World leaders will gather virtually this week for the second U.S.-organized Summit for Democracy, an event critics say illustrates the halting progress the Biden administration has made in advancing human rights and democracy as a focus of its foreign policy.
Starting Wednesday, the event involves 120 countries, civil society groups and technology companies and will include strategically important 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 putting a spotlight on democracy, but say there is little evidence the countries joining the summit have made progress on improving their democracies, and that there is no formal mechanism to hold participants to the modest commitments made at the first meeting.
The administration has also been reluctant to make the hard choices needed to show it is putting human rights at the heart of its foreign policy, experts said.
“I think this administration, like any other administration, has just found that that is too difficult,” said Tess McEnery, who worked on human rights issues in the Biden administration until August 2022 and is now with the Project on Middle East Democracy.
She added that because the U.S. is unable to drastically change the relationship with countries vital to its strategic interests like India, “instead we have a summit.”
DEALING WITH DICTATORS
Crises like the war in Ukraine have only made Biden’s goal of rallying democracies against autocratic rulers more difficult.
Washington has accused Russia of committing atrocities in its invasion and rallied other countries to support Ukraine. But this has sometimes come at the expense of a firm line on democracy and rights elsewhere, including in Venezuela, where a U.S. delegation visited in March to try to convince its authoritarian government to pump more oil