News and Notes

Issue Date April 2015
Volume 26
Issue 2
Page Numbers 186-89
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Civil Society Center Opens in Prague

On February 19, a new international center designed to support activists at risk of persecution by their governments in the former Soviet Union was officially launched in Prague. The mission of the Prague Civil Society Center will be to cultivate civic engagement and defend human rights in countries including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine.

According to the Center’s director, Rostislav Vlavoda, “We are establishing a new center because civil society in the region has tremendous potential, yet it is under growing pressure, especially in some of the countries.”

The Prague Civil Society Center has three founding organizations: the Czech humanitarian organization People in Need, the Polish think-tank Institute of Public Affairs, and the Norwegian organization Human Rights House Foundation. Funding for the Center has been provided by the Swedish and Czech governments as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development. For further information, visit

Ibrahim Prize for African Leadership

On March 2, Namibia’s outgoing president Hifikepunye Pohamba (2005–15) was awarded the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, a US$5 million award given in recognition of African leaders who have governed well and left office in accordance with the constitution. The prize committee commended Pohamba on his “respect for the constitution, the rule of law, media freedom, and human rights.”

The award was established in 2006 by British-Sudanese telecom billionaire Mo Ibrahim. Previous award recipients include former presidents Pedro Pires of Cape Verde (2011), Festus Mogae of Botswana (2008), and Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique (2007). Since its creation, there have been four years in which the award has gone unclaimed due to a lack of qualified candidates. [End Page 186]

Geneva Human-Rights Summit

On February 24, the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy awarded Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi its Courage Award. Badawi was recently condemned to a thousand lashes and could face the death penalty for reportedly “insulting Islam” on his Free Saudi Liberals website.

The Summit also featured presentations by Saa, a Nigerian schoolgirl who escaped from Boko Haram, and the student leaders of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement. Dissidents from China, Cuba, Iran, Tibet, Pakistan, Turkey, North Korea, and Venezuela were also recognized.

Ditchley Conference

On January 29–31 , the UK-based Ditchley Foundation organized a conference on the state of democracy in the world today and the challenges it faces for the future. The session, held in commemoration of the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta, was chaired by former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Igor Judge. The conference brought together politicians, academics, and journalists representing 16 different countries to debate the essential features of a modern democracy and to put forth recommendations on how to strengthen democratic systems. For an account of the conference deliberations, please see the note by Sir John Holmes, director of the Ditchley Foundation, at

Exploring an Agenda for Active Citizenship

On February 20–22, the Arab Studies Institute (ASI) and the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship of the American University of Beirut (AUB) cosponsored a conference entitled “Exploring an Agenda for Active Citizenship.” The event was organized to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the start of the Tunisian uprising that sparked the Arab Spring protests across the region. The conference featured panels on civil society and citizen activism in the region and presented ideas for encouraging sustained citizen engagement. Lectures were presented by Fateh Azzam, Asfari Institute; Bassam Haddad, ASI; and Ahmad Dallal, AUB, among others.


The April 2013 issue of the Journal of Democracy contained a review by Carl Gershman of the book Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden, which recounts the story of North Korean prison camp survivor Shin Dong-hyuk. Recently, news emerged that the story told in the book may not be fully accurate. For more information, see [End Page 187]

NED’s International Forum

In January, the Journal of Democracy celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary with the publication of a special issue exploring the question: “Is Democracy in Decline?” In conjunction with the release of the anniversary issue, the Journal’s parent organization, the National Endowment for Democracy, and its publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press, cosponsored a panel discussion featuring contributors to the issue. The panelists included Marc F. Plattner and Larry Diamond, coeditors of the Journal of Democracy; Thomas Carothers, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Steven Levitsky, Harvard University; Lucan Way, University of Toronto; and Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Hertie School of Governance (Berlin). The panelists debated the state of democracy today, offering competing viewpoints on whether we are in a democratic recession.

The Forum continued its series of roundtables on “The Authoritarian Resurgence” with a session on February 25 on the authoritarian backlash against civil society, featuring Anne Applebaum of the Legatum Institute and Doug Rutzen of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. The series was scheduled to conclude on March 31, with author and television producer Peter Pomerantsev and Anne-Marie Brady (University of Canterbury, New Zealand) leading off a round-table on international media.

On January 12, the Forum organized an event entitled “The Crackdown on Independent Voices in Azerbaijan.” The panelists included Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow Altay Goyushov; Catherine Cosman, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Audrey Altstadt, Wilson Center; Thomas O. Melia, U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; and Kenan Aliyev, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service. The National Endowment for Democracy’s Miriam Lanskoy offered comments.

On January 23, the Forum hosted an internal discussion on “Russia’s Growing Threat to Central and Eastern Europe,” featuring Edward Lucas and Marcin Zaborowski of the Center for European Policy Analysis. NED’s Joanna Rohozinska commented on the presentations.

On January 26, the Forum organized an internal session featuring Arch Puddington and Sarah Repucci of Freedom House to discuss the newly released Freedom in the World report.

On February 3, the Forum and NED’s Europe program cosponsored a presentation entitled “The Ukraine Crisis: What It Means for the West” featuring Andrew Wilson of the European Council on Foreign Relations. David Kramer of the McCain Institute and NED’s Joanna Rohozinska offered comments. NED’s Nadia Diuk moderated the session.

On February 18, the Forum hosted a public meeting entitled “Election Observation: How Authoritarian Regimes Muddy the Waters.” The panelists included Patrick Merloe of the National Democratic Institute, Thomas O. Melia of the State Department, and Jan Surotchak [End Page 188] of the International Republican Institute.

On February 24, the Forum organized a discussion on “Russia’s Challenge to Democracy and Free Media,” featuring Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Antanas Linkevičius.

As part of a series of events on successful coalition building on behalf of economic reform, the Forum and the Legatum Institute cosponsored a presentation on February 26 entitled “Finding What Works: Building Reform Coalitions in Brazil.” Marcus Melo of the Federal University of Pernambuco (Brazil) delivered remarks, and Anne Applebaum of the Legatum Institute moderated the event.

The Forum also organized several events featuring Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows. On January 13, human-rights attorney Arthur Gwagwa (Zimbabwe) delivered a presentation on “How Civil Society Engagement Can Strengthen Democracy in Zimbabwe.” Jeffrey Smith of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights offered comments.

On January 20, Visiting Fellow Leonid Gozman (Russia), president of Russia’s Union of Right Forces, gave a talk on “Russia After Crimea: A ‘Brave New World.’” His presentation was followed by comments from Ambassador Stephen Sestanovich and Miriam Lanksoy of NED. On January 22, women’s rights advocate Zin Mar Aung (Burma) presented on “Burma 2015: The Make or Break Moment for Democratization”; NED’s John Knaus offered comments.

On February 5, Umed Babakhanov (Tajikistan), founder and editor-in-chief of Asia Plus, gave a presentation entitled “Challenges to Stability in Tajikistan: Parliamentary Elections in the Context of Political Islam and Russia’s Economic Crisis.” David Abramson of the U.S. Department of State and NED’s Miriam Lanskoy offered comments on his talk. On February 12, Saudi women’s rights advocate Maliha AlShehab delivered a presentation on “Women in Saudi Arabia: A Feather in the Wind.” Her presentation was followed by comments by Ali Al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs. On February 24, Negaso Gidada Solan, the former president of Ethiopia, gave a talk entitled “A Constitution for a Multinational Democratic State-Nation: The Case of Ethiopia.” John Harbeson of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies offered comments.

In March, the Forum welcomed a new group of Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows: Rut Diamint (Argentina), Lily Gomes (Bangladesh), Gubad Ibadoghlu (Azerbaijan), Farahnaz Ispahani (Pakistan), Simegnish Mengesha (Ethiopia), Pepe Julian Onziema (Uganda), Tidiani Togola (Mali), and Dmitry Dubrovsky (Russia). [End Page 189]

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