April 01, 2016

ABA urges support for democracy-building programs

The ABA urged the House and Senate Subcommittees on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs last month to continue its support for funding Democracy, Rights and Governance (DRG) programming to advance democracy around the world.

DRG programming is “critical to global efforts to combat terrorism, extremism and insecurity and to promote equitable economic development and well-being,” ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman wrote in a March 18 letter to the subcommittees. He pointed out that the ABA works through its Rule of Law Initiative and Center for Human Rights to implement U.S. government-supported programs to advance democracy, the rule of law and human rights around the world by contributing the expertise of the association’s more than 400,000 members and $3 million annually in pro bono legal assistance.

He noted the ABA’s participation in the DRG Initiative of InterAction, a large alliance of U.S.-based international nongovernmental organizations focusing on humanitarian relief and sustainable development programs. He said that the ABA joined that group in supporting fiscal year 2017 funding levels of $2.86 billion for Democracy Programs under Title VII and $170 million for the National Endowment for Democracy under Title I. 

Susman’s additional recommendations included set-aside language to ensure that DRG funds are spent on the programs as intended and not diverted to other purposes; program prioritization language to ensure funds made available for strengthening government institutions are prioritized for institutions that demonstrate a commitment to democracy and the rule of law; and language recognizing the benefits of grants and cooperative agreements in implementing certain DRG-funded programs.

The ABA letters specifically requested consideration of funding in the following areas: efforts to counter violent extremism; assistance to criminal defense advocates and bar associations; legal assistance to migrants and refugees; and efforts to improve the rule of law in the People’s Republic of China.

“The ABA appreciates the committee’s past support of funding for critical democracy, rights and governance programs,” Susman said as he acknowledged budgetary challenges for allocating funds. “However,” he emphasized, “if the United States fails to invest adequate resources in this area, countries that do not share our commitment to democratic values and free markets will continue to languish and serve as destabilizing forces, to the detriment of U.S. national interests.”

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