U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has opened the government's first-ever strategic dialogue with civil-society members, pledging U.S. support for champions of human rights.
Ahead of discussions with civil-society representatives from more than 20 countries, Clinton announced that Washington was significantly increasing funding for their work.
"I'm very pleased to announce [that] we are more than doubling our financial support for efforts to respond to threats to civil society -- to help human rights workers who have been arrested, activists who've been intimidated, [and] journalists who've been censored," Clinton said.
Clinton also announced the launch of an "international fund" to provide quick assistance, including legal support and communications equipment, to NGOs targeted in government crackdowns.
The civil-society gathering comes as Washington faces criticism from activists for supporting the now-deposed regimes in Egypt and Tunisia -- and for not doing enough to help those countries' beleaguered civil societies.
Clinton was joined by Egyptian activist Sherif Mansur and Afghan activist Sima Samar at the opening of the talks.