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US Cites Successes in Democracy Promotion Effort

The State Department has released its annual report on U.S. efforts to promote democracy and human rights. Funds for such efforts are being limited in the new federal budget request.

The report says U.S. efforts to promote democracy and human rights have resulted in positive changes in 95 countries around the world.

The report points to elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, the election of Liberia's first female leader, improvements in Ukraine, and electoral reform in Indonesia as major strides in democratic change. U.S. Undersecretary of State for Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor Barry Lowenkron says U.S. support for democracy has translated into positive results.

"The United States has acted in support of these and other indigenous efforts for human rights and democracy," said Barry Lowenkron. "By on the ground interaction with government officials, civil society organizations and individuals, and through multilateral engagement, we have defended international human rights standards and advanced democratic principles. We have stood in solidarity with the brave men and women who have been persecuted by repressive regimes for exercising their rights."

But the report says little headway has been made in countries such as Burma, Cuba, Syria, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Iran.

Jennifer Windsor is executive director of Freedom House, an advocacy group dedicated to promoting democracy that hosted a speech by President Bush last week. She says the State Department report does serve a useful purpose.

"The idea behind this report is extremely important that there is in one place a document that puts it all together," said Jennifer Windsor. "I still would like to see a lot more facts and figures there and less storytelling."

But democracy advocacy groups are worried that U.S. funds for promoting democracy are drying up. Some organizations say they face possible cutoffs in funding in next fiscal year's proposed budget. In particular, says Windsor, funds for security programs are forcing cutbacks in democracy promotion programs in Iraq. She says that when it comes to dollar amounts, the funding is not matching administration rhetoric.

"That is not a good sign that the budgets themselves are truly following the priority the president has put on freedom," she said.

Windsor says the need is acute for better funding to programs in Africa, which she says has been traditionally short-changed in democracy promotion programs.

"We really need to see concrete administration follow-through on specific assistance initiative and diplomatic initiatives in countries such as Zimbabwe, where there has really been an erratic U.S. strategy, I think, and approach on how they're going to promote democracy there," noted Jennifer Windsor. "In Nigeria the amount of funding is far less than what is needed in terms of advancing freedom in that very, very critical country in the region.

Officials have so far made no comment about the reported cutbacks in democracy programs. However, the administration has proposed major increases for democracy promotion in Iran.