Global perspective Human stories

Despite two decades of growth, democracy faltering worldwide, UN report warns

Despite two decades of growth, democracy faltering worldwide, UN report warns

Despite two decades of expanding democracy around the world, many countries have fallen back into authoritarian rule or are facing increasing economic and social hardship, warns a new study released today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The UN agency's Human Development Report, "Deepening Democracy in a Fragmented World," says that in theory, the world is more democratic than ever: 140 countries now hold multi-party elections.

In practice, only 82, with 57 per cent of the world's people, are fully democratic in guaranteeing human rights, with institutions such as the free press and an independent judiciary; 106 countries still limit important civil and political freedoms.

The report, which for a second year in a row ranks Norway at the top of its Human Development Index (HDI), has been compiled annually since 1990 to explore major issues of global concern. The study looks beyond statistics as a measure of human progress and assesses such factors as human freedom, dignity and the role of people in development.

According to the report, while most parts of the world have made progress in human development during the 1990s, 21 countries registered a decline in the HDI, which is based on life expectancy, education and per capita income. Fifty-two countries ended the decade poorer than at its beginning, and though the number of people living in extreme poverty was nearly halved in Asia, it grew in all other regions.

"The central message of this report is a simple one: to promote human development successfully we need to put the politics back into poverty eradication," UNDP Administration Mark Malloch Brown said at the global launch of the report in Manila, Philippines.

"That means ensuring that the poor have a real political voice and access to strong, transparent institutions capable of providing them with the kind of personal security, access to justice, and services from health to education they so desperately need," he stressed.

Echoing that thought, UNDP Assistant Administrator Jan Mattson told a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York that the purpose of the report was to inform and stimulate debate about development that was people-centred and aimed at enlarging people's choices to lead a life that they value.

"The report argues that people have the right to participate in and influence decisions that affect their lives, and when they are able to exercise such rights there is potential to improve a country's prospects for peace and development," he said. "Democracy is a means to an end and an end in itself."