Monday, October 06, 2008

"Advancing Democracy through the United Nations" Panel Discussion

On October 2, the United Nations Development Program Roundtable series held a panel discussion called Advancing Democracy through the United Nations: The Challenges on the Ground. The panelists at the event included: Erica Barks-Ruggles, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Douglas Gardner, Deputy Director of the Bureau for Development Policy at the UNDP, and Harold Hongju Koh, who is the Dean and Gerard C. & Bernice Latrobe Smith Professor of International Law at Yale. Each panelist offered a unique perspective concerning the current state of democracy initiatives being undertaken by the United Nations, and offered a balance of opinions from those involved in the field, the scholastic realm and government of development policy.

Erica Barks-Ruggles, of the Department of State, discussed the U.S. government perspective regarding advancing democracy in a multilateral system. She stressed that promoting democracy is linked with conflict resolution, poverty alleviation and is vital to American foreign policy interests. She noted that democratic governance is far more important than ‘just holding elections’, but that a truly responsible elected body is necessary. Secretary Ruggles made it clear that a strong judiciary (along with a capable civil society) is key in advancing the goals of democracy.

Next, Douglas Gardner was to speak, and focused his time discussing the importance of the legitimacy of the international community through the United Nations. He said such legitimacy is ‘indispensible in achieving democratic goals’ and that human development should be the prime measure of success. The way to achieve this success, according to Deputy Director Gardner, is the Millennium Development Goals.

Finally, Harold Hongju Koh finished the panel discussion by offering his perspective on democracy advancement through the context of someone in the academic field. Dean Koh reaffirmed that the U.N. has done amazing work in the field, but has been working under a huge handicap, thanks in part to the attitude of the current administration. He predicts that much of that handicap will be alleviated come inauguration day 2009. Concerning the future of democratic advancement through the U.N., he made it clear that cooperation among global democracies is vital, especially as far as transnational problems are concerned (terrorism, disease etc.).

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