office of the Summit Follow-up - OAS

 

Presentation by Elizabeth Spehar, Executive Coordinator of 
the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, GS/OAS 

February 18, 2000

I am pleased to be here today to report on the contributions of the OAS General Secretariat, through its Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, to the fulfillment of the "Democracy" mandates of the Second Summit of the Americas, held in Santiago, Chile in 1998.

In the sub-chapter on Democracy and Human Rights of the Santiago Action Plan, it states that "governments will also enhance cooperation with and support for the activities of the OAS in order to (Ö) Support states that so request in the processes of promoting and consolidating democratic values, practices and institutions by strengthening the respective organs of the Organization, including the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy."

The Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (UPD) was established at the OAS Secretariat in 1990, with the explicit purpose of assisting Member States in the strengthening of their democratic institutions and practices. Now beginning its tenth year of operations, the Unit has progressively evolved to support in a multitude of ways the process of democratic development in the hemisphere, and represents a vital complement to the political actions of the Member States to guarantee the preservation of democracy in the Americas. Since the first Miami Summit of the Americas in 1994, the Unitís work has increasingly been guided by the mandates and orientations of the Summit process as it refers to democracy.

The UPD is the entity within the OAS General Secretariat which is responsible for the organization and undertaking of the OASís electoral observation missions. Since its inception, the UPD has undertaken approximately 50 electoral observation missions in more than half of the OAS member states, in response to requests from member governments. Since the last Summit to the present, the UPD has continued to refine its electoral observation methodology which, given the advances in technology used by an increasing number of electoral bodies in the hemisphere, has implied the organization of missions with strong technical expertise in areas such as information systems. Also, given the evolution of electoral processes in the hemisphere and the current nature of the weaknesses or potential problems during an election, OAS missions have increasingly emphasized monitoring of the pre- and post-election day phases. During the past two years, the UPD carried out electoral observation missions in nine countries of the Caribbean, Central America and South America, helping to increase public confidence in electoral processes, promote election transparency and providing specific recommendations to electoral authorities on improvements for future electoral processes.

The technical assistance provided to electoral bodies in the hemisphere by the UPD has also been beneficial in assisting Member States in strengthening and improving their electoral systems and procedures. Since the Santiago Summit, the Unit has consolidated its support for the institutional modernization and strengthening of electoral entities, the installation of modern systems of electoral information and documentation, preparation of legislative reforms in this area, and civic education and training to promote citizensí participation. During the past several years, the Unit has undertaken such activities in countries such as Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama and Paraguay. Over the past few years, the Unit has particularly advanced in the development of software for the secure and efficient automation of various aspects of electoral processes, in support of the modernization of electoral systems in the Americas, as well as computer programs that improve the level of quality and efficiency of civil registry services. Support for civil registries has been undertaken in countries such as Belize, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, St. Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The Unit has also begun to sponsor and generate studies in the field of electoral systems as well as organize international seminars on current electorally-related themes, with a view to contributing to the creation and exchange of knowledge in this field.

As we all know, elections alone do not guarantee a full and viable democracy. Healthy democratic institutions and a solid democratic political culture are key in the maintaining and consolidation of democratic gains. To that end, the UPD has worked on several fronts to strengthen the institutions of civil society and government, and to promote democratic values and practices in countries of the hemisphere.

With the objective of promoting inter-parliamentary cooperation and legislative modernization, and the strengthening of the relationship between legislatures and the citizenry, the Unit has collaborated with national legislatures, regional parliaments, and academic and other civic institutions of the Member States to generate new knowledge and expertise in this field, to exchange experiences on legislative problems and challenges, and to create electronic information networks among legislatures of the region. Much of this work has been undertaken on a sub-regional basis, in cooperation with entities such as the Forum of Presidents of the Legislative Powers of Central America and the Dominican Republic (FOPREL), the Andean Parliament, the University of the West Indies (UWI), the Joint Parliamentary Commission of MERCOSUR, and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIDH). In this framework, the Unit has contributed to the undertaking of research, seminars, publications and regional courses on subjects such as parliamentary conduct and civil society, probity and ethics in legislatures, legislative technique and legislative modernization, the role of the legislative power in democracy and integration processes, among others.

Another area of endeavour, also related directly to Summit Mandates regarding the strengthening of municipal and regional administrations and civil society, is the Unitís work in the field of decentralization policy, local government and the promotion of citizensí participation at the local level. Since I spoke extensively on our work in this field at last yearís meeting of this Committee, when progress on the Strengthening of Municipal and Regional Administrations was reviewed, I will simply recall that the UPD attempts to contribute to the knowledge base and to the exchange of experiences by Member States on these issues, particularly with regard to normative frameworks, current challenges and best practices. This is done on a sub-regional basis, in collaboration with an extensive group of institutions of the region, and one of the outcomes has been the creation of a Permanent Forum on Decentralization and Citizensí Participation at the Local Level which has already held a first meeting.

With respect to the promotion of democratic values and practices, since the Santiago Summit, the Unit has concentrated much of its efforts in the design and implementation of sub-regional courses for the training of young democratic leaders. These courses, held annually, and on a rotational basis in different countries of the hemisphere, are intended to promote greater knowledge and understanding among young leaders or potential leaders, of the institutions, practices and values inherent in a democracy, as well as to encourage their commitment to these principles and values. The courses are also intended to foster greater communication and exchange about democracy among these young individuals, who are selected from among the ranks of political parties, the media, civic associations, academia and other fields. Course modules include subjects such as the workings of political institutions, democratic values and ethics, as well as training in new methods and skills for practicing democratic politics.

Since 1998, several courses have been undertaken in each of the sub-regions of Central America and the Dominican Republic, the Andean Region, MERCOSUR, and a first course will soon be undertaken in the English-speaking Caribbean. The Unit undertakes these courses in collaboration with institutions of the region, and has benefitted from the participation of a prominent and highly knowledgeable group of professors. The courses have raised great interest and enthusiasm among the young participants, who are now permanently in contact with the Unit and among themselves through the Internet.

In the general area of the exchange of information on democratic development and the stimulation of debate on these issues, the Unit's Democratic Forum series has continued to develop, with the undertaking of workshops and conferences on key issues, held annually at headquarters or elsewhere in the hemisphere. The most recent activities of the Forum include seminars on "OAS Peacebuilding Experiences: Progress Achieved, Lessons Learned in Nicaragua, Haiti and Suriname," and "The Role of Civil Society in the Consolidation of Democracy in the Americas."

The UPD has also made extensive informational resources available to member states through its own webpage as well as through the Political Database of the Americas, developed in conjunction with Georgetown University. The database is comprised of a vast collection of research material and collaborative expertise representing the intellectual and practical diversity of the hemisphere in the field of democracy and political institutions. The Unit's own comprehensive Internet site offers worldwide access to information on its programs and activities.

With regard to the aspect of the "strengthening" of the UPD mentioned in the Santiago Summit language, I can say that concerted efforts have been made in that direction since 1998, in a number of ways. The professional staff at the Unit has increasingly developed its expertise in a number of fields relevant to democracy promotion: electoral systems, decentralization policy and peaceful conflict resolution, to name a few. The organizational and operational structure of the Unit has been refined.The UPD has also managed to strengthen the funding base for its activities, through seeking and capturing external financial resources to supplement the resources available in the Organizationís Regular Fund. This has been possible through the invaluable support of a number of Member and Observer States of the OAS. Given the increasing mandates and activities of the Unit generated by the Summits and by the OAS assemblies, obtaining additional resources has become not only important but indispensable.

In summary, it is clear that while in the Americas, important progress has been made in terms of democratization, there are still many serious challenges to democratic consolidation in the hemisphere. Central to this consolidation will be the on-going strengthening of basic democratic institutions, respect for fundamental rights of all citizens, and the deepening of a solid political democratic culture in the countries of the region. In todayís world, continuing inter-American solidarity and mutual collaboration are also key to preserving democracy and making it thrive in the Americas. In this scenario, the UPD pledges to continue to contribute to these efforts in the most effective way possible, in fulfillment of its fundamental mandate and the Summit mandates on democracy.

I thank you once again for the opportunity to address you this morning.


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