia; International Grand Challenges on Democracy-Affirming Technologies to drive global innovation on technologies that embed democratic values and principles; the creation of a new multilateral fund to allow likeminded countries to support anti-censorship technologies together for the first time; a multilateral initiative to develop rules of the road on the use and misuse of surveillance technology, announced in partnership with Canada and Denmark; an intention to expand the membership of multi-stakeholder internet governance fora; and an expansion of USAID’s digital democracy programming. In the ensuing conversation, panelists noted both the threats and the opportunities that technology poses to accountable governance and human rights. Latvian President Egils Levits highlighted ways that his country had dealt with digital threats and advanced digital innovations, and recommended governments support accountability on global Internet platforms and invest in public media. Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s Digital Minister, highlighted how Taiwan has leveraged technology to build trust with its people, allowing for measures like effective and privacy-respecting COVID-19 digital contact tracing and digital public polling. Amb. (ret) Eileen Donahoe, Executive Director of the Global Digital Policy Incubator at the Stanford University Cyber Policy Center, emphasized the need to counter digital authoritarianism and to make technology work for democracy, recommending democracies invest in digital infrastructure. Samir Saran, President of the Observer Research Foundation, described how technology can be important to democratically-focused civic action, and called on technology companies to adapt to the cultures and norms of different countries. Nanjira Sambuli, Ford Global Fellow and Technology and International Affairs Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, highlighted the successes of civil society organizations in countering digital authoritarianism, as they pushed governments to support civil society more meaningfully at both the global and local levels. Manuel Muñiz, Provost of IE University, outlined two threats technology poses to democracy, namely the altering of the space for public debate and the growing capacity of data and surveillance systems, but nevertheless asserted that democracies are operating from a position of strength and have significant capacity to shape how technology is developed and deployed. Administrator Power closed the session by calling on democratic actors to use the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as a guide to hold governments and companies accountable when technology has been misused in ways that violate human rights. She also suggested that tech engineers be encouraged to commit to a ‘code of ethics’, and that governments and companies undertake human rights impact assessments when buying technologies that could be used for repression. Finally, she urged democracies to continue to work toward a coordinated, affirmative vision of digital democracy.
Following the conclusion of the panel discussions, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield hosted a virtual town hall with about 60 young leaders from around the world. Participants asked questions on topics including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on governance and human rights; strategies to encourage political participation and inclusive representation; ideas for how the U.S. government can better support and encourage peaceful protestors abroad; actions democracies can take to safeguard and champion human rights defenders in their own countries and across the world; how youth can exert influence beyond what are considered “youth issues,” such as fighting corruption and promoting human rights; the role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States; and how the United States will partner with African nations to tap into the potential of young people on the continent as one key to democratic reform. During her exchanges, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield noted the importance of youth having a seat at the table in discussions about democracy, and urged all attendees to make their perspectives and voices heard.
Finally, in closing remarks, President Biden applauded how the Summit for Democracy had fostered conversations highlighting not only the common challenges that democracies face, but also the many opportunities that exist for democracies to deliver for people around the world. Underscoring the United States’ commitment to strengthening democracy at home and supporting democracies and human rights worldwide, President Biden reminded participants that democracy “knows no borders, and speaks every language,” and that “autocracies can never extinguish the ember of liberty that burns in the hearts of people around the world.” Referencing the “coming Year of Action,” President Biden then closed the Summit by lauding commitments made to date, and urging participants to rise up together in democracy’s defense.
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OFFICIAL SUPPORTING EVENTS HELD ON DECEMBER 8
On December 8, 2021, the U.S. Government and its partners hosted a full slate of sessions with governments, representatives from civil society, and members of the private sector to discuss a range of issues relating to the Summit for Democracy’s three pillars. These official events were designed to highlight priority, cross-cutting issues that “set the scene” for Days One and Two.
To kick off the sessions, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Ben Knapen co-hosted a panel on media freedom and sustainability, which featured seven non-governmental participants including 2021 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Dmitry Muratov and Maria Ressa. Participants emphasized that independent media is both vital to democracy and under threat worldwide, that governments must work proactively to protect journalists’ safety, and that foundational concepts such as facts and truth are up for debate in increasingly toxic information environments. Among other announcements, Secretary Blinken previewed new U.S. funding and programs to support independent media, including a significant contribution to the recently launched International Fund for Public Interest Media, and the launch of the Media Viability Accelerator.
Secretary Blinken next moderated a conversation about youth and democracy with young leaders from Ukraine, the Philippines, Zambia, and Chile. Participants discussed the decline in societal trust that is exacerbating polarization and undermining faith in democratic institutions and urged government action to strengthen civic education and promote digital literacy among young people.
Stressing the importance of the private sector’s role in defending and supporting democracy, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo then delivered a keynote address and hosted a “fireside chat” with leaders from the Center for International Private Enterprise and leading technology companies. In the ensuing conversation, participants discussed the role of businesses in countering the cooption of technology for authoritarian ends. Moderated panels then discussed the role of responsible investment, beneficial ownership transparency, and open and resilient digital spaces. These conversations focused on what businesses, and particularly technology enterprises, can do to advance and support democracy, with leaders stressing the need for private sector, government, and civil society actors to work together.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai co-hosted the next event, which focused on gender equality and women’s political empowerment as the basis for democratic progress. In opening remarks, Ambassador Tai announced several new U.S. programs focused on gender equality and democracy, including the $33.5 million Advancing Women’s and Girls’ Civic and Political Leadership Initiative (pending availability of appropriations) and the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse, which will be launched in partnership with the Government of Denmark. Panelists highlighted the underrepresentation of women and girls in civic and political life, the need for concrete policy changes (e.g., paid family leave) to advance gender equality, the chilling effect of gender-based violence, including online threats and harassment, on women’s political and civil participation, and the importance of men being actively engaged as allies who advance women’s rights and challenge gender norms.
Dr. Eric Lander, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, next hosted a discussion on democracy-affirming technologies with innovative product developers, civil society leaders, and foreign government officials. Interspersing dialogue with demonstrations of technologies built to support democratic principles, panelists suggested developing ground rules for future technologies, and discussed how to respond to government misuse of such technologies for repression. During his remarks, Dr. Lander announced a series of International Grand Challenges on Democracy-Affirming Technologies, a set of prize competitions to incentivize innovation in technologies that asymmetrically advantage democratic values and governance.
In a panel discussion on thefuture of the Internet, Wikimedia Foundation Vice President Rebecca MacKinnon spoke with governmental and non-governmental stakeholders on the need for new approaches to ensure an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure Internet. Speakers highlighted the need to hold governments to account to protect this vision of the Internet and human rights online, as well as the importance of individuals learning about Internet governance and making clear to governments and telecommunications companies their views on an open and accessible Internet.
To close the day, Secretary of State Blinken and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis co-hosted a roundtable discussion highlighting the plight of political prisoners. Panelists—who included a former political prisoner from South Sudan and family members of three people arbitrarily detained in Belarus, China, and Nicaragua—shared personal stories of political persecution, and called for greater cooperation among democratic governments to pursue the release of those unjustly imprisoned. Moderator Uzra Zeya, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, closed the discussion by calling for increased governmental action to secure the release of the million-plus political prisoners worldwide.