Friday, February 1, 2008

Building Democracy Within the UN

The United Nations Human Rights Council, created in 2006 to replace the controversial Human Rights Commission, has taken a small but interesting step towards remedying the "democratic deficit" in international organizations. Under the Council's Resolution 5/1, non-governmental organizations and other civil society stakeholders (including individuals) may nominate candidates for Special Rapporteur, Independent Expert, and Working Group positions (collectively labelled Special Procedures - Mandate Holders). With fourteen vacancies coming up in March 2008, ranging from the Special Rapporteur on the right to food to the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography, now is the time to send in your nominations! In all seriousness, if we define democracy as participation, this is not an enormous step, especially given that once a "public list" of candidates is compiled, a "consultative group" will then propose a short list of candidates with the highest qualifications -- giving due consideration to the exclusion of nominated candidates from the public list, mind you -- to the President. The President, in turn, will look to these recommendations as well as "broad consultations" before creating a final list of proposed candidates to be considered and appointed by the Council. Phew. A lot of bureaucracy -- but how much democracy? I suppose it depends how wedded we are to the participatory definition of democracy. Can the goals of participation -- representation and engagement or buy-in -- be met through other means than a popular vote? And are there other definitions of democracy that might encompass this careful consultation process with stakeholders and experts? As a proceduralist, my concern is with the lack of formal mechanisms to ensure that various voices are heard, which stakes the success of the process on the good faith of the actors therein; always, in my mind, a risk. But in the end, I think even this small step towards including non-state actors in the process should be celebrated as an advance for democracy-building in international organizations.


Diane Marie Amann said...

Thanks for this, Jaya!
Am especially pleased to see that a new Special Rapporteur post has been established, "on the contemporary forms of slavery including its causes and consequences."

Marjorie Florestal said...


I suppose it is one small step for bureaucracy and one (giant?) leap for democracy. I agree with you that we have to take the small with the tall and rejoice. What is interesting to me is that the UN felt it necessary for legitimacy purposes to take this step in the first place. The international organizations at last are beginning to understand they can't just claim govt-to-govt status and forget about the voice of the people (whose interestes are allegedly represented by our duly-elected officials). That is no longer enough, and even institutions like the WTO--which used to be seen as too "specialized" for the masses-- are having to change their practice. Bravo UN!