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World Benefits From Expansion Of Democracy

World Benefits from Expansion of Democracy

The world is benefiting from the expansion of democracy and stands to gain even more through greater stability as democracy and development spread in the future, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte said November 15.

Addressing the Community of Democracies ministerial forum in Bamako, Mali, Negroponte said: "In roughly the past 25 years, the number of democracies in our world has nearly tripled. People of every race, every religion and every region of the world are now realizing their aspirations for democracy and the rule of law. Where it is blocked we see conflict, violence and impoverishment.

"Here in Africa," he added, "a democratic awakening has helped put an end to decadelong conflict in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola and Mozambique." Peacekeeping efforts in Sudan and Somalia continue, he said, "on the presumption that increased security will help pave the way for democratic elections."

The Community of Democracies is an intergovernmental organization of democracies and democratizing countries committed to strengthening and deepening democratic norms and practices worldwide. It has one component made up of government representatives and a nongovernmental component comprising civil society organizations who meet as a group at biennial ministerial conferences.

Negroponte paraphrased President Bush, saying democratic nations were gathered at the four-day Mali forum to protect and promote "'the non-negotiable demands of human dignity.'"

"Our policy," he said, "is based on the belief that all human beings are born free, equal in dignity and possessing basic human rights.

"Advancing these principles is not only morally right; it is a strategic and practical interest for us all," he said.

While every nation must find the particular form of democracy that works best for its people, Negroponte said, there are necessary elements: freedom of expression and assembly, an inclusive social dialogue, effective checks and balances and respect for the rule of law.

He acknowledged that the road to democracy often is not easy: "We are mindful of the difficulties. There are no shortcuts."

Recalling earlier stops on his Africa trip, Negroponte said that in Cote d'Ivoire, "once warring factions have agreed to a road map, that, if implemented, will return their country to democracy."

He said that while in Burkina Faso, he spoke with President Blaise Campaore, the author of the Ivorian peace accords, about how the international community can work together to encourage Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo to move quickly on implementation.

He told the delegates that in Nigeria, which he also visited prior to his arrival in Bamako, "flawed elections drew international condemnation and raised legitimate questions about the incoming government."

Despite those factors, however, Negroponte said he departed Abuja "encouraged by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's respect for the rule of law and for the results of an independent electoral commission. He has, so far, been faithful to his public commitment to support good governance and transparency."

Negroponte said that in both Nigeria and Cote D'Ivoire, he spoke with representatives of a vibrant civil society and a free press. "They spoke to me of people's frustration with violence and corruption, and of their desire for good governance and prosperity. Like all nations, Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire have made missteps on their democratic journeys, but their journeys continue as the leaders of both countries acknowledge the need for reform. We must help them and support them, and I look forward to the future when we can welcome them to this community of democracy."

In addition, he called on the delegates in Bamako to help those countries "where elections threaten to be a mere tool for accumulating power -- where leaders have sought to use their mandate from the voters to eliminate checks and undermine democratic institutions.

"Democracy is rule by laws and institutions, not by individuals," he said. "It does not concentrate power in one person or office. It does not shut down the press and use guns to overwhelm its opponents. It does not shut down NGOs and civil society. We must remind those who are elected democratically that they have a responsibility, to their people and to the international community, to govern democratically. And if they do not, then responsible democracies everywhere must hold them accountable."

Negroponte acknowledged that progress is being made in using the Community of Democracies as a platform for promoting democratic values and best practices.

He noted that the United States is supporting democratic development through its Millennium Challenge Corporation initiative. "We are channeling our foreign assistance to responsible leaders who govern justly, advance economic freedom and invest in their people," he said.

Negroponte pledged to "continue to speak out" where there has been little or no progress in establishing democracy: in Burma, where the entire world has been "shocked" by the ongoing repression of peaceful monks and demonstrators; in Cuba, where the Castro regime "has never delivered on its promises of economic prosperity, individual liberty and human rights," and in Zimbabwe, where the Mugabe government is "desperately clinging to power, even as it drives the economy into the ground."

But noting the unity exemplified in the forum, he said he looks ahead with optimism and confidence.


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