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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

25 July 2002

While some 140 of the world’s countries now hold multi-party elections, only about 80 of those (which account for about 55 per cent of the world’s population) could be labelled full democracies, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Assistant Administrator Jan Mattson told correspondents at a Headquarters briefing yesterday. The rest still imposed varying limitations on civil and political freedoms. Mr. Mattson described this as a "rather fragile situation".

The briefing was held to launch UNDP’s Human Development Report 2002.

Mr. Mattson said that one aim of the Report was to inform and stimulate debate about development that was people-centred, development that sought to enlarge people’s choices to lead a life that they valued. At the heart of the annual report was the idea that politics mattered for development. The Report argued that people had a right to participate in and influence decisions that affected their lives. And when they were able to exercise such rights, there was potential to improve countries’ prospects for peace and development.

The Report also argued that democracy was both a means to an end and an end in itself, said Mr. Mattson. The five key messages of the report were, first, that there were no excuses for countries to ignore democracy. Democracy was not a luxury of the rich. And there was certainly no evidence that autocracies were more effective than democracies in securing economic growth and other social needs. “There is, however, ample evidence that democracies are better at avoiding crises such as famine and conflict. And democracies are less likely to have civil wars because they offer political space where conflict can be discussed and resolved.”

However, the Report also pointed out that introducing multi-party elections was not an overnight wonder or a “magic silver bullet”, as could be seen from the struggles with inequality in the former Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and certain Latin American countries, as well as the fight against severe poverty in Africa.

The second key message of the Report, he said, was that while democracies had spread tremendously in the last two decades, there were still huge challenges. The Report accordingly discussed how best to build democracy, including institutions for holding elected and other officials accountable. That process might include measures such as strengthening of political parties and electoral systems as such. The third message was the need to strengthen checks on arbitrary powers through the separation of powers, an independent and strong judiciary, rule of law, democratic control of security forces, decentralization, and a vibrant civil society. A free and independent media was given great emphasis in the report.

The fourth message focused on the global implication of democratic principles. Decisions by the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) affected lives around the world. The Report asked how those institutions could develop more democratic and participatory processes, which would make them more efficient and also inspire more trust around the world.

On a different plane, he said, was the important issue of the Millennium Development Goals. There, a picture of a more and more divided world emerged. “In the Report, there’s a goal-by-goal and country-by-country examination of progress”, he said. “There’s a wealth of information. Africa is not doing so well. Of the 33 countries that are on track in less than half the goals, 24 are from sub-Saharan Africa”, he said. In education, most countries monitored were on track. But a full one third of those countries did not really have reliable data. The majority of the world’s people lived in countries that were on track to halve hunger and attain safe water standards. But about one quarter were not on track in either of those areas.

Reducing child mortality was perhaps the area of greatest concern, said Mr. Mattson. Sixty per cent of the people lived in countries that were not on track in that respect. So in spite of the strong commitments by world leaders at the Millennium Assembly and, more recently, in Monterrey, and some encouraging headway, too many prospects remained bleak.

Asked what he expected to emerge from the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, Mr. Mattson said UNDP’s expectation was that the Monterrey commitments would become more concrete and that the world would rally around the Millennium Development Goals. “We certainly hope also that UNDP’s role as score-keeper and campaign manager of the Millennium Development Goals will help inform the debate in Johannesburg -- as it has with the preparatory meetings.”

David Stewart, an economist for the Human Development Report office, who was with the UNDP Assistant Administrator, told correspondents that next year’s report was going to be on the Millennium Goals. Asked how important Johannesburg would be in the achievement of the Goals, Mr. Stewart said that meeting the Goals was going to take incredible commitment, both internationally and nationally. “In Johannesburg, we will see how real international commitment is. A lot was said at Monterrey, and now we’ll see what is said at Johannesburg.”

Asked to comment on the observation made a few years ago by an African leader to the effect that democracy and misery could not coexist, Mr. Mattson answered: “Well, an often-quoted comment is that we haven’t seen famine in democracy, and I think that’s another piece of evidence that would support that kind of statement.”

Mr. Stewart cited the current difficulties in Latin America, where he said democracy was on the brink and that, consequently, economies were also on the brink. “And so we argue very strongly that, while there are relationships between democracy and equitable economic development, these have to be pursued as twin objectives. You can’t focus on one or the other. You need to really focus on both.”

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