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Fighting poverty crucial for democracy building in Central America: UN report

Fighting poverty crucial for democracy building in Central America: UN report

Combating poverty is just as important as ensuring the foundations for good governance when building a democratic political culture in Central America, Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a report issued today in New York.

"It is from the constant practice and interaction of these factors that democratic political culture is built," he writes in his latest report to the United Nations General Assembly on the situation in Central America.

According to the report, Central America today has been transformed by the strides taken in the last decade, but while armed conflict and the consistent violation of human rights have ended, the region has a long way to go before the poverty and structural inequalities which gave rise to conflict are overcome.

In El Salvador and Guatemala, the Secretary-General calls the new civilian-led police forces a significant step forward but says there are "serious signs of diversion from the democratic, rights-respecting model used in their design." He warns that the continuing involvement of the armed forces in public security functions could lead the region into the cycle of violence that led to war in the past. The elaboration of a national public security strategy would ensure both effective coordination between different agencies and optimal use of scarce resources, he says.

The report commends the establishment of national ombudsmen throughout the region, highlighting their potential to serve as institutional guarantors to human rights protection and, in some instances, to help ensure that States provide appropriate services and protection to the citizenry. Mr. Annan calls on regional leaders to allocate adequate resources to the ombudsmen, and to encourage them in their watchdog function.

On natural disasters, the Secretary-General urges all involved actors - Governments, civil society and the donor community - to do their utmost to reduce the damaging effects of such crises. In El Salvador, large numbers of people left homeless or jobless by the earthquakes have not been given adequate assistance, he says, calling upon the authorities to attend to the needs of this population as a matter of urgency.

The report also stresses the importance of independent electoral structures for the consolidation of democracy in the region, and urges effective reforms so that they can become fully transparent, legitimate and non-partisan. This, the Secretary-General says, will increase political participation.