Regional Groups Key to Building Community of Democracies

By Eric Green
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - Regional and inter-regional cooperation lies at the “very heart” of the Community of Democracies, the State Department’s Paula Dobriansky says, referring to the coalition of countries created in 2000 to promote and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide.

Speaking July 12, Dobriansky, under secretary of state for democracy and global affairs, stressed the importance of regional cooperation in reinforcing “core principles of democracy.” In addition, she said, a “democratic bridge” between regions is crucial in supporting fair and impartial electoral observation missions worldwide, promoting human rights and fostering civil society.

Democratic bridges are essential in the face of a recent “pushback” against civil and human rights defenders globally, such as in Venezuela and Zimbabwe, she said.

Dobriansky spoke on the second and final day of a “Democracy Bridge Forum” between the Organization of American States (OAS) and the African Union (AU), held at OAS headquarters in Washington. The forum focused on applying the tenets of the OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter and the AU’s Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. The OAS adopted its charter in September 2001 and the African group its charter in January 2007. (See related article.)

Dobriansky said the forum is a direct outcome of an April 2005 Community of Democracies ministerial conference in Santiago, Chile, where participants expressed their commitment to strengthening democracy worldwide. The group’s fourth ministerial conference is scheduled for November in Bamako, Mali.

Although the Community of Democracies is still relatively new, Dobriansky said, the group has made “considerable progress” in building what she called the “architecture of democracy.” She said the organization can serve as a “cornerstone” for a global network of democratic states and regional and inter-regional groupings that share similar values in working toward common goals.

Dobriansky said the community also backed the creation of the U.N. Democracy Fund, which was formed at the suggestion of President Bush to help established democracies support new democracies and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide. Since its inception in 2005, the fund has provided about $36 million in direct grants to more than 120 projects globally, with a particular emphasis on supporting nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in emerging democracies, she said. (See related article.)

The Democracy Fund, in turn, supports the International Center for Democratic Transition, an initiative which arose from the 2005 Santiago meeting, Dobriansky said. Based in Hungary, the center provides guidance to countries making the transition to democracy.

In applauding the center’s creation, President Bush said in a May 2005 speech that established democracies “must help the world's newest democracies succeed. The United States will continue to call upon our friends and allies across the world to help in this noble cause.” (See related article.)

The United States, said Dobriansky, strongly urges the OAS and the AU to become partners with the U.N. Democracy Fund and the Center for Democratic Transition. She said both initiatives show “great potential” in supporting democracies in the Americas, Africa and elsewhere.

As “democratic governments and societies, we must support and protect freedom of expression,” Dobriansky told her audience. She said the Community of Democracies has “pledged to foster positive environments for civil society, both domestically and internationally,” and that through such actions, “regional organizations like the OAS and the AU are very essential in encouraging civil society to take action against those who seek to curtail and abuse” fundamental freedoms.


OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza told the forum that the most crucial challenges facing his region are economic growth, poverty and social inequality, and the increase in crime.

The secretary-general said free and fair elections are not enough to make a government truly democratic. Governments, he said, also must be able to provide for freedom of the press, respect for human rights and citizen participation.

Alpha Oumar Konaré, chair of the African Union, said his region does not lack resources, yet it is the poorest continent in the world. Nations “need to promote the values that we know will make a difference: the values of democracy, the respect of the rule of law and the respect of liberty,” Konaré said.

Abdoulaye Diop, chair of the convening group of the Community of Democracies, pointed to concrete benefits citizens derive from democracy, such as the encouragement of stability and good governance. Diop, also Mali’s ambassador to the United States, said the group hopes to use the results from the OAS-AU conference in a final document that will be issued at the Mali event in November.

Additional information on the Community of Democracies is available on the State Department Web site.