- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

NEW YORK — One year after President Bush challenged U.N. member states to support a trust fund to aid countries in transition, the Democracy Fund is starting to emerge.

Almost 30 nations have signed on to the effort.

India, Germany, Britain and Hungary have pledged money, and a number of Latin American nations have promised to share their expertise.

Mark Lagon, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations, said it’s time “to plant something in the United Nations to establish a trend, to help democracy in transitional states.”

He said the multinational weight of the United Nations at times can be more effective than the U.S. government.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has stressed civil liberties in his view of U.N. reform, formally announced the creation of the fund on July 4 at a summit of Arab nations hosted by Libya.

“Our premise is not to hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution,” Mr. Lagon said.

“It needs to fit cultural and country circumstances but with the basic tests of what a democracy is,” he said. “It’s not just elections but basic freedoms of expression and assembly and pluralism.”

The effort coincides with the Bush administration’s second-term emphasis on promoting democracy in the Arab world and elsewhere.

The United States plans to announce a $10 million initial contribution to the fund, possibly during the U.N. summit opening Sept. 14.

India has pledged $10 million, and Germany $1 million.

Nascent democracies will be able to submit applications to the fund to underwrite specific projects.

Officials stress they will not impose initiatives, but respond to requests from governments.

Amir Dossal, the acting executive director of the Democracy Fund, said the fund will carefully tailor its work to avoid the appearance of political meddling, and focus on technical assistance.

Support is most enthusiastic among former dictatorships, Mr. Dossal said.

He said the fund should be drawn into sharper focus this autumn, when his office submits terms of reference to the first round of U.N. budget reviews.

The fund will be run by a small number of U.N. staffers, with key decisions made by an advisory board made up of key donors, a representative from democratic countries from different regions, private aid organizations and key U.N. agencies such as the Department of Political Affairs, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the U.N. Development Program.

Nations that have endorsed the Democracy Fund include Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Germany, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mongolia, Peru, Poland, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Kingdom and the United States.

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