21 February 2001


NEW YORK, 21 February (UN Headquarters) – Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, delivered on his behalf by his Special Adviser on Africa, Ibrahim Gambari, to the Community of Democracies Seminar in Washington, D.C., on 21 February:

I am pleased to convey my best wishes to the participants in this seminar on a subject of great importance to the work of the United Nations.

The United Nations efforts in promoting democracy are based on a set of key principles drawn from the lessons of past decades, and seek to provide a universal basis for the success of democratic rule.

First, democracy and the rule of law are inseparably connected. Democracy strengthens respect for the rule of law by making the people the ultimate source of legal authority. And democracy depends on the rule of law, because without respect for the rule of law it is not possible to hold free and fair elections. A strong, independent judiciary is essential as well. The United Nations governance programmes have given support to countries in need of assistance in this field.

Second, democracy implies majority rule. However, this does not mean that minorities can or should be excluded from the exercise of power. The minority must always be free to state its case, and to have its case considered freely and openly.

Third, democracy needs a free and vigorous mass media. For an election to be truly fair, different parties and candidates should have equal access to the media, and should be equally open to its scrutiny. Neither state power nor the power of money should determine that one party gets a hearing, while another is denied it.

Fourth, democratization is an essential part of the development process. That is why we have come to understand that our work for development has to focus on issues of governance. War is the worst enemy of development, and broad-based development is the best form of long-term conflict prevention. Almost all the work of the United Nations is aimed, one way or another, at breaking the vicious cycle of deprivation and conflict, and replacing it with a virtuous cycle of development and peace.

Fifth, democratization gives people a stake in society. The importance of this process can hardly be overstated, for unless people feel that they have a true stake in society, lasting peace will not be possible and sustainable development will not be achieved. It is vital that all segments of society be able to participate in decision-making, at the national, regional and local levels.

Sixth, creating a democracy involves much more than holding elections. Elections should be organized within the broader context of a comprehensive strategy aimed at creating stronger, democratic national institutions.

Seventh, unconstitutional changes of government or attempts at outright subversion of democracy must be condemned consistently and universally. Recent attempts to legitimize the illegal seizure of power through flawed, unfair and un-free elections should be seen for what they are.

An important element in strengthening democratic processes is to promote the emergence of a culture of human rights. The United Nations treaty-based human rights system provides a normative basis for the implementation and monitoring of human rights in all countries around the world, including countries in transition to democracy. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provides advisory services and technical assistance for educational campaigns, and for the preparation of national reports to be submitted to the United Nations human rights treaty bodies.

The United Nations has supported the efforts of groups of Member States in their initiatives aimed at promoting democracy. Since 1988, four conferences of new or restored democracies have been held in Manila, Managua, Bucharest and Cotonou, to explore ways to identify and put in place democratic ideals, mechanisms and institutions. The most recent of these -- and the first to be held in Africa -- was open to all countries of the United Nations. I hope the Community of Democracies will establish a complementary and mutually reinforcing process with the new and restored democracies movement, to promote democratization around the world.

Your movement -- Community of Democracies -- has a unique ability to mobilize political will among the democracies of the world. I applaud your efforts to anchor democracy where it is fledgling and protect it where it is endangered, and I wish you all success in your deliberations.


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