Remarks by Dr. Jennifer McCoy, Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Program of The Carter Center, to the September 19, 2000 Meeting of the Summit Management Committee of the Organization of American States

Chairman Peter Boehm, Honorable Ambassadors, assembled guests, I thank you on behalf of The Carter Center for this opportunity to share with you our thoughts with respect to the democracy basket of the 2001 Summit of the Americas that will be celebrated in Quebec, Canada next April. The Summit provides an important opportunity to strengthen democracy in the Western Hemisphere and to reaffirm and deepen the regional democratic consensus that emerged in the 1990s.

The Carter Center and its Council of Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Americas has been active in promoting democracy and transparency in the hemisphere since 1986. We have noted with concern the growing skepticism among citizens in the hemisphere about whether their governments adequately express the will of the people, and whether politicians serve their constituents. In the wake of events such as the January coup in Ecuador and the irreparably flawed election process in Peru, democrats in this hemisphere cannot afford to rest on their laurels, and must instead be proactive in promoting citizen engagement and regenerating healthy democratic institutions.

Before making new commitments, the region’s leaders should take stock of progress in fulfilling the commitments of past Summits. Where promises have not been met, leaders should set firm deadlines for action, and establish compliance mechanisms so that national publics receive regular progress reports with which to measure their governments’ sincerity. I want to endorse the Leadership Council’s call for the 2001 Summit to be the Summit of Implementation. In this vein, the specific recommendations I will make below refer to action items from the Santiago Summit.

Democracy requires accountability of leaders to constituents. This means the ability of constituents to remove leaders through legal means when they don’t perform. We urge that accountability be the theme of the democracy basket.

A strong democracy, however, requires accountability at all levels, not just elected officials. Civil society organizations, political parties, and corporations need to practice internal accountability and responsibility. Governments should focus on transparency, electoral reform, and military accountability. Finally, governments should be held accountable for their international commitments by monitoring compliance with conventions. Credible international repercussions for violations of electoral and human rights can help deter these violations. We need to revisit Resolution 1080 to recognize other kinds of threats to democratic governance short of outright overthrows, and the need for responses to these threats.

I would now like to offer two specific recommendations to strengthen accountability that have emerged from The Carter Center’s practical experience and that build on the Santiago Summit. First, international financial institutions now recognize that corruption hurts the poor disproportionately, and it has damaged popular confidence in democratic institutions. The Carter Center has promoted accountability at the invitation of government leaders in Ecuador, Costa Rica and Jamaica, and last year held a major conference to highlight practical steps to fight corruption. The Santiago Summit urged the adoption of a strategy to achieve prompt ratification of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, which should be signed, ratified and implemented by all nations in the Americas. Now, as an action item for the 2001 Summit, we urge that a follow-up mechanism be established to monitor the implementation of that Convention, and that technical assistance be provided as needed. We welcome the formation of a committee at the Windsor ministerial to recommend such a mechanism.

Second, freedom of expression is a central element of democracy, which the Santiago Summit recognized by recommending establishment of the office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. This was a welcome development, but it is not enough. Access to information is also necessary for transparency, so that reporters can base their stories in facts, and citizens can hold their elected leaders to account at the polls. We urge that the presidents and prime ministers who gather in Quebec launch a regional process for recognizing citizens’ right to information in balance with their right to privacy, and acknowledge governments’ responsibility to provide the broadest possible access to government documents and procedures coherent with the right to privacy and national security. For such rights to be effective we must move beyond the model of governments conceding release of requested materials toward a regional norm under which governments have an affirmative duty to publish public documents, proactively making information available to those with access to the internet and those without it.

Next month The Carter Center will convene a group of current and former presidents and prime ministers, government leaders, policy professionals, scholars, private business men and women, non-governmental organization representatives and media professionals to consider five challenges that the Americas collectively face. These challenges are: (1) ensuring public security; (2) strengthening accountability of armed forces; (3) empowering citizen participation; (4) moderating executive power through institutional balances; and (5) achieving effective representation. A preparatory conference held in Washington last month has provided us a preview of the explicit goals we must achieve to meet these challenges.

Ensuring public security means:

  • Reducing criminality while protecting human rights;
  • Regulating private security forces, obtaining oversight of intelligence services, and eliminating paramilitary forces.
  • Controlling the flow of small and large weapons.

Strengthening accountability in the armed forces means:

  • Obtaining military subordination to civilian governments in every country, including civilian formation of the defense budget and appointment of a civilian defense minister, as well as full government control of arms purchasing decisions.
  • Improving accountability, transparency and anti-corruption measures within the armed forces.
  • Compliance with confidence-building measures to which nations have subscribed internationally, such as reporting armaments to the United Nations.

Empowering citizen participation means:

  • Guaranteeing freedom of expression, including measures to revoke so-called "insult laws" and to protect journalists and whistleblowers from retribution.
  • Strengthening accountability in civil society organizations by encouraging them to democratize in order to better represent their membership, as well as urging them to implement standards of transparency in their finances.
  • Involving the private sector in the democratic enterprise and encouraging corporate responsibility through codes of conduct and other measures.
  • Creating more equal access to justice by making judicial systems more independent of partisan intervention and corruption.

Moderating Executive power means:

  • Making the branches of government and governmental agencies both independent and interdependent.
  • Supporting responsible fiscal decentralization by strengthening local government capacity for providing goods and services.
  • Ensuring transparency in the standard operating procedures through which government operates at all levels, from national to local.
  • Countering impunity through judicial and administrative means.
  • Coordinating the many modes of accountability, from legal measures to deregulation and privatization, media access and elections, to help assure that optimum amounts of accountability are provided and that institutions and individuals are held accountable to the appropriate persons.

Achieving effective representation means:

  • Democratizing political parties, including the temporary vehicles that arise during electoral cycles to support individual candidates, by measures such as internal party elections for candidacies.
  • Creating independent, high-capacity and professional electoral authorities.
  • Modifying systems of representation where they have been shown to render elected politicians unresponsive to the electorate.
  • Assuring campaign fairness, especially in terms of access to and use of the media, use of government resources, and rules for campaign finance.

Some of these goals can be acted upon by citizens, as individuals or in groups. Some may be taken up by governments. Others might be pursued by multilateral organizations. I hope the national summit preparation teams of the governments represented here today will consider these goals and how best to achieve them. The Carter Center’s conference next month will specify possible first steps, recommending practical measures that citizens and governments can cooperate upon to stabilize and deepen democracy in our Hemisphere. In the best spirit of cooperation between non-governmental organizations and the governments charged with safe-guarding the well-being of their citizens, The Center will make those recommendations available to the leaders who will confer in Quebec next spring.

The 2001 Summit provides a welcome opportunity to tap our collective human potential and build solutions for regional development. Together and separately our countries can meet the challenges to democracy and secure our democratic future.

Thank you.


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