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UN: New Democracy Fund Sets Priorities

A woman votes in Iraq's December 2005 legislative elections (epa) The United Nations Democracy Fund held its inaugural meeting in New York on March 6. The new organization was launched by world leaders last year in what was billed as a bid to bolster democratic initiatives around the globe.

PRAGUE, March 7, 2006 (RFE/RL) – U.S. President George W. Bush initially proposed creating a UN Democracy Fund in a speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2004.

Bush said democracy needed to be helped around the world, especially the institutions that are crucial to its survival, such as a free press, independent courts, trade unions, and political parties.

Washington, he said, stood ready to back the initiative with money.

$41 Million And Counting

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan agreed with the plan and established the fund in June 2005. World leaders officially endorsed the new body at their UN summit in September 2005.

A total of 26 countries have pledged $41 million for the new initiative. The United States and India are the largest contributors, each promising $10 million.

On 6 March, the UN Democracy Fund’s 17-member advisory board met for the first time, to discuss how to administer that money and the millions more it hopes will flow into its coffers.

Although no final decisions have been reached, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric described for a briefing on March 6 how the money is likely to be spent.

"The secretary-general sees the fund as an innovative and flexible mechanism for advancing the UN democracy agenda," Dujarric said. "The fund will support projects aimed at consolidating and strengthening democratic institutions and processes, such as the drafting of constitutions and the development of pluralistic media."

'No Single Model Of Democracy'

Aside from a small office, the UN Democracy Fund intends to keep a low overhead. Instead, the money it receives will be disbursed through existing UN organizations, such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) or the UN Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR).

The fund’s charter says “no single model of democracy” will be endorsed and “under no circumstances” will any activities undertaken by the fund be imposed on a country.

Countries will be expected to bid for funding themselves, presenting projects they believe are worthy of support.

According to Dujarric, the advisory board will give priority to helping set up or strengthen the institutions that underpin democracy.

"It will fund projects designed to empower civil society, strengthen the rule of law, increase popular participation and ensure that people are able to exercise their democratic rights," he said.

Expanding The World's 'Democracy Club'

One interesting note is that many of the fund’s contributors are themselves new members of the “democracy club.”

They include Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, as well as South Africa and Sri Lanka.

Benin’s ambassador to the UN, Bodehouse Simon Idoou, who sits on the fund’s advisory board, says he hopes projects in what he called “young democracies” will be funded first.