Since its founding 65 years ago by Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie, Freedom House has been committed to the incorporation of fundamental individual freedoms as a basic founding principle of the United Nations system. Since that time, global trends towards freedom have ebbed and flowed, as has the leadership role played by the UN in protecting and advancing the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
During the tenure of Secretary General Kofi Annan, who leaves at the end of this month, a number of initiatives have been undertaken to strengthen the capacity of the UN to assist in democratic transition and consolidation. This report focuses on one of those initiatives, the establishment of a new UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF), which was created in July 2005.
The Fund is arguably the most visible outcome of the Community of Democracies process, which was launched in June 2000 in Warsaw, Poland. At that meeting, leaders from over 100 countries reaffirmed the right to democracy for all the world's citizens, and committed themselves to joint efforts to advance and protect democracy around the world. Since then, under the auspices of the Community of Democracies, a group of democratic nations have made efforts -- largely ad hoc until the Democracy's Fund's establishment -- to provide assistance to strengthen democracy.
The UNDEF was funded largely by direct contributions from democratic governments -- with the largest donors including the United States, India, and Australia. In August 2006, UNDEF began disbursing funds, selecting 125 projects totaling $36 million out of 1,300 submitted proposals. Grant awards ranged between $50,000 and $500,000.
Freedom House has analyzed the first round of UNDEF grant recipients, examining the types of organizations receiving funds, the beneficiary countries or regions, and the types of projects being funded. On the grounds that assistance should be prioritized towards those with greatest needs, Freedom House evaluated beneficiary countries according to the Free, Partly, Free, and Not Free rankings used in the organization's 2006 survey of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World.
The establishment of UNDEF marks a first attempt by the UN to provide direct support to civil society organizations that contribute to the strengthening and development of their governments. What this first analysis does not yet reveal, however, is whether a UN-established fund will have the latitude to be a genuine instrument for democracy promotion in those closed societies where funding is most critical. UN member governments may have different objectives from the nongovernmental organizations working within their borders. Only time and close examination will illustrate whether UNDEF is willing and able to fund projects in countries where the governments are unsupportive of the endeavors or downright hostile to democracy promotion.
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