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World: Warsaw To Host Democracy Conference

Democratic nations rarely meet as just that -- democratic nations. Rather, they meet more often as economies, as security entities and sometimes as UN representatives. But that all changes next week with a unique ministerial conference scheduled to be held in Warsaw, Poland. RFE/RL's Lisa McAdams reports on the details:

Washington, 21 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The first-ever ministerial meeting of countries representing the world community of democracies is scheduled to be held in Warsaw next week.

Hosted by Poland, the three-day conference (June 25-27), aims to bring together high-ranking officials from more than 100 nations to forge international consensus among countries committed to the democratic path.

The conference will celebrate the growing trend toward establishing democratic governments around the world. It also will examine the critical issue of how this trend might be accelerated and strengthened to deepen democracy where it exists, and to defend it where it is threatened.

The conference is being convened by seven governments including that of Poland, the Czech Republic and the United States. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is scheduled to lead the U.S. delegation. Her assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, Harold Koh, briefed reporters this week in Washington on the overall aims of the conference.

"What will happen, we expect, at this meeting is that the democracies that are gathered will adopt a Warsaw declaration that will lay out the core principles and practices that constitute a universal concept of democracy. Second, the governments gathered will formulate an agenda of continuing cooperation on how to better implement these principles and practices."

Koh rhetorically asked and then answered why a community of democracies should build a community as such among themselves. He said the answer lies in the fact that despite the tremendous growth of democracy during the last quarter century, the state of global democracy remains fragile.

Koh said that since 1974, the number of democracies worldwide has grown from 30 to 120. And while he acknowledged that is a statistic worth celebrating, he said the numbers also tell another more deceptive story. "The irony is that, in the long run, democracy is the most stable form of government but, in the short run, it is one of the most fragile and, therefore, it requires support where it's attempting to take hold. We think it's certainly an achievement to hold free and fair elections where none existed before. At the same time, we've learned that it's a far more difficult achievement to cultivate new democratic values, to build institutions, and to develop the potential of civil society."

Therefore, Koh said the U.S. believes that to accomplish the goal of democratic development, the cooperation of democratic peoples and governments across national borders is required.

Koh said that effort should focus on strengthening cooperation in regional and global organizations and sharing best practices, whether it be in fighting corruption or fostering post-conflict reconciliation.

Koh said the democratic community also should examine how to respond to threats to democracy -- be it coups, flawed elections, or serious erosion of civil and political liberties.

Last but not least, Koh said conference participants should work to build bridges between governmental communities and non-governmental (NGO) communities. And he said that by addressing each one of these areas, the notion of democracy could be crystallized, not just as a common aspiration among nations, but as a global community project.

Koh likened the effort to that of 1945 when, after two world wars, the nations of the world gathered together to decide how best to protect peace and security and human rights.

"What 1945 represents to the global human rights movement, we hope that someday the year 2000 will represent to the global democracy movement, namely a moment where democratic nations gather together after the Cold War to decide how best to nurture the flowering of democracy, through a framework of global cooperation."

But Koh was asked how the U.S. and others participating would deal with nations like Austria, which had EU sanctions imposed against it for its inclusion in the government of a right-wing party regarded as racist and xenophobic. Koh also was asked about Russia, which has been criticized in the West for its ongoing military campaign in breakaway Chechnya. He responded:

"Those countries that have experienced backsliding, we hope that the conference will itself be an occasion to engage them and press them aggressively on the extent to which we found their recent progress to be lacking. And I think, in particular, the goal is to get individual nations to address the common elements of democracy and to look at their own conduct and decide whether their own conduct meets that standard."

Koh said the U.S. believes that far more important than the actual attendees, will be the resulting declarations and conference communiqus. Or, as Koh put it, "what nations will subscribe to by participating."

Koh also stressed that the notions put forward in Warsaw will not end then or there. He said it is hoped that there will be follow-on working group meetings and communiqus and perhaps even another ministerial conference in the future.

Koh characterized the community of democracies conference to a "larger scale contact group on democracy." He also noted that there will be a second, simultaneous conference in Warsaw among non-governmental organizations (NGOs). He said participants in that conference will be discussing how NGO's and civil society can interact with and support a global democratic movement.