Democracy, Rights and Governance

FY2018 Funding Recommendation:  

$2.46 billion


Funding History


       House/Senate FY2017 Request   

       InterAction's FY2018 Recommendation

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 Key Facts

Ingrained within American society is our support for democracy, rights, and governance. From promoting freedom in the face of adversity, to fighting for basic human rights for those who seek dignity, to holding government accountable for fair treatment of their people, the United States has exhibited leadership on DRG issues since U.S. independence and the penning of the bill of rights. It is within our moral fiber, inherent in our values, and within our national interest to promote democracy, rights, and governance. U.S. investments in the sector expand the space for a vibrant civil society and independent media; strengthen political and government institutions to be responsive to citizens’ needs; promote transparency and accountability; strengthen the rule of law; foster equitable economic growth; promote tolerance and inclusiveness; protect human and labor rights; and support free and fair elections. Investments in DRG pay dividends. Democratic nations make better allies, are strong economic partners, provide freedoms for its people, and are protectors of those who are most vulnerable, including women, youth, ethnic and religious minorities, and the disadvantaged, among others. The assistance of like-minded countries to establish governments responsive to its people is in our national interest. U.S. support counters aggression and adverse influence from repressive and corrupt actors and supports those who seek out freedom. Democracy and good governance provides stability that allows for prosperity, resilience, inclusive societies, and the right for people to live a free life and determine their own future.

There remains a need for continued U.S. support for Democracy, Rights, and Governance. While progress has been made over decades of investment, new challenges emerge, such as despots and corruptors who seek instability for their own self-serving benefit. Many countries struggle to consolidate democratic gains and are vulnerable to economic and political deterioration due to weak governance institutions, lack of rule of law, corruption, and inequality. Democratic backsliding in these places risks dire consequences. Several countries maintain the outward appearance of democracy; meanwhile, their leaders restrict freedoms of association and expression, thereby closing the space for an independent civil society. Governments are increasingly imposing more legal restrictions and administrative hurdles for both domestic and international organizations to operate. Election management bodies lack the technical expertise to realize citizens’ rights to have a voice and vote. In addition, there are growing efforts to limit access to information and independent media, and to label and criminalize rights defenders and democracy promoters as foreign agents. However, the U.S. has the capability to help address these issues and support people in their efforts for stronger democracy, more rights, and good governance.

Congress has provided a supportive foundation for DRG and an ability to address these challenges. In the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, Congress specified that the administration spend no less than $2.3 billion on democracy programs. Congress’ provision of a funding floor protects critical programming. For example, actual spending on all DRG programming was only $2.087 billion for FY2014 – 27% less than Congress enacted. The full funding of DRG programs is necessary to properly address democratic backsliding, to consolidate gains from economic development efforts, and to contribute to a more stable and prosperous world and we ask for Congress to continue funding DRG at existing levels.

Within its total DRG funding recommendation, InterAction has specific funding recommendations for DRG programs for four accounts:

Development Assistance

Development Assistance funds further USAID’s goal of promoting resilient, democratic societies as part of its longer-term development programs. DRG assistance supports new and fragile democracies, in particular by helping them develop policies and practices to build effective, transparent, and accountable governments that can deliver political and socioeconomic benefits to their citizens. For example:

  • To support and defend the freedoms of association, assembly, expression, and information, as well as other human rights necessary for the functioning of a vibrant civil society worldwide, programs provide technical assistance to help in-country partners enhance their capacity concerning civil society law and their ability to undertake research on cutting-edge legal issues that affect civil society. 
  • To counter political violence in Guatemala, USAID programs provided electoral risk mapping tools; technical assistance to improve interinstitutional coordination among electoral security stakeholders; analysis and support in the implementation of electoral dispute resolution mechanisms; trainings for electoral officials to increase conflict resolution skills; and a civic education campaign promoting a transparent, peaceful, and tolerant electoral process.

InterAction supports robust Development Assistance funding for DRG, particularly to support free and fair elections, protect freedom of association, promote economic growth and the rule of law, and enhance citizen participation. 

Economic Support Funds

Economic Support Funds (ESF) further the goal of the Department of State and USAID to help low-income countries meet short- and long-term political and economic needs so that they are able to transition to developed economies. Programs address the economic despair and lack of political participation that violent extremist groups exploit among youth, the unemployed, and marginalized members of society. DRG assistance empowers citizens to ensure broad-based participation; strengthens the rule of law; mitigates conflict; cultivates respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; promotes credible elections; and fosters economic growth. For example: 

  • In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, ESF programming provides the community 53 media outlets in 12 provinces and supports journalists preparing for the 2016-2017 local and national election cycle. U.S. assistance works to build the capacity of targeted media outlets and associations to provide reliable, objective news and information that contributes to stronger civic participation, and advances media freedoms and democratic governance. Programming also supports local advocates and civil society in pressing for reform and advocating for stronger open access to information and the media laws.
  • To promote inclusive dialogue among stakeholders in Ukraine, USAID programs have supported the establishment of the Election Reform Group, which has united civil society organizations and strengthened their influence in policy debates. Members of the Election Reform Group have developed joint proposals and advocated specific reforms of election-related legislation, including laws governing different kinds of elections, political finance, and voter bribery.

InterAction supports a robust increase in ESF funding for democracy, rights, and governance, particularly to help address the alienation of youth and the unemployed who are targeted by violent extremism, increase rule of law, build local capacity to conduct credible elections, strengthen civil society, and promote economic growth.

Democracy Fund

Through the Democracy Fund, the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance are able to support cross-cutting programs to support democracy activists worldwide, minimize human rights abuses, including human trafficking, open political space, and enable positive transnational change. For example: 

  • To improve workplace safety conditions, programs in Bangladesh have worked to empower thousands of garment workers in factories to use collective voice as a tool to engage management on occupational, safety, health issues, and the enforcement of minimum work and pay standards in accordance with Bangladeshi law and international standards.
  • To deliver crucial information to voters in Cambodia, USAID programming supported the development of an interactive voice response system to provide information to voters. This system received 645,166 calls during the 2013 election period. Programming helped develop the Women’s Leadership Program, which trained 490 women from 14 provinces to build their leadership capacity in elections.

Increased funding for the Democracy Fund would enable both a more rapid response to changing political situations and human rights abuses, and the continued support of regional approaches to migration and the combatting of trafficking in persons.

International Narcotics and Law Enforcement

Rampant corruption and weak justice systems are often barriers to sustainable development; they inhibit the development of democratic institutions, human rights, and governance capability. International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) funds provide partner countries with resources to improve rule of law and enable good governance. The U.S. Department of State, often in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice and other U.S. agencies, as part of its INCLE mission, supports the development of effective criminal justice systems and combats corruption that prevents development. INCLE funding helps build transparent and accountable government and civil society institutions, combats gender-based violence and hate crimes, and aids survivors, among many other areas of assistance. For example:

  • In Mexico, INCLE funds support institutionalizing the rule of law. U.S. assistance provides for exchanges between U.S. and Mexican criminal justice workers. This allows participants to share best practices between nations. INCLE funds also reinforce civil society participation; using these funds, the U.S. government works with its Mexican counterparts to strengthen the Mexican Bar Association that oversees judicial standards and the accreditation of lawyers and justice workers. 

Success Story

Fighting Corruption and Human Trafficking by Strengthening the Rule of Law in Haiti

In recent years, the Haitian justice sector has made significant efforts to strengthen the rule of law, but the criminal justice system still faces serious challenges. Inadequate criminal investigations, weak institutions and corruption make Haiti an attractive country for trafficking of people, arms, drugs and other contraband that in turn affects the United States and other countries in the region. Improving and maintaining Haiti’s rule of law is critical to strengthening law enforcement and security throughout the region as well as creating conditions for stability and development in Haiti. Progress requires a multifaceted program of intensive capacity building and assistance, coordinating the efforts of various stakeholders in the Haitian government, and active support by the in-country international aid community.

Against this backdrop and with funding from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) has been working to strengthen the capacity of Haiti’s criminal justice sector since 2011. ABA ROLI-supported interinstitutional steering committees promote the adoption of improved procedures and best practices. Training judges, prosecutors and police on investigation and prosecution skills enables them to play a more effective role in combating corruption, kidnappings, money laundering, gender-based violence, and arms and human trafficking. ABA ROLI also supported the creation of the Judicial Inspection Unit to establish an accountable criminal justice sector and combat corruption in the judiciary. Recent impacts of this work include Haiti’s first-ever trafficking in persons conviction and the country’s first high-visibility corruption conviction:

  • First Conviction of a Trafficking Case in Haiti. On April 21, 2016 Féfète Rivière was found guilty of attempted trafficking under provision 16 of the trafficking-in-persons legislation adopted in June 2014, and sentenced to five years in prison, approximately $1,000 in punitive damages, and a fine of approximately $200. Chief Judge Vernet Simon of the First Instance Court of Hinche presided over this case and said at the beginning of the trial that the case was “made possible by the trainings and mentoring provided by ABA ROLI.”
  • First High-Visibility Conviction of a Former Senior Government Official for Corruption. On Dec. 10, 2015, a former director general of a public auto insurance agency in Haiti was convicted of embezzling public funds. Trained by ABA ROLI, Judge Surpris O. Berge of the Port-au-Prince First Instance Court, presided over the case — the country’s first high-visibility public corruption case — and sentenced the former government official to 56 months’ imprisonment. He also ordered him to pay approximately $310,000 in restitution and fined him almost $18,000. Berge said that the ABA ROLI mentorship helped him resolve the myriad complex legal issues in the embezzlement case.

Photo: American Bar Association

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