UN chief: Member States must strengthen democracy, preserve fundamental freedoms

Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies underway in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Photo: Community of Democracies

29 April 2013 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today welcomed efforts by the world’s democratic nations in working to strengthen their foundations, while calling on all global leaders to guarantee fundamental freedoms and listen to their people.

In a message delivered to the Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies, held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Mr. Ban noted that the world was going through “a dramatic and inspiring time” in the history of democracy, but warned delegates of the continuing threats against democratic institutions the world over.

“Around the world, people are struggling for an end to corruption, for justice and dignity, for a fair share of political power and a say in their future,” said Mr. Ban, in a message delivered by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the Director-General of the UN Office in Geneva.

“At the same time, we have seen alarming threats to hard-won gains in nations both young and old. In some countries, civil society groups face growing legislative and other restrictions, making it almost impossible for them to operate,” he continued, adding that the rights to freedom of expression and of the press have also been under threat.

The Community of Democracies is a global intergovernmental coalition of democratic countries, with the goal of promoting democratic rules and strengthening democratic norms and institutions around the world. In tandem with UN efforts, participants and members of the Community collaborate with each other and with civil society to strengthen democracy in a variety of ways, according to the Community’s mission statement.

Mr. Ban urged the Community and all Member States to resist “backsliding” from democratic ideals and focus on the UN-supported theme of “Strengthening Voices for Democracy” ahead of this year’s International Day of Democracy, to be held on 15 September.

“Vibrant civil society groups and the open exchange of information are crucial to the well-being of any nation and the function of democracy,” stated Mr. Ban, adding: “I invite you to consider this theme and work with us to give the Day the high profile and practical impact that will contribute to stronger, better democracies.”

In a separate message addressed to the American Bar Association (ABA) at UN Headquarters in New York, the Secretary-General reiterated the importance of maintaining effective institutions during what he said was “a time of transition and test” for the international community.

“We face urgent political challenges, from Syria to Mali and the Korean peninsula,” Mr. Ban said in his first ever message to the ABA. “We face serious development challenges, from the economic crisis to climate change.”

During his remarks, Mr. Ban underscored the role of rule of law in enforcing a range of public goods spanning the delivery of public services to improved environmental management, adding that rule of law was also receiving “newfound appreciation” in the context of the UN’s efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In particular, he noted that with fewer than 1000 days until the end of 2015, the agreed MDG deadline, serious gaps still remained in fully achieving the MDGs. But, he suggested, rule of law assistance could “help us finish the job.”

In addition, the Secretary-General thanked the association of US-based lawyers for its contributions to the world body’s international efforts, such as assisting the UN in establishing a judicial training institute in post-conflict Liberia and providing solidarity in the fight against impunity for serious international crimes.

Returning to the current state of world affairs, Mr. Ban thanked the ABA for being “an important part of that constellation of actors” supporting the Organization during these trying times.

“At such times, we need to pull together – showing that multilateralism can deliver for people,” he told those gathered. “That is what the United Nations strives to do each and every day, working closely with its partners, including civil society and the private sector.”


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