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March of Democracy Seen As Unstoppable, says UN Conference


Delegates attending a U.N. conference on democracy have presented evidence of a strong trend toward universal acceptance of democratic values. From U.N. headquarters. The delegates say nations resisting democracy are becoming increasingly isolated.

The one-day seminar on the state of democracy drew several top scholars and political scientists, as well as veterans of democratic struggles such as East Timor's Nobel prize-winning foreign minister Jose Ramos Horta. There was a broad consensus that democracy is on an unstoppable march.

The conference host, U.N. Chief of Staff Mark Malloch Brown, noted that the world body itself had undergone a transformation on the issue of democratic governance. During the Cold War, when the world was divided roughly into two camps, democracy and authoritarianism, it would have been unthinkable for the United Nations to take sides.

Today, however, Mr. Malloch Brown says helping countries build democracies has become "the heart of the work of the United Nations." "Democratic governance is increasingly viewed as a universal value, with the vast majority of U.N. member states seeing democratization as desirable, at least in theory," he said. "And rather than being divided into two camps, democratic states span across the spectrum of where they are in their democratic journey."

Carl Gershman of the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy said he had expected a backlash of authoritarianism after the dramatic expansion of democracy from the 1970s to the early 1990s. He called it remarkable that there had been no reversal of the trend.

"On the contrary, democracy has continued to make advances, most recently with the elections in Indonesia and Afghanistan, the Rose revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the January elections in Palestine and Iraq, and the pressures for change in Egypt, Lebanon and other parts of the once dormant Middle East," he said.

Mr. Gershman referred to a recent survey of world opinion that showed 90 percent support for democracy in Muslim societies, the same figure as in the West.

The democracy advocate said there are only a few dictatorships remaining in the world, most of them in East Asia. In the western hemisphere, there is only one, Cuba.

But he pointed to several other countries where the breakdown of old political structures, compounded by ethnic and religious violence, make them spawning grounds for terrorism. Among those, he listed Somalia, Haiti, Cambodia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq.

On the other hand, Iraq was among those which for the first time sent a delegation to attend the conference, signaling its transformation to democracy. Other first time participants were Gambia, Djibouti, Kenya and Zambia.

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