Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
August 1, 2008
The Community in Action
The Community of Democracies (CD) has undertaken numerous initiatives which seek to strengthen democratic institutions, increase dialogue and cooperation among democratic nations, and lend support to democracy activists around the world. The CD encourages initiatives supporting democracy among its participants and in various international, regional, and sub-regional fora. Below are just a few examples of initiatives supported by the CD.
Fostering dialogue and cooperation among democratic nations
- OAS-AU Democracy Bridge: In July 2007, representatives of the Organization of American States (OAS), the African Union (AU), and member states gathered for the first Democracy Bridge Forum, which links the OAS and AU together to share best practices on how to promote and defend democracy. The initiative, endorsed by the 2008 OAS General Assembly, resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding between the OAS and AU on democracy promotion; recently the AU participated in an OAS election observation mission to Colombia. This vision of partnership between the premiere multilateral organizations of Africa and the Americas grew out of the 2005 Santiago Community of Democracies Ministerial. In June 2003, under the auspices of the CD, the U.S. hosted seven African and seven Latin American and Caribbean countries for a Dialogue on Democracy, which led to further cooperation.
- UN Democracy Caucus: The UN Democracy Caucus is the expression of the CD at the UN with the stated goal to build support for a democratic agenda at the UN. The caucus operates under the leadership of the country chairing the CD Convening Group, currently Portugal. The caucus issued statements on May 21, 2008; May 15, 2007; and May 5, 2006, urging members of the United Nations to elect countries that have demonstrated a genuine commitment to human rights to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The caucus was formed in September 2004.
- Working Groups: At the Santiago Ministerial, the Convening Group agreed to form working groups tasked with developing democracy promotion initiatives. Under Malian leadership of the CD, four working groups were created: Civil Society and Democratic Governance; Poverty and Democracy; Regional and Inter-regional Cooperation for Democracy; and Threats to Democracy. High level discussions for working groups were held in 2007 in Mexico City, Rome, Lisbon, Bucharest, and Washington DC. Working groups have engaged in a number of action-oriented projects, including the development of a handbook for diplomats engaged in democracy promotion efforts, the creation of guidelines for NGO-government collaboration, and workshops on threats to democracy and the relationship between development and democracy.
- Democracy and Development: In March 2007, Mali hosted a CD seminar in Bamako focusing on the relationship between democracy and development. The seminar generated ideas and recommendations for the Bamako Ministerial. On October 11, 2007, Mali co-hosted a conference with the World Bank Institute to further explore the positive link between democracy and development.
Strengthening democratic institutions
Supporting democracy activists around the world
- International Centre for Democratic Transition (ICDT): At the Santiago Ministerial, the CD endorsed the creation of the International Centre for Democratic Transition (ICDT), located in Budapest, Hungary. The goal of the ICDT is to use countries’ past experiences with democratic transitions to facilitate future democratic movements. Since its founding, the ICDT has implemented democracy projects affecting more than 15 countries. The ICDT’s Governmental Advisory Board, which oversees the Centre’s work and approves specific project proposals, consists of representatives from more than 40 democracies.
- Missions to East Timor, Georgia: In May 2004, as part of the CD East Timor Initiative, the United States and Portugal led a delegation of democracy practitioners from nine countries to East Timor to meet with their counterparts working to strengthen and consolidate democratic institutions in this new democracy. The Romanian Government led a similar mission in February 2005 to Tbilisi, Georgia.
- Political Party Workshop: In March 2004, the Governments of Chile and Italy held a seminar in Santiago, Chile entitled “Political Parties and Democratic Governance,” which focused on the role of political parties in strengthening democratic values and institutions.
- Diplomat’s Handbook: In June 2008, the CD-commissioned Diplomat’s Handbook for Democracy Development Support was released. The Handbook provides a valuable toolbox for diplomats seeking to promote freedom by engaging with civil society and NGOs in countries where democracy has yet to take hold.
- UN Democracy Fund: The CD and various member states actively support the Democracy Fund, which was established in July 2005. The Democracy Fund provides support for democratization by financing projects that build and strengthen democratic institutions, promote human rights, and ensure the participation of all groups in democratic processes.
- Supporting Civil Society and NGOs: On October 6, 2006, the Convening Group issued a statement expressing concern about restrictive legislation in various countries aimed at undermining the protection of human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In March 2007, speaking to the UNHRC on behalf of the Convening Group, the Philippine delegation affirmed the important role of civil society and NGOs in promoting democratic principles and respect for human rights. At the Bamako Ministerial in November 2007, the CD reemphasized the key role that civil society plays in promoting and strengthening democratic institutions and urged countries to allow NGOs to carry out their activities without intimidation.
- Statement on Belarus: On April 29, 2005, participants in the Regional Roundtable for Europe at the Santiago Ministerial issued a statement expressing deep concern about the persistent lack of democracy in Belarus and condemning the detention of and use of force by Belarusian authorities against pro-democracy demonstrators. The statement urged Belarus to release the protestors immediately.
- Statement on Burma: On June 17, 2003, the Convening Group of the CD issued a statement condemning the continued detention of democratic leader of Burma and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and demanding the release of Mrs. Suu Kyi and other Burmese democratic political leaders.
Bamako Outcomes: Looking Forward
- Executive Secretariat: At the Bamako Ministerial in November 2007, the CD agreed to establish a CD Permanent Secretariat in Warsaw, Poland. In June 2008, Polish Professor Bronislaw Misztal was confirmed by the CD Convening Group as the Executive Director of the Permanent Secretariat. The Secretariat will play a valuable role in helping the CD coordinate its democracy promotion and human rights activities.
- Invitation process: In the lead-up to the 2007 Bamako Ministerial, the Convening Group used the recommendations of the International Advisory Committee (IAC), a non-governmental panel of experts, to consider invitations to the ministerial conference. The Convening Group invited 125 countries as participants and 20 countries as observers. The CD will continue working with the IAC as it refines the invitation process for future ministerials.
- Next Steps: The Bamako Consensus outlined various areas for further work, including fostering democracy education initiatives, promoting internet freedom, strengthening adherence to UN-endorsed election observation principles, supporting transitioning democratic countries, encouraging democratic governance as an essential means to reduce poverty, and building private-sector partnerships to promote democracy.