Aryeh Neier was typical of many human rights activists in being deeply skeptical of Ronald Reagan’s commitment to promoting democracy and human rights, and critical of a bi-partisan proposal – co-sponsored by Democratic Congressman Dante Fascell – to establish what became the National Endowment for Democracy.
But the initiative has had “a significant impact,” the former executive director of Human Rights Watch concedes, while the NED’s institutes have “played a significant role in efforts to promote electoral democracy worldwide during the past three decades,” he writes in his new book, The International Human Rights Movement: A History
The new approach to promoting democracy had its “most profound” impact in Reagan’s second term, with breakthroughs in Chile, Haiti and the Philippines, writes Neier (right), who retires this year as president of the Open Society Foundations.
In a marked departure from earlier covert efforts to support U.S. allies, he notes, NED “provides funds openly to organizations” promoting democracy and human rights, including support for efforts that “probably would not have qualified for the kind of aid” given by Cold War-driven covert agencies.
Activists and analysts gather in California tomorrow to mark the 30th anniversary of Reagan’s Westminster Address,* the speech that effectively launched the NED.
But, as Neier observes, efforts to advance democracy today confront a different and arguably more complicated set of challenges and problems than during the Cold War, including a more adaptive and assertive form of developmental authoritarianism.
“China is willing to throw its weight around in ways that do damage to human rights,” he notes.
“China will let a country like Angola or Sudan know that if they sell their oil to China, then China isn’t going to bother them with strictures about human rights or corruption or transparency,” Neier observes.
The Communist regime “makes its silence on those issues a competitive advantage when dealing with those governments.”
Beijing is not only promoting its own soft power, but actively trying to stifle freedom of expression abroad.
“China is the first country that I am aware of that engages in active campaigns against those who try to promote human rights and tries to suggest that it will penalise governments or others who are critical of its human rights practices,” Neier says.
While Reagan and other subsequent presidents of both parties have actively promoted democracy, the democratic West appears to have lost the confidence, commitment or courage to do so . “One of the most serious problems in the human rights field today is that the cause does not have champions among governments or among intergovernmental bodies,” says Neier. “Europe is focused inwards, the US is not eager to provide leadership internationally on human rights, and intergovernmental bodies like the UN, the EU and the African Union are not willing to provide such leadership.”
While the “non-governmental human rights movement is continuing to grow in size and significance” and the Arab awakening confirms that “there is something contagious about demands for increased political freedom,” the prosecution of pro-democracy NGOs in Egypt demonstrates that “there has been a backlash,” Neier tells the Irish Times.
“[The OSF] has a presence in Egypt and we have had to operate with a great deal of care. We don’t go around claiming that we engineered what took place, because we didn’t,” he says. “We have supported over the years various groups that are concerned with human rights broadly, with women’s rights, legal process and assistance for the poor and so forth.”
“There were some organizations that always made clear to us that they didn’t want to obtain foreign funding because they thought this would undermine their legitimacy. It’s something we encounter in all parts of the world.”
*Democracy in the World After Thirty Years, marking the 30th Anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s Westminster Address, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library (watch here).
June 5, 2012 – 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. (PST – 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. EST).
John Heubusch, Executive Director, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation
Jerrold Green, President and CEO, Pacific Council on International Policy
9:30-10:30: Democracy Assistance since the Westminster Address
Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy, Moderator
Hon. Madeleine Albright, Chair, National Democratic Institute
Hon. Alejandro Toledo, former President of Peru
Hon. Audronius Azubalis, Foreign Minister, Republic of Lithuania
10:45-Noon: The Struggle Today: From a Whisper to a Roar
Larry Diamond, Director, Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (Stanford University), Moderator
Excerpt from documentary film, “From a Whisper to a Roar”
Radwan Masmoudi, Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, Tunisia
Birtukan Midekssa, former Federal Judge and Opposition Leader, Ethiopia
Myroslava Gongadze, Voice of America
Xiao Qiang, Editor-in-Chief, China Digital Times
12:15-2:00: Luncheon in the Air Force One Pavilion: Democracy After 30 Years
NED Chairman Hon. Richard Gephardt, Moderator
Introduction: Ambassador Robert H. Tuttle
Address: Hon. George P. Shultz
Concluding Remarks & Tribute to the Hon. Christopher Cox: NED President Carl Gershman
About the Speakers
John Heubusch has served as Executive Director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation since 2009. Prior to that, he held positions at Avalon Capital Group, Inc., Gateway, Inc., the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the American Red Cross. While at Avalon Capital, he also served as President of the Waitt Family Foundation, where he oversaw the organization’s charitable programs. Before entering the private sector, he served in both the Department of Labor and on Capitol Hill.
Jerrold Green is President and CEO of the Pacific Council on International Policy. He also serves as a research professor of communication and business, and clinical management and organization at the University of Southern California at Annenberg. Prior to these positions, he served in various leadership positions at the RAND Corporation. Before joining RAND, Green was director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and professor of political science and sociology at the University of Arizona.
Carl Gershman has served as President of the National Endowment for Democracy since 1984. In addition to presiding over the Endowment’s international grants program, he has overseen the creation of the quarterly Journal of Democracy, the International Forum for Democratic Studies, the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program, the World Movement for Democracy, and the Center for International Media Assistance. Before NED’s founding, he was Senior Counselor to the United States Representative to the United Nations, Resident Scholar at Freedom House, and Executive Director of Social Democrats, USA.
Hon. Madeleine K. Albright was named by President Clinton in 1997 as the 64th U.S. Secretary of State, and the first woman to hold that position, making her, at that time, the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. From 1993 to 1997, Dr. Albright served as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and was a member of the President’s Cabinet. She currently is Chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm, and Chair of Albright Capital Management LLC, an investment advisory firm focused on emerging markets. She is a Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. Dr. Albright chairs both the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the Pew Global Attitudes Project. On May 29, 2012, she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, in recognition of her contributions to international peace and democracy.
Hon. Alejandro Toledo served as President of Peru from 2001-2006. Rising from a childhood of extreme poverty, Toledo earned a PhD from Stanford University and became the first person of indigenous descent to be democratically elected to lead Peru. He first appeared on the international political scene in 1996 when he formed and led a broad democratic coalition in the streets of Peru to bring down the autocratic regime of Alberto Fujimori. Since leaving office, he has held posts at Stanford University, and is currently a non-resident scholar at the Brookings Institution. He is also the Founder and President of the Global Center for Development and Democracy (GCDD), which studies the interrelationship between poverty, inequality, and the future of democratic governance.
Larry Diamond is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where he directs the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. Diamond also serves as the Peter E. Haas Faculty Co-Director of the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford. He is the founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy and also serves as Senior Consultant at the International Forum for Democratic Studies of the National Endowment for Democracy. Prior to joining Stanford University, Diamond served as a senior advisor on governance to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad and as a consultant to the U.S. Agency for International development. He has edited or co-edited over 30 books on democracy.
Radwan Masmoudi is the Founder and President of the Center of the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID), a Washington-based nonprofit think tank dedicated to promoting freedom, democracy, and good governance in the Arab and Muslim worlds, as well as improving relations between the United States and the Muslim World. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Center’s quarterly publication, Muslim Democrat, and a member of the board of directors of a number of international groups, including the Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy.
Birtukan Midekssa is a former federal judge and leader of the pro-democracy opposition movement in Ethiopia. She was sentenced to life in prison in 2005 after her party won an unprecedented number of seats in parliamentary elections. She was later released in 2007. Before entering politics, she was a defense attorney and federal judge. From October 2011 through May 2012, she was a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.
Myroslava Gongadze is a human rights activist, journalist and television anchor for the Voice of America’s Ukrainian service. She has won numerous awards for her accomplishments as a journalist, including her reporting on the eve of the 2004 Orange Revolution, and as a champion of democracy and independent media. The widow of slain investigative reporter Georhiy Gongadze, she fled Ukraine in 2001, and has labored tirelessly to bring her husband’s case to justice. She won a landmark negligence ruling against the Ukrainian government from the European Court of Human Rights in November 2005.
Xiao Qiang is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of China Digital Times, an interactive news website in China. Previously, he served as the Executive Director of Human Rights in China from 1991 to 2002. He launched China Digital Times in 2003 to explore ways to apply social media technologies to aggregate, interpret, and contextualize news regarding China. His current research focuses on measuring state censorship and control of the internet and mapping online political discourse.
Hon. Richard Gephardt serves as the President and CEO of Gephardt Government Affairs, a firm he founded after leaving the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004. Gephardt Government Affairs provides strategic advice to clients on issues before the House, Senate, and Executive Branch in the federal government. Congressman Gephardt represented Missouri’s 3rd Congressional District from 1976 to 2004, during which time he held several leadership positions, including House Democratic Leader, House Majority Leader, and Minority Leader. He has served as Chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy since 2009.
Amb. Robert H. Tuttle held the post of United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2005 through 2009. During the Reagan administration, he served as Assistant to the President and the Director of Presidential Personnel. Ambassador Tuttle has served on the boards of such prominent civic organizations as the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation, the USC Annenberg School for Communications, and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, where he was Chairman from 2001 to 2004. He currently serves as Co-Chair of the Pacific Council on International Policy and as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy.
Hon. George P. Shultz is the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He served as the sixtieth U.S. Secretary of State from 1982 until 1989. He also served in government as Secretary of Labor, Secretary of the Treasury, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and as president of Ronald Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board. In the private sector, Shultz was president and director of the Bechtel Group. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1942-1945. The author of over a dozen books on international relations and economic policy, he has held academic posts at both Stanford and MIT. Secretary Shultz received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on January 19, 1989, the last day of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.