Panel Discussions - Monday, September 16, 2013
Vogt: Democracy Cannot Be Imposed
“As members of the international community, we should not come with preconceived and prefixed concepts of democracy to impose,” said Margaret Vogt, Mediator-in-Residence at the UN Department of Political Affairs. “We should make sure that we work with organic structures and institutions and reinforce those.”
Ms. Vogt was part of a panel on September 16, 2013 organized by the International Peace Institute and the United Nations Working group on Democracy to discuss the centrality to the United Nations work of promoting democratization. Although the word “democracy” famously does not appear in the UN Charter, its development has nevertheless been supported by the three successive secretaries-general as a norm. “Democracy,” Ban Ki-moon said in 2009, “based on the rule of law is ultimately a means to achieve international peace and security, economic and social progress, and development and respect for human rights”—which are the three pillars of the UN’s mission.
“In undertaking peace operations,” Edmond Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told the audience, “the UN has learned that democracy must take root from within.” Mr. Mulet, a former Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti, added an example from his experience in that country, “A peaceful transmission of power from one democratically elected government to another was a condition sine qua non to succeed in broader reconstruction and humanitarian action.”
However, the dangers of limiting the scope of democratization were echoed by several panelists at the IPI discussion. As Michael Doyle, an IPI board member and Chair of the Advisory Board of UN Democracy Fund, said, “If we define democracy just as an election, it can be extremely destabilizing in many circumstances.” He added, “[T]herefore, we have to have a much more comprehensive understating of democracy, defined locally, but that also includes building institutions, building ties across interest groups, not just designed to separate them, [but] helping them define their own norms of governance beyond the events of a single day in a voting booth.”
This task is at the core of UN efforts on the ground towards democratization and realization of the three pillars of the UN’s mission as set out in the Charter. The panelists addressed the need for Parliaments to be truly representative of the whole of the population, not merely the capital, which, when that happens, marginalizes rural peoples.
The panel also discussed issues of legitimacy, security and accountability. “Democracy is a process but fundamental to that process is the presence of certain minimums,” said Ms. Vogt, who is also a former Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic. “How can you stabilize a situation in a security vacuum?”
The processes are further complicated by the fact that UN representatives are not traditional political actors, as Sanaka Samarasinha, UN Development Programme Resident Representative in Belarus, noted, “you don’t have a political role but you deal with political institutions all the time.” One way to the end goal of functional democracies, noted Harriette Williams Bright, New York Representative and Advocacy Officer for Femmes Africa Solidarité, an NGO focused on empowering women in Africa, is through specific groups of the population. “Women are a strong support for change in environments in which they want to live,” she said.
“There is not a unique path towards democracy,” said Mr. Mulet, “and no final destination, either.” The means to achieve democratization, the panel seemed to concur, are neither fixed nor easy, but the ends remain clearer.
The Global Observatory
UN Strikes Back as Conflict Escalates in Mali
To achieve long-term stability, Mali’s leaders and partners will need to think in terms of years of reconstruction and peacebuilding.
Key Global Events to Watch in January
A list of key upcoming meetings and events with implications for global affairs.
2015: Ten Multilateral Events to Watch This Year
A list of ten events that are likely to impact international peace and security in 2015, compiled by IPI’s Francesco Mancini.
The Global Observatory, produced by IPI, provides timely analysis on peace and security issues, interviews with leading policymakers, interactive maps, and more.
January 20, 2015
Mongolian Foreign Policy Between ''Two Giants''
On January 20, Mongolia’s new Foreign Minister Purevsuren Lundeg visited the IPI Vienna office and gave an informal briefing on Mongolia’s contemporary foreign policy priorities and challenges.
January 20, 2015
Dutch FM Koenders: ''The Security Council Has to Change''
Speaking to an overflow IPI audience on January 20th, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders acknowledged how far the United Nations has come since its inception 70 years ago but said that the organization still “has a lot of growing up to do.”
December 15, 2014
Fathi: Iran and the Struggle Between Hardliners and Reformers
Discussing her new book The Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran at IPI on December 15th, author Nazila Fathi said that 35 years after the revolution, Iran is divided between hardliners and a large moderate middle class, but admitted that it is still unclear which of the two sides will gain the upper hand.
September 25, 2014
IPI Remembers Margaret Vogt