President of the United States Joe Biden kicked off its second Democracy Summit by announcing $690 million in new funding for democracy programs around the world.
The summit, which began on Wednesday, comes amid growing concerns about democratic backsliding in participating countries, including US allies India and Israel.
Addressing fellow world leaders virtually, Biden said strengthening democracy is “the defining challenge of our time.”
“Today we can proudly say that the world’s democracies are getting stronger, not weaker. The world’s autocracies are getting weaker, not stronger,” Biden said.
“It’s a direct result of us all coming together with self-confidence and belief in our cause.”
Critics questioned the usefulness of the summit, pointing to Washington’s intimate relationship with authoritarian governments.
Early in his administration, Biden pledged to center human rights in US foreign policy, but once in office he continued his predecessor’s approach of putting perceived US interests first, rather than proclaimed values, in international relations.
The summit consists of a series of in-person and virtual engagements, co-hosted by Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia.
The conference involves 120 countries, including Taiwan, but the Biden administration has not invited NATO allies Turkey and Hungary to the event.
“We are committed to supporting democratic institutions, human rights, the rule of law, [and] media freedom. So decisions on whether or not to add countries to the invitation to the summit were made taking into account all of these themes,” White House spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the summit earlier today, despite recent American reviews over his plan to overhaul Israel’s justice system – a move that critics say would weaken democratic rule in the country.
In addition, major human rights organizations, including Amnesty Internationalaccused Israel of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians, millions of whom live in occupied territories under the control of the Israeli government without basic civil rights.
Netanyahu told the summit’s opening session that Israel remained a “robust democracy” amid “very intense public debate.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also addressed the event less than a week after leading opposition figure Rahul Gandhi was expelled from the country’s parliament.
Gandhi was bare from his parliamentary seat on Friday, the day after his conviction for defamation in Modi’s home state of Gujarat over a 2019 election campaign remark deemed an insult to the prime minister.
My remarks at the ‘Summit For Democracy’. https://t.co/6EXuxlGyd6
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 29, 2023
A senior Biden administration official, who hosted the summit on Tuesday, said the event was intended to focus on the themes of “building democratic resilience, promoting respect for human rights and advancing the fight against corruption”.
Biden said Wednesday that one of his priorities would be to ensure that technology is used to advance, not undermine, democratic rule.
The US president pointed to a decision by his administration last week to restrict the use of commercial spyware by government agencies.
“American taxpayers’ money should not be supporting companies that are willing to sell their products to reduce human rights abuses,” he said.
In 2021, Washington penalties imposed about Israeli spyware maker NSO Group, which has been at the forefront of global discussions on spyware abuse.
In his Wednesday remarks, Biden also praised what he called the “unprecedented unity” that democracies have shown against Russia’s “brutal war of aggression.” against Ukraine“.
China, which has been the United States’ main geopolitical competitor in recent years, criticized the event, calling on Washington to stop interfering in other countries’ “internal affairs” in the name of promoting democracy. Beijing, which is under one-party rule, was not invited to the event.
“Despite many domestic problems, the United States is hosting another ‘Democracy Summit’ in the name of promoting democracy, an event that blatantly draws an ideological line between countries and creates division in the world” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning. journalists on Tuesday.
“The act violates the spirit of democracy and further reveals the pursuit of US primacy behind the facade of democracy.”
On Wednesday, nine Democratic members of the US Congress sent a letter to Biden urging him to use the opportunity of the summit to announce his support for the creation of a new US institute to advance human rights in the country.
Many countries have such independence, public bodies who serve as watchdogs, advise policy makers and investigate alleged abuses.
In their letter to Biden, the lawmakers said a U.S. Institute for Human Rights “would strengthen popular knowledge and understanding of human rights and help further improve compliance with our human rights commitments and obligations.” human rights”.