UN increasingly involved in democracy building, says Ban

15 September 2009

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today spotlighted the growing trend for emerging democracies to seek help from the United Nations, in a message marking the International Day of Democracy.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today spotlighted the growing trend for emerging democracies to seek help from the United Nations, in a message marking the International Day of Democracy.

While democracy is considered as the optimal social and political system, the challenges to consolidating democracy around the world remain “formidable and numerous,” stressed Mr. Ban.

“Demand for UN assistance with institution-building, elections, the rule of law, the strengthening of civil society and other key aspects of democracy have grown considerably,” he said on the second annual celebration of the Day.

“Restoring or building new democracies, preserving fragile democracies and improving the quality of even long-established democracies requires commitment and hard work,” he added.

To support the world body’s efforts in establishing democracies, Mr. Ban said he has created a set of guidelines committing the entire UN organization to principled, coherent and consistent action, and to “ensure that UN assistance truly helps to build national capacities and nurture democratic cultures.”

Democracy contributes significantly to economic and social progress, international peace and security and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, said Mr. Ban, while calling for the UN to “rededicate ourselves to those principles.”

Underscoring that although primary responsibility for democratic change lies within national societies, Mr. Ban said that the international community can play a vital supportive role.

In a related development, the winners of a global online video competition aimed at engaging people in a conversation centred on democracy are slated to be announced at a gathering at UN Headquarters in New York today.

Over 900 contestants from 95 countries submitted videos completing the phrase “Democracy is …,” with the six regional winners – ranging from a animated short film about life without free expression to a rap documentary on sound leadership – selected by the public through an online vote.

Also today, a poll of 24 nations from around the world on political tolerance was released, showing that large majorities perceive people in their countries to not be completely free to express their views and that opposition parties have limited freedom to speak out.

The WorldPublicOpinion.org survey is “very ambitious and representative,” Oscar Fernández-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told reporters in New York today.

The poll –nearly 90 per cent of whose respondents said it is important to live in democratically governed countries – provides much “food for thought in terms of how the UN can use these findings in its actions on the ground,” he said.

The Organization increasingly supports elections, but Mr. Fernández-Taranco highlighted that the world body plays a crucial post-election role by promoting good governance and respect of fundamental freedoms.

At the same press briefing, Craig Mokhiber, Deputy Director, New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), pointed out that “the term ‘democracy’ has been much misused through the years.”

In the UN’s view, he said, democracy encompasses free expression and opinion, equality before the law, and the will of the people as the basis of governmental authority, among others.

 

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