Today’s post in our ongoing series covering the Obama administration and their leadership on international human rights specifically looks at civil society, open government and Internet freedoms. It can be argued that the Obama administration has shown more leadership for these specific rights abroad than at home, since Edward Snowden isn’t going to get any support for his work for an open government and that were unsure of what steps will be taken regarding the NSA’s spying of Americans. But, below is an overview of what’s been done so far. It will be interesting to see what can be accomplished in the final two years of the Obama presidency.
Supporting and Defending Civil Society
Stand with Civil Society Agenda
In late September, President Obama initiated an intensive, multilateral effort to support and defend civil society from increasing restrictions and enable civil society organizations (CSOs) to contribute to the economic, social, and political development of their countries. Working through existing institutions and initiatives including the United Nations, the Open Government Partnership, the Community of Democracies, and Making All Voices Count: A Grand Challenge for Development, the United States will collaborate with other governments, civil society, the philanthropy community, the private sector, and multilateral organizations to: (1) promote laws, policies, and practices that foster a supportive environment for civil society in accordance with international norms; (2) coordinate multilateral, diplomatic pressure to roll back restrictions being imposed on civil society; and (3) identify new and innovative ways of providing technical, financial, and logistical support to civil society.
Real Help in Real Time for Threatened CSOs
The United States is partnering with 18 other governments and foundations through the Lifeline: Embattled CSOs Assistance Fund to offer emergency financial assistance when civic groups are threatened. Since its founding in 2011, Lifeline has assisted 255 civil society organizations in 69 countries to increase their safety.
Investing in the Next Generation of Leaders
In 2013 alone, the United States invested $500 million to strengthen the work of CSOs across development sectors, with a particular focus on developing the next generation of civil society leaders. Through the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative and recently-launched Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, the United States is enhancing the capacity, leadership skills, and connections between young leaders committed to building strong democratic institutions and working with government to address common challenges.
Open Government Partnership
The United States is a founding member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global effort to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, harness new technologies, and transform the way governments serve and engage with their citizens. In just over 24 months, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) has grown from eight to over 60 countries, which have embraced the key principles of open government – promoting transparency, fighting corruption, and energizing civic engagement through new technologies and approaches to strengthen the democratic foundations of our own countries. The United States has worked both domestically and internationally to ensure global support for Open Government principles. We have made important progress to improve the ability of citizens to obtain access to government records, released government data that fuels entrepreneurship and innovation, and increased government spending transparency.
With over 120 million in Internet freedom grants since 2008, the United States has made Internet freedom a central program and foreign policy priority. Programs focus on supporting the development of technology tools to assist activists in highly repressive environments; advocacy programs; training and rapid response to keep activists from harm or advocate for them if in danger; and applied research to help develop strategic responses to Internet repression. The United States helped to organize the Freedom Online Coalition, a cross-regional group of 21 governments that collaborate on Internet freedom. The U.S. and the Freedom Online Coalition worked to pass, by unanimous consensus, a landmark 2012 resolution in the U.N. Human Rights Council affirming that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online. The United States has also continued to support a free and open Internet and the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance, where all interested parties — industry, civil society, technical and academic experts, and governments — participate on an equal footing.