Browsing articles from "December, 2011"
Dec 20, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Democratic Values in Domestic vs. International Policy

These last few weeks I found myself struggling over how to approach some of the recent issues in US domestic governance.  From uncomfortably authoritarian reactions to left-leaning protestors, to authoritarian flavored ideas on internet freedom and detention of citizens, I’ve floundered for weeks somewhere between Chicken Little style ranting and my -tragically common- defeated indifference.  Finally looking to a thoughtful recent post from Liza on US Foreign Policy on issues of Rule of Law and Human Rights in Russia, I decided that the best approach to writing on these subjects would just be to ride the coattails of my sharper witted peers .
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Dec 14, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

“Principled and Purposeful Engagement:” US Policy on Supporting Human Rights and Rule of Law in Russia

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Melia, co-chair of the Civil Society Working Group of the US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission, today argued for “principled and purposeful engagement” with Russia in a Senate hearing on “The State of Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Russia: U.S. Policy Options.” DAS Melia and Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon outlined the Obama Administration’s position in regard to Russia. Their testimony can be downloaded and watched here. From a civil society perspective, Freedom House Executive David Kramer, Human Rights Watch Washington Director Tom Malinowski, and President and CEO of the US-Russia Business Council, Edward Verona, testified as well; while their testimony is not yet uploaded on the Foreign Relations website, it should be up within 24 hours of this posting.

Recognizing the backdrop of the Duma elections and dramatic citizen protests that have swept Russia, four US policy-specific issues emerged in the hearing:

The Obama Administration’s Policy of Dual-track Engagement: Bi-lateral Relations and Civil Society Support. ”We firmly believe that a credible dialogue about democracy and human rights should involve not only contacts between the American and Russian governments, but also direct communication and linkages between American and Russian non-governmental organizations, independent policy experts, and regular citizens to confront common challenges,” Melia’s written testimony stated. Further, in addition to the $160 million provided in civil society strengthening and civil society assistance since 2009, “the Obama Administration submitted Congressional Notification for the creation of a new $50 million fund to support Russian civil society” in October 2011. “The new fund would not require additional appropriations because the $50 million would come from liquidated proceeds of the U.S. Russia Investment Fund.” (also from Melia’s written testimony). Both Gordon and Melia provided statements that reflect the Administration’s new-found voice in support of democracy and human rights; while the voice had existed previously, it was arguably muffled to a whisper under the “reset” policy.

Trade: Terminate Jackson Vanik. Both Republican and Democratic Senators expressed support for the repeal, as did the Administration through Assistant Secretary Gordon and DAS Melia. The Jackson Vanik legislation, passed in 1974, has been a barrier to Russian membership in the World Trade Organization; Senator Corker provided a moment of levity by asking Gordon whether he agreed that Jackson Vanik is now causing us to “shoot ourselves in the foot” by restricting US trade with Russia with little to no benefit or human rights leverage in return. Gordon diplomatically repeated the Administration’s support for its termination. Kramer advocated for parallel legislation in support of human rights (in the form of the Sergei Magnitsky legislation or comparable legislation) to be passed if Jackson Vanik is terminated.

S. 1039: The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law and Accountability Act. A bi-partisan cadre of senators has supported this legislation, which would impose US visa bans on individual human rights abusers, most notably those involved in Sergei Magnitsky’s tragic death.  Melia noted that the Obama administration has and is “taking action to deny human rights abusers entry into the United States…Consistent with the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and President Obama’s “Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Non-immigrants of Persons Who Participate in Serious Human Rights Abuses and Humanitarian Law Violations and Other Abuses.” Essentially, the position taken by the Administration is that this is already underway. The concern is perhaps that passing the legislation can open a Pandora’s Box of difficult questions: who in the US government maintains the list? What if a name is added by mistake? Is this duplicating the already successful Human Rights Reports produced by DRL? Is it going to bureaucratize issues that are too important to bureaucratize? Further, it has also been reported that the Russian government, in particular the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with orders from the top, may respond with its own list of Americans blacklisted from Russia should that legislation pass. Sponsors of the legislation, its supporters (including Kramer), and those debating whether to support it must be wary of paving the foreign relations road with good intentions. That said, this policy difference between the congress, which is seeking to institutionalize support for human rights (as Senator Cardin articulated), and the executive branch, which is seeking to proceed with dual-track diplomacy to include human rights, should not be taken as a reflection of wavering US support for justice for the 37 year old lawyer –  Sergei Magnitsky - who died because he dared to investigate state corruption and because of acts of commission and omission perpetrated by the Russian authorities. Gordon, Melia, and Senators Cardin and Shaheen recognized this terrible truth, though they may differ on how the US should respond.

Appointment of Michael McFaul. McFaul was nominated to be US Ambassador to Russia and a confirmation hearing was held in the senate on October 12th. Gordon, Melia, and Kramer agreed that the US needs a permanent Ambassador – our man in Moscow – now more than ever, and asked the Senate to confirm McFaul as soon as possible. The conservative right mobilized against McFaul after his hearing, mobilization that is arguably dangerous to foreign policy goals in the region at such a critical time.

Dec 12, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Quality Governance in Tight Times

Hitler references and alarmist tendencies aside, a recent article from Paul Krugman at the New York Times raises some worthwhile concerns that have been flitted around quite a bit on television media these last months yet rarely really wrestled with.  However much we may hope that our situation is a temporary one, all signs point to our present economic difficulties lasting for a while. As developed democratic nations around the world continue to wallow in our economic hardship, and the realities of a potentially lasting depression settle in, displeasure with the economy has done serious damage to popular sentiment regarding governance.
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Dec 10, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Protests are supposed to be disruptive

Chanting protestors woke me early this morning (well, perhaps not that early). As I was planning to sleep in, my first thought was “go away – I am trying to sleep.” After a moment’s reflection, I laughed at myself. After all, democratic constitutions view protest as a legitimate form of political speech because they are meant to disrupt. Objecting to protests because they impose difficulties on non-protestors is inherently undemocratic.

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Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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