NGO Coalition Urges Creation of Permanent United Nations Democracy Group | Freedom House

NGO Coalition Urges Creation of Permanent United Nations Democracy Group

New York

A group of non-governmental organizations that promote democracy and human rights around the world has welcomed a meeting of ten foreign ministers from leading democratic states scheduled for Friday, September 26 at the United Nations in New York.

In a September 23 letter to the foreign ministers, the NGO group -- which includes the International League for Human Rights, the Campaign for UN Reform, the Democracy Coalition Project, Freedom House, the Open Society Institute, Human Rights Watch, the Transnational Radical Party, and the Council for a Community of Democracies -- called on the UN's democratic member states to organize themselves into a permanent working coalition at the world body.

The meeting of foreign ministers of the Convening Group of the Community of Democracies has been scheduled for Friday by Chile, the group's chair. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and the foreign ministers of India, Mexico, Mali, South Africa, the Republic of Korea, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Portugal will attend.

The Community of Democracies, created in June 2000, unites over 100 democratically elected governments. It seeks to enhance cooperation among democratic states in global and regional institutions, coordinate efforts to deepen respect for human rights and democracy, and support fragile emerging democracies, particularly those in the developing world. As yet, however, the group has not established a permanent working presence at the UN.

In July, the NGO coalition urged the establishment of a permanent Democracy Group at the United Nations (UNDG) this fall to promote the values of democracy and human rights within the UN system. The UNDG would convene to coordinate actions by member states to strengthen international support for democratic governance. It would also urge the protection of human rights and democratic practices through the UN system and its related agencies.

The NGO coalition also outlined a series of aims for the UN Democracy Group and for the Community of Democracies Convening Group, including:

  • A commitment to convene a meeting of the UNDG at the next session of the UN Commission on Human Rights to develop a common agenda of action items that strengthen the implementation and enforcement of fundamental political and civil rights through the United Nations;
  • Support for tightening eligibility for membership on the UN Human Rights Commission to states that have demonstrated respect for democracy and human rights;
  • A coordinated response to Secretary General Kofi Annan's appeal for additional funding to the UN Electoral Assistance Division;
  • Collaboration with the International Conference of New or Restored Democracies, currently chaired by the Government of Mongolia; and
  • Endorsement of other democracy-related resolutions to be introduced at the current UN General Assembly.

In July, leaders of international NGOs and eminent persons urged Chiles Foreign Minister, Secretary Powell, and other foreign ministers from leading democracies to establish a working coalition of democracies at the UN.

"We are grateful that there has been a favorable response to our call, and we hope that Friday's meeting will lead to the establishment of a caucus of democracies that can work in concert to make the UN an effective voice for political rights and civil liberties," said Adrian Karatnycky, Counselor at Freedom House and coordinator of the ad hoc non-governmental group.

In recent months, the effort to create a Democracy Group at the UN has won the support of leading editorial pages; of governments, including Italy, Poland, Romania and the U.S.; and of the U.S. House of Representatives, which has passed legislation mandating that the State Department work toward establishing a "UN Democracy Caucus."

The text of the NGO letter follows.

September 23, 2003

To: Her Excellency Maria Soledad Alvear, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chile, Chair, Community of Democracies Convening Group and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, India, Mali, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, South Africa, United States
Cc: The Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Italy and Mongolia
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan
Re: Community Of Democracies At The United Nations

Over three years after the launching of the Community of Democracies, we continue to believe that an association of states acting jointly to protect and strengthen democracy and human rights around the world offers high promise for promoting democratic development and respect for human rights, and securing international peace and security. We also are convinced that the United Nations, as conceived by the UN Charter, remains a critical institution for securing this vision. The Community of Democracies (CD) should work with the relevant United Nations bodies and agencies to ensure the United Nations becomes the global forum for making respect for democratic principles the international norm.

Toward that end, we urge the Foreign Ministers gathered at the CD Convening Group meeting in New York on September 26 to take the following steps:

  • Establish a permanent Democracy Group at the United Nations (UNDG) to promote the values of democracy and human rights within the UN system. The UNDG would convene to coordinate international support of member states' efforts to deepen democratic governance, reinforce human rights and promote democratic practices throughout the UN system.
  • The UNDG should establish procedures to govern its activities. According to such rules of procedures the UNDG should be convened by the Chair of the CD Convening Group during the sessions of all the relevant bodies of the UN that deal with issues related to the promotion of democracy and human rights (GA, CHR, ECOSOC, etc.). Meetings of the DG also should be held on a regional basis, as an integral part of the regional implementation of the Seoul Plan of Action, and should be convened by the members of the Convening Group from each region.
  • Agree that membership in the UN Democracy Group would consist of states formally invited to take part in the Community of Democracies meeting in Seoul as full participants. The Convening Group must be vigilant on an ongoing basis to apply its agreed-upon criteria for CD membership to ensure democratizing states are recognized and backsliding states are removed from the Community, as agreed in Seoul.
The UN Democracy Group and the CD Convening Group should begin regular meetings this fall to consider the following specific issues:
  • A commitment to convene a meeting of the UNDG at the next session of the UN Commission on Human Rights to develop a common agenda of action items that strengthen the implementation and enforcement of fundamental political and civil rights through the body.
  • Support for tightening eligibility for membership on the UN Human Rights Commission to states that have demonstrated respect for democracy and human rights.
  • A coordinated response to Secretary General Kofi Annan's appeal for additional funding to the UN Electoral Assistance Division.
  • Collaboration with the International Conference of New or Restored Democracies, currently chaired by the Government of Mongolia.
  • Endorsement of other democracy-related resolutions to be introduced at this falls UN General Assembly.
Meeting in Seoul in 2002, governments participating in the Community of Democracies process agreed to take steps on a number of other issues important to the consolidation of democracy around the world. These issues include further improving collective responses to threats to democracy, promoting education for democracy, and reducing poverty. We believe the time is right to bring renewed attention and resources to these vital tasks. We urge the Convening Group to develop procedures for acting on these commitments in the months leading up to the next Community of Democracies gathering in Santiago in 2005. We also urge the Convening Group to consider expanding its membership to ensure that the group is even more broadly reflective of major democracies around the world.

Respectfully,

Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State
Hon. Emma Bonino, Member of the European Parliament, Transnational Radical Party
John Brademas, President Emeritus, New York University
Lee Feinstein, Fmr Principal Dep. Director Policy Planning, Department of State
Morton Halperin, Director, Washington Office, Open Society Institute
Louise Kantrow, Executive Director, International League for Human Rights
Don Kraus, Executive Director, Campaign for U.N. Reform
Amb. Alfred Moses, Chairman, United Nations Watch
Hryhoriy Nemyria, Chairman, International Renaissance Foundation, Ukraine
Hon. Marco Pannella, Member of the European Parliament, Transnational Radical Party
Ted Piccone, Director, Democracy Coalition Project
Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch
Richard Rowson, President, Council for a Community of Democracies
Nancy Soderberg, Former U.S. Ambassador
George Soros, Chairman, Open Society Institute
Sergio Stanzani, President of the Transnational Radical Party
Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director, Freedom House
Jusuf Wanandi, Chairman, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta, Indonesia
Professor Ahmed Ziauddin, Convenor, Asian Network for the ICC

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

Join us on Facebook and Twitter (freedomhouse). Stay up to date with Freedom House’s latest news and events by signing up for our newsletter.