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At OAS, Regional Organizations Hold Dialogue on their Role in Consolidating Democracy

  April 15, 2011

The role of regional organizations in the consolidation of democracy and the challenges to overcome in the American and African countries were the central axes of a discussion held today in the headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, DC, with the participation of OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert R. Ramdin, and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping, among others.

The Forty-fourth Lecture Series of the Americas, titled, “Regional Perspectives on Democracy: Celebrating Ten Years of the Inter-American Democratic Charter,” was held in the context of the First Meeting of the Inter-Regional Dialogue on Democracy, an event held at OAS headquarters in Washington, DC on April 14 and 15 and co-organized with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) with the objective of serving as a platform to create a commitment between and among regional organizations in the world on democracy and related subjects.

Assistant Secretary General Ramdin asserted that the tenth anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter “provides an opportunity for debate throughout the year about the kind of democracy that we in the Americas want for ourselves,” and added that the said document “is the most important document in the modern history of our region.”

In this sense, he recalled that “to be called democratic, a government must not only be elected democratically, but also govern democratically. In other words, democracy extends beyond the electoral or political activity. It touches on institutions, separation of state powers, the independence of the judiciary in combating corruption, respect for minorities, respect for all citizens, the rule of law, respect for opposing views and in general, the way we live our daily lives”.

In the ten years since the countries of the Americas committed themselves to the Inter-American Charter, important progress has been achieved, said the second in command at the hemispheric Organization. “Our regional efforts to consolidate democracy as the reigning form of government have paid off. Our region is experiencing an unprecedented period of democratic growth despite certain factors that complicate its consolidation. There is not only more but better democracy today than there was two or three decades ago”.

Among the greatest achievements, Ambassador Ramdin mentioned successes in “the way democracy originates, rather in its day to day exercise.” As examples, he mentioned seven presidential elections in Latin America over the course of the last year and a half in Uruguay, Honduras, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia and Brazil, which were “by and large free of fraud, and their results have been respected, which is a sign of maturity of our democracies.”

For his part, the Chairman of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping, asserted that the African Charter on Democracy, Governance and Elections, adopted by the AU Heads of State and Government in 2007, “is one of the clearest and most decisive indicators of AU Member States’ collective commitment to non-indifference, democracy and good governance.” Furthermore, since the establishment of the African Union, its Member States “have demonstrated a commitment towards a regional and collective approach to democracy building and consolidation.”

Nevertheless, the African continent faces various challenges, the Chairman continued. “The principal governance challenge facing Africa is how to enhance a self-nourishing relationship between authority, accountability and responsibility,” he asserted. “This is important in reconstituting African politics from being a zero sum to a positive sum game, characterized by reciprocal behavior and legitimate relations between the governors and the governed.”

Strong institutions are essential in democracy building and consolidation, he said. “Democracy is much more than electing leaders periodically through competitive elections. It is about acceptance of a culture that institutionalizes certain basic freedoms and liberties: freedom of association, assembly, expression of ideas and political organization; and property rights. Democracy is about affording the individual the possibility and hope of change, that is, change they can trust in.”

Similarly, Ping asked what regional organizations can do, and in particular the one he heads, to make progress on these issues. In this line of thought, he shared three of the issues that are “of primary importance” to the AU Commission: “enhancing the capacity and effectiveness of collective response”; “reforming the global governance architecture, such as the United Nations Security Council, is imperative in optimizing AU response to addressing governance challenges”; and he asked “what can the AUC learn from other regional organizations in the promotion of democracy building and consolidation?”

Finally, he congratulated the OAS for the tenth anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and recalled that regional organizations ought to continue to work jointly to learn and mutually support each other, and described the OAS as “a beacon of hope and has always been a fountain of solidarity.”

The Secretary General of International IDEA, Vidar Helgesen, who participated on the panel in the Lecture Series, offered a general and comparative vision of the role of regional organizations in the strengthening of democracy. In his intervention, he highlighted some of the problems shared by countries around the world in the context of strengthening democracy and good governance, and insisted on the importance of the role of regional organizations and the possibility of sharing experiences and best practices.

“There is much to gain from the kind of collaboration between regional organizations that we see expressed here today,” he said, and explained that regional organizations have assumed a greater role in guaranteeing peace and security through their efforts to consolidate democracy and strengthen democratic institutions, since “sustained peace and security need to be underpinned by strong democratic institutions and processes.”

Finally, he said that “on this basis we are faced with a lot of exciting opportunities for deepened cooperation between regional organizations. The array of challenges pointed to are indeed challenges that are shared and therefore sharing also mechanisms and ideas for addressing such challenges at the level of norms, political engagement and practical assistance is something of a higher value.”

Ambassador Gillian Bristol, Chair of the OAS Permanent Council and Permanent Representative of Grenada to the Organization, offered introductory remarks, and Irene Klinger, Director of the OAS Department of International Affairs, moderated the question and answer session.

A gallery of photos of the event are available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-630/11