1. A start outside the United Nations
  2. A new profile for the world organization
  3. Democracy, but no models
  4. A "Code of Democratic Conduct"?
  5. Promoting and consolidating democracy
  6. Perspectives

Top of the document 1. A start outside the United Nations

The history of democracy is a long one, but not in the United Nations context. When the victors in WWII drafted the Charter, they could not lay down in it anything like democracy as such, although the issue of human rights was central in the whole construction of the post-war era. As the United Nations system developed simultaneously with its use as an arena for the Cold War type of ideological confrontation, there was no way to bring democracy on its agenda, implicitly or explicitly. That is why a clear movement in the promotion of democratic values started outside the United Nations.

The first step in this direction was the International Conference of Newly Restored Democracies that took place in the Philippines in 1988, with the participation of 16 countries, mostly from Latin America. We would never overstate the importance of that Conference despite the modest participation. Its great merit is that it brought to the fore a new sort of international missionarism in favour of democracy. Subsequently, the seed planted in Manila has gradually produced fruit.

The Second International Conference of New or Restored Democracies held in Managua, Nicaragua, in 1994, led to the endorsement by the 54 participants of a comprehensive Plan of Action for democracy. A very important result was that their message to the international community was so strong that the United Nations General Assembly included on its agenda at the 49th session a permanent item that has to do with democracy. For the first time in the history of the organization, the General Assembly examined an item intitled "Support by the United Nations system of the efforts of governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies". A series of relevant resolutions has followed , which actually consecrated a role that the United Nations has to play in this realm.

Top of the document 2. A new profile for the world organization

Certainly, while welcoming this development, the Secretary General in his first report on the new item, in 1995, felt compelled to say cautiously that "the United Nations system, in assisting and supporting the efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies does not endorse or promote any specific form of government". Nevertheless, subsequent developments have proved that this emerging trend was encouraged and supported by many countries. The interest of Member States has overcome some understandable inertia.

The new trend was reinforced by the third International Conference of New or Restored Democracies that was hosted by Romania in 1997 (2-4 September). Almost eighty countries were represented as well as numerous non-governmental organizations. The political document adopted to which both governments and NGOs contributed made disapear the political hesitation still present in some UN bodies at that time. It pointed out that there is "an almost universal recognition that a democratic system of government is the best model to ensure a framework of liberties for lasting solutions to the political, economic and social problems that our societies face".

Top of the document 3. Democracy, but no models

Yet, the word "model" is not very agreeable to many, precisely because it implies an existing paradigm, which is automatically associated, in turn, with the Western type of democracy. As a matter of fact the UN Secretary-General in his report of 1995, already quoted, says "Democracy is not a model to be copied from certain States, but a goal to be attained by all peoples and assimilated by all cultures. It may take many forms, depending on the characteristics and circumstances of societies". Which is true. Yet, no one can deny that beyond any possible variety of expressions of the notion of democracy, there should be some basics.

It was Romania the country that tried to acquire acceptance by the international community, in its capacity as Chair of the third International Conference of New or Restored Democracies, for a set of such basics. The Secretary-General of the United Nations in his report to the 52nd General Assembly welcomed the guidelines, principles and recommendations adopted by the Bucharest Conference and acknowledged "the gradual new thinking " emerging from it.

Among other recommendations one aimed at establishing a follow-up mechanism. The United Nations system was ready to form a part of it. Moreover, on 21 November 1997, the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in this respect, the resolution 52/18 by consensus and with the support of eighty co-sponsors, representing new or traditional democracies from all continents. The General Assembly invited the Secretary-General, Member States, the relevant specialized agencies and bodies of the UN system, as well as other intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to contribute actively to the follow-up process. Indeed, pursuing a very innovative and participatory scheme, a follow-up mechanism was set up in New York, with the representation of Governments, United Nations bodies, academic and non-governmental organizations.

Before long, some follow-up measures were brainstormed and proposed in this mechanism. On 22 September 1998, a Ministerial Meeting of the New or Restored Democracies took place in New York. On that occasion, the Romanian Foreign Minister, as Chairman, was in a position to report that some of the proposals took shape (a questionnaire on the needs and lessons learned in the area of democratization, a database inventory covering entities that were undertaking projects or activities related to the same field, a website dedicated exclusively to democratization and governance, the start of a permanent and informal framework for dialogue on the democratic process called "Democracy Forum". He also announced the intention of presenting, during the following year, a draft "Code of Democratic Conduct".

Top of the document 4. A "Code of Democratic Conduct"?

That was no easy thing to do. As a matter of fact, very few participants sincerely believed that indeed a UN body would ever endorse a Code of Democratic Conduct.

However, in less than one year, Romania came up with a first draft of a Code of Democratic Conduct. In July 1999, the draft was presented to all UN Members with the clearly stated intention to present it for approval to the General Assembly, at its 54th session. The aim of the document was briefly characterized by Romania as "recommending a basic set of norms of democratic conduct for Governments in the exercise of power (free, fair and competitive elections, separation of powers, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, strengthening the rule of law and appliance of practices of good governance, increasing participation of civil society in the development of democracy and enhancing social cohesion and solidarity)" .

The ambition of the text was therefore to go beyond repetition of human rights norms, and to give a more complete description of a democratic conduct, with all organic interconnections among crucial dimensions of the social and political life in a sustainable democratic society. After some negotiation exercise the draft resolution rapidly attracted the support of sixty states as co-sponsors. The excellent start made the co-sponsors believe that consensus was possible. However, the idea of "codifying" democratic behaviour and giving it the high authority of the General Assembly did not work at the beginning. Since for Romania and the co-sponsors the aim was a consunsus resolution, they withdrew voluntarily the draft resolution, waiting for the idea to come of age.

Top of the document 5. Promoting and consolidating democracy

Not for long, since very soon after the end of the regular session, Romania and other countries felt that completing the initiative could greatly contribute to the confirmation of a genuine trend in the world in favour of democracy. Romania presented a draft resolution in the Commission on Human Rights in its April 2000 session. It used an excellent way paved by a breakthrough resolution on promotion of right to democracy adopted the previous year . The resolution was entitled: "Promoting and consolidating democracy".

Although the Commission on Human Rights has less members that the UN General Assembly, the new resolution was co-sponsored by sixty countries. This time the co-sponsors firmly went to vote. Resolution 2000/47 was adopted by 45 votes in favour, zero against and 8 abstentions. Beside this expression of clear support, an unusual fact happened.

Based on this new impetus, Romania presented a similar text to the third Committee of the General Assembly, at its 55th session. On 4th December 2000, the General Assembly adopted, by an overwhelming majority, a resolution also entitled "Promoting and consolidating democracy" , as result of extensive negotiations based on the text previously adopted in Geneva. Hopefully, the resolution will become a point of reference for future assessments of the genuine nature of the democratic transformation of the governance throughout the world.

Top of the document 6. Perspectives

Romania believes it is worth continuing international inter-action around the issue of promoting democracy within the framework of the United Nations which has legitimacy and competence to contribute through its means to democratization in its Member States.

It is very important to note that the approach which led to the adoption of resolution "Promoting and Consolidating Democracy" has the great comparative advantage of emerging from the young democracies themselves, although traditional democracies also participated in the whole exercise as observers to the conferences and in the negotiation of the resolution. From this perspective, the arguments about the "model" imposed lose relevance;

In the context of the United Nations one of the merits that add value to the resolution "Promoting and consolidating democracy" is that the entire new thinking on the issue of democracy has gone beyond the traditional lines of the North-South differences in the United Nations and it is based on shared values.

There is room to move forward by developing subjects of common interest for both young and consolidated democracies. While it is obvious that the needs and means of the two groups differ very much, their perception of fighting for the same goal of strengthening a functioning and effective democracy is, politically, very important. If this aspiration is sincerely pursued in a concerted manner, the democracy will turn into a common good of global relevance.

The developments that have taken place and have given more concrete shape to the commitments of Governments to preach and practice democracy are meaningful and encouraging. Above all, this trend is explainable not only in terms of geopolitical changes but also, and perhaps more, in terms of the genuine will of societies. This assertion implies that the new place democracy has now among other priorities of the United Nations should be constantly and systematically enhanced.

Top of the documentBack to main issues