- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2001

Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright stepped into the public spotlight yesterday with a ringing defense of democracy as a basic human right that guarantees progress and economic growth.

"[Democracy] is a powerful generator of progress," Mrs. Albright said at a Washington meeting of Community of Democracies, an international advocacy group established in Warsaw last year.

She said the central role in spreading democracy and promoting peace and human rights lies in regional and multinational organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS).

They promote civil societies, monitor elections, guard independent media and prevent human rights violations, Mrs. Albright said.

"A decade ago, the Berlin Wall fell down, and we all felt like dancing in the streets," Mrs. Albright said. "Similar accomplishments accompanied the replacement of dictators with democrats in Asia, Africa and Latin America … but we soon realized that building vital democracies in those countries will take time."

She said the promotion of democracy has reached a new phase, in which some countries that recently shed dictators for popular elections might slip into defeatism from the initial euphoria.

Most of those countries, like Peru, Haiti or Paraguay, bring ideological baggage from the past, including corruption, poverty and violations of human rights, which prevents them from fully committing to democracy.

"This commitment [to democracy and change] will obviously not lead to miracles overnight," Mrs. Albright said. She specifically referred to African and Asian countries that became democracies in recent years.

She said she regarded organizations such as OAS, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Community of Democracies as essential aids in the transition to democratic rule.

Mrs. Albright alluded to the first worldwide gathering of countries to promote democracies that took place in Warsaw in June as a precursor of the global commitment to democracy.

There, 110 countries signed the Warsaw Declaration, which recognized "the universality of democratic values."

"In Warsaw last summer, we took note about a rising number of elected governments," Mrs. Albright said. "We pledged to collaborate in international institutions in order to foster democratic governments. We have pledged to help one another secure and to deepen our freedoms."

One of the most recent examples of the Warsaw Declaration at work is in El Salvador.

Luigi Einaudi, assistant secretary-general of the OAS, said the situation in El Salvador showed that international and regional organizations are "breaking the barriers" and show "instinctive solidarity" with humanitarian aid from the global community.

But democracy, even though it seems to have caught on in Southeast Asia, still has a long way to go, said Surin Pitsuwan, a member of Thailand's parliament.

He said the principle of an open society that guarantees foreign intervention in times of crisis has been feared in Southeast Asia. It has been perceived as a threat to the noninterference concept accepted by nations in that part of the world.

"I want you to realize how difficult it is to move an organization like ASEAN to get involved in some of the issues that you in this hemisphere take for granted that you could move into certain countries, pass resolutions, discuss and send observers to resolve the problems of destruction of democracy," Mr. Pitsuwan said. "Not in my region."

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