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Archives for Democracy and Governance

Celebrating Media’s Impact on Development on World Press Freedom Day

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day – a day established by the UN General Assembly in 1993 to celebrate the principles of press freedom and bring attention to the threats to media independence around the world. 

USAID celebrates World Press Freedom Day and welcomes the opportunity to salute the professionalism and bravery of media personnel everywhere. Journalists and other media professionals play amazing 24/7 roles as news reporters, talk show hosts, photographers, watchdogs, editors, managers, facilitators of interactive multi-media platforms, and much more.

Vendors sell newspapers during the 2011 presidential elections in Liberia. USAID supported a media initiative to strengthen local media coverage of the elections and encourage independent reporting of election results through new media. Photo credit: Issouf Sanogo/AFP

Media play vital interconnecting roles among virtually all societal actors, facilitating a daily flow of information among citizens, elites, businesses, citizen associations, political parties, and governments. Journalism based on verified facts and diverse perspectives can help societies find constructive solutions to development challenges, while unprofessional or censored media tend to engender corruption and other obstacles to development. A growing body of scholarly research demonstrates strong correlations between media independence and an impressive array of democracy and good governance indicators.

Moreover, the explosive growth of new social and other electronic media platforms are enabling professional journalists to interact with citizen reporters, bloggers, and other new media activists, expanding the democracy-supporting roles of modern mass media like never before.

As a result, USAID works together with many local and international partners to strengthen the professionalism, independence, and new technology integration by the media in well over 40 countries throughout the world.  In Liberia, for example, USAID partnered with IREX, a U.S.-based NGO that works on media development, to support a comprehensive media initiative with the Liberia Media Center, a local media NGO, in the run-up to the Presidential elections in the fall of 2011 – only Liberia’s second since its emergence from years of civil war and one marked by tensions and threats of violence. With tensions rising and violence a real possibility, IREX worked with its Liberian partners to convene an emergency meeting to address the issue of conflict-sensitive reporting, while also supporting a media monitoring effort that called out inflammatory reporting.

Working with the Liberia Media Center, the project also supported an elections results reporting effort that placed reporters at more than 60% of Liberia’s 4,000 polling stations where they sent elections results in via text messaging to conduct a parallel vote count. The website that published the parallel vote count received over 3 million hits in the days following the elections, and since its results matched those of the election commission, it contributed to reducing tensions surrounding the elections.

Each USAID country program is tailored to local conditions, responding to a variety of media development challenges. When possible, USAID missions advocates for a comprehensive approach to media assistance, recognizing that fuller media freedoms result from many enabling factors operating together: such as journalistic professionalism, the media’s economic self-sustainability, legal and regulatory enabling environments, and incorporation of new technologies. Through these approaches, USAID aims to strengthen journalists and the media as a professional and independent Fourth Estate to better serve their respective audiences.

Conditions of Confinement

Today I was pleased to meet with the delegation of the Russian human rights activists who traveled to Washington, DC as a part of USAID Conditions of Confinement project. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg met with this group as well.

These are individuals who have chosen to devote their professional careers and talents to strengthening human rights protections for ordinary people in Russia. What is particularly impressive about this group is that they work on protecting the most fundamental human rights of a particularly vulnerable and often overlooked group, the inmate population. They do it because of their deeply held belief that even those who have committed crimes and are incarcerated should have their human rights and dignity protected. I would like to applaud these advocates for their efforts in this important humanitarian work.

The conditions in Russian prisons drew international scrutiny after the death of Sergey Magnitsky several years ago. Sergey Magnitsky, a 37year-old Russian attorney who was arrested after alleging wide-scale tax fraud against police and tax authorities,was denied medical treatment for a severe illness that he developed while spending almost a year in a pre-trial detention facility in Moscow. Magnitsky died just days before the one year limit that he could be held without trial would expire, serving a total of 358 days in prison. This tragedy galvanized the attention of the human rights community in both Russia and abroad. However, there are likely many more individuals facing similar mistreatment and abuse who need help. Human rights advocates like the ones I met today work tirelessly with the Government of Russia to prevent similar tragedies from happening again and help people in need.

At USAID, we believe that our assistance is most effective when and where the need is most pressing, where the political will is present and determined individuals are in place who will work hard to make real changes. The Conditions of Confinement project is a good example of a well-targeted activity, poised to yield positive results.

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Accountability and Action: USAID’s Counter-Trafficking Policy

Sarah Mendelson is USAID’s deputy assistant administrator of the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict & Humanitarian Assistance.  This item was originally posted at FTS Blog

Last week, the White House hosted the annual Presidential Inter-Agency Task Force (PITF) on counter-trafficking in persons (C-TIP).  This high-level meeting, chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is an opportunity for leadership throughout the Administration to reaffirm our commitment to combatting trafficking in persons, outline steps taken, and those to come.

This was my second time attending the PITF, and this year I was especially proud when USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah announced the Agency’s new policy on Counter-Trafficking in Persons (C-TIP) (pdf), delivering on a promise he made to Secretary Clinton a year ago.

This policy draws on the best practices from the last decade and input from experts around the world.  It places a premium on learning and evaluation so we can make sure we’re pursuing the most effective approaches; focuses on innovation and technology, using the same tools traffickers use to, in this case, raise awareness of the dangers of TIP, provide trainings, and support victims; and champions the need to create exciting and effective partnerships because no one person, organization, or agency can tackle this issue alone.

Perhaps most critical, it elevates the Agency’s focus on C-TIP in conflict and post-conflict contexts.   As someone who has worked in this arena for over a decade, research shows that TIP is significantly higher in and around conflict and crisis-affected regions—whether during war, peacekeeping operations, stabilization efforts, or following a natural disaster.

Widespread sex trafficking of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings is an unfortunate and prevalent reality.  There is also an increased danger for children, separated from parents and caretakers during conflict or crisis, to be forced into child labor.  The good news is that countries recovering from crisis or conflict often have greater political space for tackling challenges and instituting change. USAID will target this particularly acute period of need and moment of opportunity with specialized and enhanced interventions.

USAID is serious about these issues.  Last December, the Agency worked with the White House, Department of State, Department of Defense, and civil society groups at home and abroad to launch the first U.S. National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace, and Security.  The United States now joins 34 countries around the world with plans in place.  This is only the beginning.  USAID is hard at work on an implementation plan, and we look forward to collaborating and elevating our efforts to combat TIP.

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Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons

(Special Rapporteur Beyani is participating in a roundtable hosted by USAID Deputy Administrator Steinberg on March 22.  USAID supports the work of the Special Rapporteur through the Brookings-London School of Economics (LSE) Project on Internal Displacement.)

As a reader of this blog, I invite and challenge you to do more in a personal capacity to join efforts and work daily to advance human rights in the world and enhance international development or peacebuilding efforts.  The more you and do so the more we will realize that there is a multiplying force of reliable partners in achieving tangible and lasting results.

For the most part of my life, I have been involved in human rights work in various capacities. But the past year and a half saw me assume the role of an independent expert with responsibility for maintaining and continuing to advance the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). I inherited the mandate from two pioneers in the field of internal displacement, Francis Deng and Walter Kälin, and have done my best to continue building upon previous achievements towards protecting and assisting IDPs. And I believe that Francis and Walter would agree that as the mandate reaches its 20th anniversary this year that much has been accomplished, but much remains to be done.

It is clear that since the beginning of the international community’s response to internal displacement, it has been the collective action of dedicated civil society organizations, government agencies, supportive donors, key scholars and academics, and passionate advocates for change that have made the difference. The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement are the bedrock upon which much has been built, and they are a product of teamwork. Other landmark documents and normative frameworks, including the Framework for Durable Solutions (which outlines the necessary criteria to end displacement) and the African Union’s Kampala Convention (the first binding regional treaty on IDPs), are similarly products of dedicated and collaborative efforts.

The unfortunate truth is that despite tremendous progress, today there are still some 27 million IDPs around the world who have fled situations of armed conflict or human rights abuses. Many millions more are displaced each year by natural disasters, development projects, and increasingly, the effects of climate change. The Guiding Principles outline the basic steps necessary to prevent, respond to, and bring an end to internal displacement, but their application into national legal policy frameworks remains a challenging objective.

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USAID and OIC: Working Together to Save Lives

Originally posted to the White House Blog.

The United States has always been committed to providing assistance to those around the world in the midst of crisis. Last year alone, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) dispatched aid in the aftermath of 67 disasters in 54 countries, saving countless lives and bringing much needed relief to millions who lost loved ones, homes, and livelihoods. From the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan to the most severe drought in 60 years in the Horn of Africa, USAID is there and making a difference on behalf of the American people every day.

But we never do it alone. Working in support of the host nation’s relief efforts, our partners include American businesses, other donor nations, local aid organizations, as well as international and non-governmental organizations. Our partnerships allow us to maximize our assistance, even as international crises grow more frequent and more complex.

Today at the White House, the United States marked a significant partnership milestone. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), signed a Memorandum of Understanding that further strengthens our cooperation on humanitarian issues and disaster response.

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Discussing the Crisis in Sudan and South Sudan with the Senate and George Clooney

Yesterday I had the opportunity to testify on the rising humanitarian crises in Sudan and South Sudan before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.   It’s been just eight months since we celebrated the peaceful separation of South Sudan from Sudan, marking a turning point for a people who have endured war for the greater part of half a century.   Yet, there are increasing challenges facing these two nations that have resulted in violence and conflict, making the prospect of a peaceful path forward for these two new nations incredibly fragile.

The crushing poverty, underdevelopment, and intercommunal fighting in South Sudan, as well as the continued conflict in Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile, Abyei, and Jonglei, have left the people in these regions with uncertain futures and requiring a wide range of assistance to meet their needs.  I was honored to speak alongside Special Envoy to Sudan, Ambassador Princeton Lyman, who also emphasized that the United States’ goal is to prevent this humanitarian situation from worsening any further.  But this rising crisis needs public attention. I’m thankful to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for their continued thoughtful attention to this issue and for inviting actor George Clooney and activist John Prendergast, who had just returned from the region, to also testify.  Their presence and personal reflection undoubtedly heightened public interest in this hearing, which will hopefully result in increased support for the people of Sudan and South Sudan.

I encourage you to read my testimony and send me your thoughts in the comments below or via Twitter @NancyLindborg.

Celebrating Media’s Impact on Development on World Press Freedom Day

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day – a day established by the UN General Assembly in 1993 to celebrate the principles of press freedom and bring attention to the threats to media independence around the world. 

USAID celebrates World Press Freedom Day and welcomes the opportunity to salute the professionalism and bravery of media personnel everywhere. Journalists and other media professionals play amazing 24/7 roles as news reporters, talk show hosts, photographers, watchdogs, editors, managers, facilitators of interactive multi-media platforms, and much more.

Media play vital interconnecting roles among virtually all societal actors, facilitating a daily flow of information among citizens, elites, businesses, citizen associations, political parties, and governments. Journalism based on verified facts and diverse perspectives can help societies find constructive solutions to development challenges, while unprofessional or censored media tend to engender corruption and other obstacles to development. A growing body of scholarly research demonstrates strong correlations between media independence and an impressive array of democracy and good governance indicators.

Vendors sell newspapers during the 2011 presidential elections in Liberia. USAID supported a media initiative to strengthen local media coverage of the elections and encourage independent reporting of election results through new media Photo Credit: ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP

Moreover, the explosive growth of new social and other electronic media platforms are enabling professional journalists to interact with citizen reporters, bloggers, and other new media activists, expanding the democracy-supporting roles of modern mass media like never before.

As a result, USAID works together with many local and international partners to strengthen the professionalism, independence, and new technology integration by the media in well over 40 countries throughout the world.  In Liberia, for example, USAID partnered with IREX, a U.S.-based NGO that works on media development, to support a comprehensive media initiative with the Liberia Media Center, a local media NGO, in the run-up to the Presidential elections in the fall of 2011 – only Liberia’s second since its emergence from years of civil war and one marked by tensions and threats of violence. With tensions rising and violence a real possibility, IREX worked with its Liberian partners to convene an emergency meeting to address the issue of conflict-sensitive reporting, while also supporting a media monitoring effort that called out inflammatory reporting.

Working with the Liberia Media Center, the project also supported an elections results reporting effort that placed reporters at more than 60% of Liberia’s 4,000 polling stations where they sent elections results in via text messaging to conduct a parallel vote count. The website that published the parallel vote count received over 3 million hits in the days following the elections, and since its results matched those of the election commission, it contributed to reducing tensions surrounding the elections.

Each USAID country program is tailored to local conditions, responding to a variety of media development challenges. When possible, USAID missions advocates for a comprehensive approach to media assistance, recognizing that fuller media freedoms result from many enabling factors operating together: such as journalistic professionalism, the media’s economic self-sustainability, legal and regulatory enabling environments, and incorporation of new technologies. Through these approaches, USAID aims to strengthen journalists and the media as a professional and independent Fourth Estate to better serve their respective audiences.

 

FrontLines: Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance


Read the latest edition of USAID’s premier publication, FrontLines, to learn more about the Agency’s work in democracy, human rights and governance.

This Timor-Leste printing press was destroyed in 1999 during violence following a referendum on independence. Today, the artifact remains near the current press at Suara Timor Lorosae – the first independent newspaper in Timor-Leste – to remind people of the importance of a free and independent media. Salvador J. Ximenes Soares, shown here beside the press, is the newspaper’s editor. USAID funded the destroyed press and the one that replaced it. Photo credit: Mauricio Borges, USAID

Some highlights:

  • Last year’s Arab Spring protests are this year’s stepped up march toward democracy for Egyptian and Tunisian citizens
  • Says Youk Chhang, a survivor of Cambodia’s genocide under the Khmer Rouge: “[W]e need to make sense of our history before we can heal and move on.”
  • Democracy is on the airwaves as the Sudan Radio Service provides an independent voice for national and community news in the new nation of South Sudan
  • USAID is helping some of the 1 billion people on the planet who have disabilities secure the tools they need to lead full and independent lives
  • Progress is taking hold in a post-dictator Paraguay as government and civil society embrace reforms

Subscribe to FrontLines for an e-mail reminder when the latest issue of FrontLines has been posted online.

From Fragility to Agility

I am in Busan as part of the US Delegation to the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.  We are meeting in the cavernous Bexco Convention Center, in a city that was heavily bombed 50 years ago and sustained with American humanitarian aid for the recovery years after the Korean War. It is now the 5th largest port globally and proudly hosting this conference with announcements that the Republic of Korea will meet its commitment to double Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) by 2015 as part of their repayment of kindness and support in their times of need.

While here, I am especially focused on three issue areas:  democracy, rights and governance; fragile states, and disaster resilience, all of which are being highlighted here as vital to effective development.  I am heartened by this new emphasis, stemming from an increased, collective realization that the MDGs cannot be realized without inclusive democratic governance, greater resilience to shocks and a pathway out of conflict and fragility for the bottom one and a half billion living in conflict affected states.

We know that nearly 30% of ODA is spent in fragile and conflict affected states and that these countries are the furthest from accomplishing MDGs.  We have been actively working with a coalition of donors and self-proclaimed fragile states to develop a “New Deal” that provides a mutually accountable platform for helping these states climb out of fragility. Or, as colleague from South Sudan proclaimed, support their aspirations to move from fragility to agility.

Decentralization in Africa

On July 9, 2011, the national flag was raised for the first time in the new country of South Sudan.  Even as official ceremonies were underway in the capital Juba, the country began to confront fundamental dilemmas about how to establish the basic patterns of governance.  What should the system of government look like?  Should it be federal, with powerful regional states?  Should responsibilities be transferred to local governments, or even to community organizations?  Do questions such as local capacity and national stability speak for or against decentralizing government?

Countries across Africa have wrestled with such questions, many of which are about which levels of government have (or should have) authority, power, resources, and responsibilities in order to best respond to public needs.  Decentralization is a growing governance trend in Africa, and as USAID policymakers and programming officers develop their strategies for work in countries like South Sudan, they will increasingly be taking it into account.

Since 2010, USAID has developed a set of reports that study and glean lessons from African experiences with decentralization.  The reports covered 10 African countries documenting their experiences and examining in each case how decentralization affects key governance characteristics.  Among the characteristics of interest are the legal authority of subnational units, their degree of autonomy from the central government, along with patterns of accountability between actors, and the overall capacity of actors in African governance.  The overall success of decentralization experiences in Africa depends upon a mix of these characteristics that gives local actors greater opportunities for decision-making while also ensuring that the central government retains the power to oversee and monitor local actors.

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