Associated Press | July 3, 2010

KRAKOW, Poland — Intolerant governments across the globe are “slowly crushing” activist and advocacy groups that play an essential role in the development of democracy, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Saturday.

She cited a broad range of countries where “the walls are closing in” on civic organizations such as unions, religious groups, rights advocates and other nongovernmental organizations that press for social change and shine a light on governments’ shortcomings.

Among those she named were Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Venezuela, China and Russia.

“Some of the countries engaging in these behaviors still claim to be democracies,” Clinton said at an international conference on the promotion of democracy and human rights. “Democracies don’t fear their own people. They recognize that citizens must be free to come together, to advocate and agitate.”

Before an audience of several hundred senior government officials, Clinton recalled Winston Churchill’s warning 60 years ago at Fulton, Mo., that an iron curtain was descending across Europe. She noted that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, that curtain no longer remains.

“But we must be wary of the steel vise in which governments around the world are slowly crushing civil society and the human spirit,” she said. Social activists, Clinton said, are being harassed, censored, cut off from funding, arrested, prosecuted or killed.