Democracies 'Fall Short' in Delivering Human Rights, Concludes Forum

A human rights forum bringing together international human rights defenders concluded Wednesday that despite the recent numerous elections around the world that have raised people’s hope for freedom and justice, democracies are falling short in their support of fundamental human rights.

The third Carter Center Human Rights Defenders Policy Forum concluded on Wednesday after a two-day discussion on global human rights in the age of democratization on May 23-24 in Atlanta. Some 40 human rights defenders participated in the forum that was chaired by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.

"President Bush rightly has asserted that democracy and human rights are desired and deserved by all people," said President Carter in a statement released on May 23. "The question is not whether to make this a priority of global policy, but how to do it effectively. Young democracies must move quickly to build institutions that will vigorously protect the rights of all, while older ones must not allow human rights to be weakened, even in time of war. We have a great deal to learn from the courageous human rights leaders who have gathered for our forum from some of the most dangerous countries in the world."

The two-day forum, co-sponsored with Human Rights First, sought to amplify the voices of those on the frontlines of the struggle for human rights and democracy, and initiate action on pressing human rights issues to the international community.

According to the Carter Center’s Human Rights Defenders Policy Forum, human rights and the people trying to protect them are being threatened in more countries around the world than at any other time in recent history.

“I don't know how to make a quantitative judgment, but I have a feeling that in the past few years – if you could measure the status of human rights and democracy joined together – I don't think there's been progress made,” said Carter in his opening remarks on May 23. “I think there's probably been retrogression to some degree in the worldwide commitment to democracy and human rights. And that's very disturbing.”

Some of the forum's recommendations for the democratic world are as following: help those who have been working for many years to build democracy at the local level; do not give aid and comfort to dictators and tyrants (even if originally elected) who will never give up power willingly; and return to fundamental human rights principles, especially in counter-terrorism and other security strategies and policies.

Human rights defenders participating in the forum came from 21 countries seeking to emphasize to the international community that free and fair elections are the beginning of a long process of building a culture of democracy, with clearly defined and measurable human rights standards serving as the ultimate measure of a society's progress.