The United Nations Democracy Fund has unveiled its first beneficiaries, awarding $36 million in grants to 125 projects around the world that range from promoting voter registration to encouraging judicial reform, supporting female parliamentarians and teaching human rights awareness in schools.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan approved the first batch of projects that had been whittled down by the UN Programme Consultative Group and then the Fund's Advisory Board from the original pool of more than 1,300 applications.
Set up by Mr. Annan in July last year, the Fund is designed to promote and consolidate new and restored democracies in the areas of elections, human rights, civil society, the media and rule of law.
The Fund defined six areas as funding priorities for the initial group of projects: strengthening democratic dialogue and support for constitutional processes; civil society empowerment; civic education, voter registration and strengthening of political parties; citizens' access to information; human rights and fundamental freedoms; and accountability, transparency and integrity.
More than 60 per cent of the grant recipients ? the money will be disbursed later this year ? are civil society organizations, with UN agencies receiving 24 per cent of the total and the remainder going to governmental or regional organizations.
At least a third of grants are directed at projects focused on sub-Saharan Africa, and almost four out of every five applications were for projects aimed at one country.
Mr. Annan believes “the initial response from applicants is powerful evidence of the strong demand for support from the UN for this very important agenda,” according to a statement released by his spokesman.
The Secretary-General called on UN Member States to support the Fund “and use it as an innovative and flexible mechanism for advancing the UN democracy agenda.” So far the Fund has received almost $50 million in contributions and pledges from 17 Member States.
The Fund's 17-member Advisory Board includes representatives from the largest Member State contributors, other countries chosen to ensure geographical diversity, as well as representatives from civil society and on behalf of the UN.