When I visited again earlier this year, I met with some of the same women, but their group had grown and expanded its scope. Now there were women working not just for legal rights but for environmental, health, and economic rights.

Yet one of them, Dr. Gao Yaojie [Gow Yow Geeyah], has been harassed for speaking out about AIDS in China. She should, instead, be applauded by her government for helping to confront the crisis.

NGOs and civil society leaders need the financial, technical and political support that we provide. Many repressive regimes have sought to limit the independence and effectiveness of activists and NGOs by restricting their activities—including more than 25 governments that have recently adopted new restrictions. Our funding and support can give a foothold to local organizations, training programs, and independent media.

And of course one of the most important ways that we and others in the international community can lay the foundation for change from the bottom up is through targeted assistance to those in need, and through partnerships that foster broad-based economic development.

To build success for the long run our development assistance needs to be as effective as possible at delivering results and paving the way for broad-based growth and long-term self-reliance. Beyond giving people the capacity to meet material needs, economic empowerment gives them a stake in securing their futures, a stake in seeing their societies become the kind of democracies that protect rights and govern fairly. We will pursue a rights-respecting approach to development— consulting with local communities, ensuring transparency, and midwife-ing accountable institutions—so that our development activities act in concert with our efforts to support democratic governance. That is the pressing challenge we face in Afghanistan and Pakistan today.

The fourth element of our approach is that we will widen our focus--we will not forget that positive change must be reinforced and strengthened where hope is on the rise; and we will not ignore or overlook places of seemingly intractable tragedy and despair: where human lives hang in the balance we must do what we can to tilt that balance toward a better future.

Our efforts to support those working for human rights, economic empowerment, and democratic governance are driven by commitment not convenience, and must be sustained for the long run. Democratic progress is urgent but it is not quick, and we should never take for granted its permanence. Backsliding is always a threat, as we’ve learned in places like Kenya where the perpetrators of post- election violence have thus far escaped justice; and in the Americas where we are worried about leaders who have seized property, trampled rights, and abused justice to enhance personal rule.

And, when democratic change occurs, we cannot become complacent. Instead we must continue reinforcing NGOs and the fledgling institutions of democratic governance. Young democracies like Liberia, East Timor, Moldova and Kosovo need our help to secure improvements in health, education and welfare. We must stay engaged to nurture democratic development in places like Ukraine and Georgia, which experienced democratic breakthroughs earlier this decade but have struggled because of internal and external factors to consolidate democratic gains.

So we stand ready—both in our bilateral relationships and through international institutions—to help governments who have committed to improving their institutions, by assisting them in fighting corruption and helping train police forces and public servants. And we will support others, including regional institutions like the Organization of American States, the African Union, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, where they take their own steps to defend democratic principles and institutions.

Success stories deserve our attention so that they continue to make progress in building sustainable democracies.

Tags: World