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VII Ministerial Meeting of the Community of Democracies": Video Statement to the meeting in Ulaanbaatar, 27-29 April 2013 by Ms. Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Mr President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to address this seventh Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies in Ulaanbaatar, and to acknowledge your important work in supporting democracy around the world.   I regret that I could not join you, and I thank the Government of Mongolia for giving me this opportunity to address you via video. I’m particularly glad to note that the UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of assembly and freedom of association will take part in this meeting. 

This year, we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action by the World Conference on Human Rights. Vienna reaffirmed that democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Interlaced together, they form an architecture that is impressively resilient, for by virtue of its grounding in profound and universal human aspirations, it constitutes the only form of social organization that is truly sustainable.  

Democracy is a notion that arises from popular desire for dignity, justice and liberty, as well as for participation – for a voice. As many of us have experienced, people all over the world clearly manifest -- spontaneously and often with enormous energy -- their desire to see their societies adhere to these fundamental principles, and to establish living conditions that are supportive of human dignity. No governments can, or should, ignore these powerful reminders of their commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But democratization can be a fragile process, as Human Rights Council Resolution 19/36 has pointed out. The essential ingredients of democracy, recently reiterated by the Council, include justice, equality, the right of self-determination, vesting governmental authority in the will of the people through genuine and periodic elections, and the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, expression, peaceful assembly and association, as well as the right to education and to an adequate standard of living.

This definition highlights the fact that true democracy is not limited to the organization of elections. Citizens must control the political process continuously, beyond the electoral moment. And government must integrate the values of responsibility, transparency and accountability.

The principles of the rule of law -- including equality, non-discrimination, the supremacy of the law and the independence and impartiality of the judiciary -- are inseparable from any democratic order. Corruption is a major obstacle to it; indeed, corruption and impunity are in many ways the very definition of a non-democratic society.

At the Council’s request, my office recently prepared a study on “the common challenges facing States in their efforts to secure democracy and the rule of law from a human rights perspective.” The study concludes that challenges to democracy that may endanger human rights can arise in settled democracies, as well as in states transitioning towards democracy. Such challenges include violence, sectarianism, extremism and intolerance, poverty, abuse of power, endemic economic and political corruption, impunity and the curtailment of fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression and information.

In other words, democracy is rendered insecure by lack of empowerment opportunities for all and by encroachments on the rule of law and human rights. These elements are so closely linked as to be functionally inseparable.  For sustained and meaningful democracy, laws must be compliant with human rights, effective mechanisms must exist for checks and balances, and institutions must be independent and strong. And both the rule of law and human rights are necessarily upheld by each other, as well as democracy.

This may sound like a very arduous process. Each of those ingredients is in itself the result of a multiplicity of actions and policies, and may therefore be subject to many kinds of pitfalls. To interlace those elements into a structure that is strong and durable may seem like an exercise that is doomed in advance. 

It is not. It is a process that is joyful and self-rewarding. As communities cast aside the obstructions that have deprived people of volition, dignity and choice, new bonds are created that are ultimately able to sustain far stronger and more successful societies. 

My Office seeks to assist this process through our advisory services and technical cooperation programmes. These programmes focus on strengthening the legal framework for human rights protection via capacity building and institutional and legal reform to build a strong and independent judiciary, as well as representative, efficient and accountable institutions. We also aim to help empower vulnerable and disadvantaged segments of the society through advocacy, awareness raising and human rights education.

Regional and intergovernmental organizations like the Community of Democracies are also important to this process of democratization. You provide a platform, bringing together stakeholders including youth, marginalized groups and all segments of civil society, to complement the work undertaken by national and international structures. Your work develops and strengthens democratic institutions and values by giving a voice to all those who seek to participate in governance. By leveraging your combined resources and expertise to channel assistance to countries in transition, and to civil society, your contribution can help effect real and sustained change.

The World Forum for Democracy, held in Strasbourg in October 2012, and the fifth Bali Democracy Forum, in which I was pleased to participate last November, are also valuable actors that should be encouraged and supported, in order to foster links and assist the work of us all. That is to build democracy, to strengthen the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights. 

Thank you.