Delivered by Mr. Oscar Fernandez-Taranco
United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs
This year has been a remarkable one in the story of democracy -- one that millions worldwide have followed with intense interest. Far less well known is the work the United Nations does every day to advance and support democracy on many fronts. From supporting free and fair elections to strengthening the rule of law, from educating young people in democratic principles to helping citizens hold institutions accountable -- advancing democracy is a central mission for the United Nations. Although the word democracy does not appear in our Charter, the UN does more than any other single organization to develop and strengthen democratic institutions and practices around the world.
Experience has taught us, time and again, that democracy is essential to achieving our fundamental goals of peace, human rights and development. We also know that neither peace, nor development, nor democracy can be exported or imposed from abroad. All must be underpinned by the will of the people -- including and especially by a strong and active civil society.
This is why the mission of the UN Democracy Fund is so important. It supports projects that strengthen the voice of civil society, promote human rights and encourage the participation of all groups in democratic processes and transitions. It is the only UN entity that has the word “democracy” in its name. And it is the only UN body with the primary purpose of supporting democracy through empowering civil society.
In this way, UNDEF gives life to an essential principle: That the UN does not seek to export or promote any particular national or regional model of democracy. It works on the understanding that the democratic ideal is rooted in philosophies and traditions from all parts of the world; that effective democratic governance enhances the quality of life for men and women everywhere; and that human development is more likely to take hold if people are given a real say in their own governance, and a chance to share in the fruits of progress.
The photographs, artifacts and publications in this exhibition all come from initiatives funded by UNDEF. What you see here is just a small share of those projects -- and just a fraction of the work done every day by the courageous men and women around the world who strive to uphold their rights and make the voice of their communities heard. This exhibition is dedicated to them. May their images speak to you.