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Joe Biden To Host 2nd Democracy Summit Amid Concerns About Its Development

The event, which will begin on Wednesday, include 120 countries, civil society organisations and technology companies, as well as strategically significant nations where rights groups have expressed concerns about the state of democracy, such as India, Poland and Israel

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World leaders will meet virtually this week for the second Summit for Democracy organised by the United States, an event critics say demonstrates the Biden administration's halting progress in promoting human rights and democracy as a focus of its foreign policy.

The event, which will begin on Wednesday, will include 120 countries, civil society organizations and technology companies, as well as strategically significant nations where rights groups have expressed concerns about the state of democracy, such as India, Poland and Israel.

Rights advocates have praised the administration for focusing on democracy, but they say there is little evidence that the countries participating in the summit have made progress in improving their democracies, and there is no formal mechanism to hold participants accountable to the modest commitments made at the first meeting.

According to experts, the government has also been hesitant to make the difficult choices required to demonstrate that it places human rights at the centre of its foreign policy.

“I think this administration, like any other administration, has simply found that that is too difficult,” Tess McEnery said, who worked on human rights issues in the Biden administration until August 2022 and is now with the Project on Middle East Democracy.

She went on to say that because the US is unable to drastically alter its relationship with nations critical to its strategic interests, such as India, “we have a summit.”

Managing Dictators

Ukraine's conflict has only made Biden's aim of uniting democracies against autocratic rulers more difficult.

Washington has accused Russia of committing atrocities in its invasion of Ukraine and has rallied other nations to its side. However, this has sometimes come at the cost of a firm stance on democracy and human rights elsewhere, such as in Venezuela, where a US team went in March to try to persuade its authoritarian government to pump more oil.

In a briefing call ahead of the summit, Christopher Hernandez-Roy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said, “The Biden administration has gone so far as to… negotiate with one dictator to counter another,” demonstrating a willingness to set aside principles to address urgent issues.

US officials deny pulling punches on human rights or democratic backsliding, but they acknowledge “legitimate criticism” aimed at the administration on the subject.

“I will defend the fact that human rights are discussed in every bilateral relationship we have,” said a senior Biden administration official.

The first summit, which was conceived as an in-person gathering, was held virtually thanks to Covid-19. The second meeting was postponed for several months and will now take place mostly online.

According to one civil society activist who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are engaged in the summit's organization, the virtual format adds to the sense that the summit has been de-prioritised, making it more difficult for participants to push for bold reforms.

The United States, Costa Rica, Zambia, the Netherlands and South Korea will co-host the summit this year, an arrangement that US officials say will urge the countries to be more involved in the process.

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