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Baroness Anelay

Foreign Office Minister for Human Rights

Part of FCDO Human Rights

15th September 2016 London, UK

International Day of Democracy 2016

A year ago today, to mark International Day of Democracy, I launched the Magna Carta Partnership Initiative.  This consisted of a series of small projects in selected parts of the world where we judged that UK expertise could reinvigorate and promote the development of democracy, and strengthen the rule of law.  Through this support, we would help countries from across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and North Africa region, Eastern Europe/Central Asia and Latin America to take small steps towards democracy.  The symbolic and practical value of such steps is often far greater than you might think; as is the appetite for UK expertise. Our initiative  provided a platform for UK experts in the rule of law to give practical support to countries at a crossroads in their constitutional development.

To give just a few examples, we worked with the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to build capacity for parliamentary select committees in Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka; with Citizens’ Watch International to raise the professional standards of young Russian defence lawyers; and with EduRica to promote debate on judicial independence in Botswana.

This year we doubled our financial support for human rights and democracy projects and launched the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy (MCF). This has allowed us to take our support for civil society and democracy to a new level.  In 2016-17, the MCF is funding 73 projects that directly support democracy, promoting civil society participation and the rule of law as key building blocks for fair and prosperous societies.

The MCF’s democracy projects range from capacity building in the Laos National Assembly to develop legislation, ensure better representation and hold the government to account, to projects which seek to support public participation in democracy such as assisting young woman to engage with the democratisation process in Fiji, to allow them to articulate their concerns in areas of accountability and transparency, justice and woman’s human rights.  Meanwhile, in Burma, UK government support to the electoral process helped that country conduct credible elections in November 2015.  In March 2016, we saw the installation of Burma’s first civilian government for five decades: something we celebrated with Aung San Suu Kyi when she visited London this week.

There is also our work with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), a non-departmental public body funded by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development.  Through WFD, the UK is sharing its democratic experience and expertise with the aim of building legitimate and inclusive political institutions capable of strengthening human rights.  WFD helps countries to develop and reform their parliaments and political party structures.

Despite such efforts, democracy sadly remains under threat in many parts of the world. Last year, the number of countries showing a decline in freedom (at 72, according to Freedom House) was the highest it has been for 10 years. Since 2009, nearly 100 countries have introduced legislation that restricts civil society.  For that reason, the FCO is using this year’s International Day of Democracy to promote the benefits of democracy and citizen participation across the world.

On 15 September, I will host in London an expert panel discussion on the challenges facing civil society, which I hope will provide fruitful ideas for our future work in this area.  We will launch a “call to action” campaign across social media, encouraging users to upload images which represent what democracy means to them, using #DemocracyIs.

Our network of Embassies and High Commissions around the world will also be marking the day.  Our High Commissioner to Rwanda will  deliver a lecture on democracy at a university in Kigali; our Embassy in Burma will publish online interviews with organisations implementing FCO-funded projects on democracy and civil society; our Embassy in Thailand will hold a large civil society networking reception; our Embassy in Guatemala will hold a Twitter Q&A on democracy; our Ambassador to Russia will host a lunch with leading human rights defenders; and our Embassy in Vietnam will host a dialogue between newly elected members of the National Assembly and local voters in the province of Nghe An.

During my recent overseas visits, I have been privileged to meet many members of civil society organisations working to hold governments to account, strengthen the rule of law, and ensure equal rights for all.  They are the kind of people that we will continue to support with our funding, political and diplomatic engagement.  On International Day of Democracy, I wish to send a strong message of solidarity with all those working for better human rights – especially those facing discrimination, danger and oppression.   The UK Government stands with you, and will continue to support your critical work.

1 comment on “International Day of Democracy 2016

  1. Thank you Baroness Anelay,for all your efforts worldwide. We in Sudan, have noticed, your efforts by providing opportunities, for promotion of civil society.

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