This document provides an overall framework for the programmes and activities of the UN Democracy Fund. It describes the central role of the UN in promoting democracy, citing key normative documents, declarations and conventions. It defines in a stylised fashion the component parts of democracy, emphasising the breadth of the concept and the essential linkages between all the elements. It discusses the complexity of country situations, with different opportunities and needs. Finally, it identifies some of the most important actors in the field of democratisation, both within and beyond the UN System.
The paper concludes that existing support to democracy and democratisation is already quite extensive and that it will require careful thought to define an appropriate niche for the Democracy Fund which is distinctive from, and yet complementary to what is already being done.
The United Nations does more than any other single organization to promote and strengthen democratic institutions and practices around the world.
The importance of democracy and of democratic values was first highlighted in the Charter of the organization, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Indeed, Article 21 of the Universal Declaration was very clear, even as far back as in 1948 when it was unanimously adopted by the General Assembly:
This in turn has been echoed in a variety of normative documents – declarations, conventions, covenants – produced by the intergovernmental process that is the United Nations. Of these, the most obviously applicable is the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which inter alia contains binding obligations on States Parties in respect of elections, freedom of expression and association and assembly and other vital democratic entitlements. This covenant has been ratified by 154 Members States.
In the 1990s, a period characterised by important democratic changes in various parts of the world, democracy has also become a theme of a number of international conferences, and the General Assembly as well as the Commission on Human Rights pronounced themselves on ways to strengthen democracy. Five conferences on New or Restored Democracies have been convened in close cooperation with the UN. More recently, a group of states itself established a Community of Democracies and started to organise consultations within the framework of some of the UN bodies. In addition, in its resolution 56/98 of 14 December 2001, the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General “to examine options for strengthening the support provided by the United Nations System for the efforts of the Members States to consolidate democracy”.
This normative process was matched by increasing operational activities in support of democratisation processes by the UN System. In particular, in 2000 UNDP placed democratic governance at the heart of its development cooperation programme, equipping itself with greater internal expertise in this area and channelling a substantial proportion of its core resources in this direction. Another significant development was the establishment in 1992 of the Electoral Assistance Division (EAD) within the Department of Political Affairs. The EAD is responsible for the coordination of the activities of the United Nations System in the field of electoral assistance.
During the same period, human rights assumed a greater explicit role in the work of the voluntary funds and programmes, as agencies such as UNICEF, UNFPA and UNDP all adopted a rights-based approach to their programming processes. In practice this was a deepening of an existing operational involvement, since promotion of, for example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, adopted by the General Assembly in 1989) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, adopted by the General Assembly in 1979), had for some years been key drivers of operational activities.
The links between international peace and security, sustainable human development and democratisation were all embraced again by the international community with the unanimous adoption of the Millennium Declaration at the Millennium Summit in 2000. While the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have received more emphasis, the source document, the Declaration itself, contains much of the value system that underpins the work of the UN around the world.
Section V of the Declaration, together with its paragraphs 24 and 25 are unequivocal on the matter:
Of course, democracy means different things to different people. This is reflected in Paragraph 135 of the 2005 UN Summit’s Outcome Document:
This recognition of diversity within the unity of democratic values is also reflected in the Terms of Reference of the UN Democracy Fund.
Thus, democracy lies at the heart of the UN’s normative value system and underpins what the organization does at an operational level. Indeed, most departments, funds, programmes and agencies proceed explicitly from this foundation, especially since a human-rights-based approach to development programming has become the norm.
At its heart democracy is the process whereby people and nations exercise their right to self-determination by periodically electing their governments. However, , elections are not isolated events. Rather they are part of a holistic process of democratic transition and governance. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly accepted that, as highlighted in the 2002 Human Development Report, democratic governance depends not only on strong institutions but on participation and accountability.
It is possible to break out democracy into a number of different elements, each of which is a separate sub-culture with separate institutions and substantive capacity, but all of which, taken together, are required for a fully working democratic process. The following decomposition of the elements of democracy includes the recognition that democratic processes occur not only at the national but also at the sub-national level: state, provincial, urban and local.
Democracy can therefore arguably be broken down into the following distinctive, but wholly inter-related components:
Many would argue that the conditions for true democratic processes go beyond the above listing. Democracy requires the full development of the social, economic and political dimension of citizenship. To be sure, the other side of the democratic coin is politics, and politics is essentially about power and its distribution. Since the distribution of power and opportunity are to a significant extent economically determined, and vice versa, the overall state of human development in a country, as well as the distribution of resources and the equality of opportunities is an important factor in ensuring due democratic process. So is the existence of space to ensure equitable participation, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. This is, for example, highlighted in the recent UNDP Report on Democracy in Latin America.
Thus, the process of democratisation identified inter alia in the Millennium Declaration cannot be truly disentangled from poverty reduction and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals themselves. An important question for the Advisory Board is therefore whether the Democracy Fund should seek to support all of these above elements, or whether it should focus its attention on selected components.
In every country, democracy is a “work in progress”. There is no country in the world which can claim that it has the perfect democracy; all have issues which they are seeking to address to a greater or lesser extent. However, their need for external support differs substantially, as does the opportunity for external assistance to be beneficial.
Having said this, there can be seen to be a spectrum of country situations between a fully functioning democracy at one end and collapsed or non-existent governance at the other. Although this spectrum cannot be said to be linear or a continuum in any real sense – there are many shadings in reality, and a country may move from one position on the spectrum to another radically different position quite quickly - a theoretical classification might be as follows:
It would be tendentious, controversial and perhaps even unproductive to classify any individual country into one or other of the above categories. However, this rather stylised classification serves to illuminate one of the choices facing the Democracy Fund: in what circumstances should the Fund seek to provide support?
It would seem, for example, that a country in Category A would not need support from the Fund, while countries in Category E might not be able to make good use of such assistance, although it should be pointed out that the non-violent transition from non-democratic to democratic represents one of the greatest governance challenges. Category C countries would appear to be the easiest to identify for assistance and would, indeed, in all likelihood seek such support. On the other hand Category D countries might already be the subject of assistance from specific trust funds established, and only benefit from support from the Democracy Fund as they graduate into Category C. Finally, support to Category B circumstances would probably qualify as preventive in nature, often the most difficult of all to address but with significant potential for impact if assistance proved to be welcomed.
Just as democracy and democratisation has become a part of the mainstream of global dialogue, so are there many international and national players in this arena. Following is an overview of this, which does not pretend to be comprehensive or exhaustive. Indeed, given the admittedly broad construction of democracy outlined earlier, such a definitive survey would be difficult to produce.
Most importantly – for democracy is principally a national issue – there are numerous institutions in most countries which seek to address issues relating to democracy. While each country must be considered sui generis in this respect, these institutions can be divided generically into:
And, since democracy is a political process, it would be wrong to assume that all such institutions are pulling in the same direction. Indeed, at a national level, there will be many conflicting views and interests at a given time Democracy is after all concerned with providing mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of such disagreements and conflicting interests. By its very nature this is not always a smooth nor comfortable process.
There is no doubt that in order to operate at a national level, the Democracy Fund will require a good understanding of the limitations and opportunities that exist in a given country.
There are already a number of important actors in the UN System which work in areas of direct relevance to the Democracy Fund:
It is also important not to forget the work of the International Financial Institutions (IFI) – the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Regional Development Banks. Whereas in years gone by, the IFIs would profess to deal solely with technocratic macro-economic stability and economic development, their approach has long since broadened to include support to governance in its broadest construction. Indeed, the grant and lending programmes of the IFIs sometimes contribute extensively to capacity building in this area.
It is clear, therefore, that there are many players within the UN System which support the spread of democratic processes and institutions. This is hardly surprising since, as was pointed out above, the wellspring of democracy within the UN System goes back to the Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, more recently, the Millennium Declaration.
There are at least two global inter-governmental processes advancing the democratisation process. They are:
Regional organizations have also developed normative instruments, structures and institutions to support democracy.
Specifically, in 1969 the Organization of American States (OAS) created the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. In addition, the Inter-American Democratic Charter adopted on September 11, 2001—spells out what democracy entails and specifies how it should be defended when it is under threat, establishing procedures to undertake not only when democracy is completely interrupted, as in a coup, but when it is seriously altered and democracy is at risk
In 1999, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) adopted in Algiers, the declaration prohibiting unconstitutional change of government in its Member States. In doing this, the OAU member states agreed to sanction governments that are products of unconstitutional changes, especially through coup d'état. The organization prohibits such governments from participating in the deliberations of the organization. The successor organization to the OAU, the African Union, integrated this provision into its Constitutive Act at its Summit in Lomé in 2000. Most African regional organizations, such as ECOWAS, SADC and IGAD have adopted similar instruments.
In Europe, organisations such as the European Union, the Council of Europe and the OSCE have played a central role in promoting democracy both within and outside European borders. There is also the European Convention on Human Rights, with its protocols and its Court of Human Rights, and the 1994 initiative of the European Parliament which created the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). Under its aegis, the European Commission provides support to democratisation and democratic capacity building in many parts of the world.
In addition, organisations such as the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, the Commonwealth, the Community of Portuguese-speaking countries (CPLP) and the Ibero-American Conference also play significant roles in the promotion of human rights and democratic values.
(e) International Organizations, NGOs and Think Tanks
There are a large group of international organizations of various types which are supporting democratic processes at the country level. They are so numerous and varied in nature that it is difficult to provide a comprehensive listing. Following, therefore, is just a flavour of what exists in the international arena.
Some of these institutions might be termed quasi autonomous non-governmental organizations (QuANGOs), because of their close links to governments. There is, for example the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), which was established in 1995 an intergovernmental organization with member states from all continents, has a mandate to support sustainable democracy worldwide. There is the Club of Madrid which was created to harness the experience of recent leaders of transitional and mature democracies to address the growing challenges to democracy around the world.
There is also the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) which was founded as long ago as 1889 and has a proud tradition of fostering collaboration and exchange between elected representatives around the World.
Finally, there is a large group of international NGOs which focus on specific issues of interest to the Democracy Fund, such as human rights, freedom of expression, the fight against corruption, gender rights and the strengthening of citizenship and participation, among others.
(f) Bilateral Donors
Bilateral donors have become increasingly active in the area of strengthening democratic institutions and processes, especially if they are defined more broadly. Traditionally viewed as a politically sensitive area for bilateral relations, and therefore a particularly suitable case for multilateral treatment, individual countries have more recently extended support to specific democratic institutions, including electoral observer missions.
This more active bilateral engagement in various aspects of democratic governance has served to supplement longstanding relations between parliamentarians (e.g. the Inter-Parliamentary Union), as well as between political parties and political foundations.
Bilateral support for human rights activities has also served to support democratic processes in a variety of ways.
It is clear from the above overview that democracy is a complex concept, especially if defined broadly as this paper believes it should be. And the country circumstances vary enormously, as does the need for, as well as the ability and willingness of countries to absorb, external support to national processes of democratisation.
It is also apparent that the UN has played a leading and central role in the promotion of democracy at the international level. However, it is not alone and there are many institutions and processes engaged in the general area of democracy,. This represents an enormous resource of technical capacity and practical experience on which the Fund can draw. But it also begs the question of what the Fund’s comparative advantage and distinctive contribution should be.
The parallel paper “Programme Framework” provides a first answer to this question, and defines a way forward which will enable the Fund to sharpen its response to this challenge.