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Cameron: Does Canada need an independent organization to promote rights and democracy abroad?

By: /
9 April, 2012
By: Maxwell Cameron
Professor, Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions, University of British Columbia

Democracy defence and promotion have suffered significant setbacks in recent
years. Many countries, from Russia to Iran, regard democracy promotion as
thinly disguised interference in their internal affairs. The use of
democracy to justify the war in Iraq has made many people justly cynical
about democracy as a foreign policy objective. And yet democratic countries
have every right to favour other democracies in their foreign policies, and
every reason to believe that the spread of democracy is good for peace and

The question is not whether we should support democracy but how. In the
context of the Americas, for example, we have the Inter-American Democratic
Charter, and within that multilateral framework we have some good
initiatives on the table to reinforce democratic governments. These include
Canada’s proposal for a compendium of best practices, a peer review
mechanism, a democracy rapporteur, and a system of early warning. Most of
these proposed instruments could be developed in ways that would be neither
intrusive nor punitive, but rather would serve to create a sense community
among democracies.

But to effectively pursue these ideas we must show a strong commitment to
multilateralism. We must also show, through our own example, that we can
hold free and fair elections. We have to demonstrate that we understand
that a vibrant civil society is important. We don’t tell NGOs that receive
foreign funding that they can’t participate in the political process. And
we don’t politicize and then dismantle organizations that were designed to
promote rights and democracy. Our moral authority to promote democracy on
the world stage depends on our practice of democracy at home.

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