Clinton Speech: A Strong and Free Civil Society is Essential

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Date: 
July 15, 2010

At the July 3, 2010 meeting of the Community of Democracies Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the world’s governments to stop  restricting  civil society organizations and activists.  “We must be wary of the steel vise in which many governments around the world are slowly crushing civil society and the human spirit," Clinton said. She also announced the United States will be contributing $2 million to a fund designed to bolster “embattled NGOs” that need legal representation and telecommunication hardware.

With the UN’s Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. set to take place in late 2010, Clinton said the U.S. will set the tone for developing an open environment for civil society organizations and activists to do their work  “The greatness of the United States depends on our willingness to seek out and set right the areas where we fall short. For us and for every country, civil society is essential to political and economic progress. Even in the most challenging environments, civil society can help improve lives and empower citizens,” Clinton said.
 
Clinton noted that at least 50 governments had issued new constraints on civil society groups in the past six years, naming Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Russia and Zimbabwe as examples. “The persecution of civil society activists and organizations, whether they are fighting for justice and law, or clean and open government, or public health, or a safe environment, or honest elections, it's not just an attack against people we admire, it's an attack against our own fundamental beliefs.”
 
Groups and activists operate in states where there are increasing restrictions or safety concerns.  Clinton announced that the U.S. would be giving $2 million dollars to a fund that assists groups facing state pressure with acquiring cell phones, internet service and legal services. "We must address this crisis," she said.
 
Clinton described a vibrant civil society as one of the “three essential elements of a free nation,” along with a representative government and a properly function economy. She said all three components work together to “lift and support nations as they reach for higher standards of progress and prosperity.” Citing the importance of civil society in the U.S., she said it “not only helped create our nation, it helped sustain and power our nation into the future.”