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New UN study on governance shows poor countries achieving democratic progress

New UN study on governance shows poor countries achieving democratic progress

Anwarul Chowdhury
Despite constraints on human resources coupled with structural weaknesses, a number of poor countries have made significant efforts to establish democratic rule in the past 20 years, according to a new study released by the United Nations today.

While least developed countries (LDCs) continue to face enormous challenges, including corruption, the lack of access to justice, and continued human rights violations, they can prove to be a global force behind practical democratic innovations, says the report, entitled “Governance for the Future: Democracy and Development in Least Developed Countries.”

Jointly carried out by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Office of the High Representative for the LDCs, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS), the study challenges doubts around the poorest countries’ ability to build stable democracies.

Citing roving judges in the Maldives and a community justice system in post-genocide Rwanda as solid examples of poor countries stride towards democratic governance, the report shows that a nation’s income level does not necessarily determine its democratic future.

One clear indication of how the LDCs have achieved a considerable level of progress in recent years is the advancement of women, according to the report. Snce 1991 the number of women in the parliament of Mozambique has doubled, while Rwanda now “leads the world” in terms of women’s representation in the legislative business with more than 48 per cent.

This figure, they say, is substantially ahead of the United States, at 14.8 per cent, and the United Kingdom, at 17.9 per cent

According to the report, building democratic governance means ensuring that the poor have “a real political voice,” alongside access to justice and basic services, including health and education.

“Throughout the study there are commendable examples which illustrate how some of the most efficient and creative solutions on overcoming development problems can be found in LDCs themselves,” High Representative Anwarul K. Chowdhury said following the release of the report.

“Indeed,” Mr. Chowdhury added, “the findings of this report are testament to the determination of the world’s poorest nations to break through the barrier of underdevelopment.”

Some of the innovations featured in the report refer to the use of “mobile judges” in many Pacific LDCs, including Ventura, Kiribati, and the Solomon Islands. The report also focuses on Rwanda’s “gacaca court” system, which emphasizes public involvement in rendering justice to the accused.

Others point to affordable communication systems in Solomon Islands, the Rural Advancement Committee in Bangladesh, which allows schools to run part-time classes for children who otherwise might be unable to afford full-time education.

However, researchers acknowledge that despite such initiative, many LDCs continue to face difficulties.

“Much more now needs to be done to build on these successes,” said UNDP Administrative Kemal Dervis. “Democratic governance is not only a good in itself, it is critical to further human development.”

Mark Malloch Brown, the UN Deputy Secretary-General agreed with Mr. Dervis. “No single model of democracy can or should be applied to all LDC or indeed, all countries,” he said at the launch in New York. “Let us be clear: while democratic governments take many forms, certain core principles, as set out in the UN Charter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other formative documents, must be upheld.”

Both Mr. Maloch Brown and Mr. Chowdhury urged the international community to further support the LDCs’ efforts to build democratic institutions, which they believe would bring peace, economic growth and human development to their citizens.

For their part, authors of the report concluded that increased support from the development partners and non-State actors is a must for the LDCs to achieve further progress because “global governance structures are often not favourable” to them.