Monday, July 10, 2006

Senate Hearing on the Role of NGOs in the Development of Democracy

Thursday, June 8, 2006 9:30-1:00

Speakers: Senator Lugar (Presided) - Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations
Barry F. Lowenkron (Witness) – Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human
Rights and Labor
Carl Gershman (Witness) – President of National Endowment for Democracy
Mark Palmer (Witness) – Vice-Chairman of Freedom House
Morton H. Halperin (Witness) – Director of Open Society Institute)
Thomas Carothers (Witness) – Senior Associate and Director of the
Democracy and Rule of Law Project

Senator Lugar began the hearing by crediting certain civil society members and organizations whose efforts have led to revolutionary change amongst countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Georgia. He continued to explain that unfortunately because of the change of governmental structure in certain areas such as these, authoritarian regimes have taken counteroffensive steps against pro-democracy groups, causing greater difficulty for NGOs. He gave the example of Russia having tightened its controls against foreign and local NGOs operating in that country and many other former Soviet states and states outside of the former Soviet states, such as China and Egypt have also done so.

Barry Lowenkron was the first witness to speak and first addressed the extensive and burdensome conditions that countries’ governments such as China, Russia, and Venezuela have created for NGOs including taxing and ordered investigation, both of which have been arbitrarily enforced. He stated that because of these conditions many of the NGOs’ efforts and resources have gone toward the establishment and sustaining of themselves rather than towards promoting democracy. He was optimistic about the fact that they now have the support of the OAS (Organization of American States) and stressed the importance of working with the OAS. He also stated that $1.8 billion in promoting democracy comes from the US government.

Carl Gershman also acknowledged the difficult circumstance NGOs now face due to repressive regimes in certain countries, but remained optimistic as he stated that he had 283 proposals to review in tomorrow’s board meeting, which included ideas on establishing independent sources of information in countries such as China and Iran.

Mark Palmer stated that bold new proposals were critical to the development of democracy and suggested communication amongst students, politicians, scholars, etc. via internet, independent media, and cellular telephone devices as a key strategy to promoting democracy. He also recognized the need to support organized labor movements in countries, especially in Eastern Europe.

Morton Halperin stressed the importance of NGOs raising private, non-partisan and non-governmental funding for development promotion and suggested that care be taken when using government funding in where it goes, using Egypt as a good example of a US government funding recipient and Iran as a bad example.

Thomas Carothers added to Halperin’s point stating that the US government must be careful in advocating regime change and recognize that regime change does not necessarily signify a change to a democratic order. He also stated that NGOs need new creative, reasonable, and realistic strategies for pushing back against the push-back of oppressive regimes and NGOs must stay transparent while advocating and implementing their agenda.

by Megan Shaw

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