Speech on the occasion of the 6th International Day of Democracy

15 Sep 2013

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Speech by Dr. Mubashar Riaz Sheikh, UN Resident Coordinator / Resident Representative

Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests, Roundtable Participants,

It is a great pleasure to be here this evening on the occasion of the International Day of Democracy. Allow me first to express my great appreciation to the Kuwait Graduates Society for proposing to co-organise this event with the UNDP Kuwait Country Office. The Kuwait Graduates Society has a proud tradition of engaging in discourse on fundamental issues pertaining to the growth of democracy and human rights in Kuwait. It is very fitting that this roundtable discussion on “The role of civil society organisations in strengthening democratic practice” is held here at the Kuwait Graduates Society, a civil society organisation that has made such a significant contribution to intellectual debate in Kuwait over the past decades.

In 2013, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has designated the theme of the International Day of Democracy as “Strengthening Voices for Democracy”. Since the coming into force of the United Nations Charter in 1945, a primary goal of the United Nations has been the establishment of several core principles: faith in fundamental human rights, the dignity and worth of human beings, equal rights of men and women, justice, social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom. These principles are all essential to a thriving democracy and to the maintenance of international peace and security. As the Secretary-General has stressed in his message today, inclusive participation is vital for robust democracy. It is against this global context that tonight’s discussion will aim to highlight a range of measures that civil society can take to make a constructive contribution to sustainable and strong democracy in Kuwait.

As the history of the Kuwait Graduates Society itself demonstrates, Kuwait has both a vibrant and varied civil society and a history of participatory democracy that is arguably the envy of the region. We in UNDP Kuwait have the privilege to work closely with a range of civil society groups in areas as diverse as early learning challenges and disabilities, women’s economic empowerment and legal participation and youth empowerment. At the same time, UNDP is the global focal point in the United Nations system for work on democratic governance initiatives. Each year, approximately one billion US dollars is provided through UNDP to support democratic processes globally. UNDP is one of the largest providers of technical cooperation for democracy and governance internationally. In the past two years, UNDP has helped to strengthen more than 10,000 institutions, ranging from ministries to grass-roots civil society groups, engaged in democracy and governance initiatives. Pursuing this international effort, the Kuwait UNDP Country Office is honoured to partner with the General Secretariat of the Supreme Council for Planning and Development and the General Secretariat of the National Assembly to implement a project designed to strengthen the capacity of the National Assembly Secretariat to fulfill its constitutional functions.

From our perspective, there is great potential for Kuwaiti civil society and national institutions to engage on a constructive platform to enhance democracy in Kuwait. In any democracy, different viewpoints and approaches are a hallmark of a healthy and robust national community. Civil society groups, often the unsung heroes of democracy, are well-placed to offer innovative and constructive suggestions for engagement, being as they are, a community of individuals brought together by a common desire to find solutions to shared problems. In particular, civil society has a great role to play in encouraging participatory and inclusive democracy, ensuring that the voices of women, youth, minorities and vulnerable groups are heard in the national political dialogue. As grassroots organisations, civil society can have a tremendous impact in building the awareness and capacity of all members of society to participate in the electoral system and in assisting the Government to identify and remove any barriers to participation by marginalized groups. Initiatives to strengthen democratic governance, including freedom of information, anti-corruption and oversight mechanisms, will be more effective if they are developed on the basis of broad-based consultations with civil society.

UNDP Kuwait has begun its own national consultations on the next four-year programme cycle, which will lead to the development of the Country Programme Document. This CPD, which will be in close alignment with the national development priorities identified in the next Mid-Range Development Plan of the State of Kuwait, will depend in part for its relevance and effectiveness on the participation of Kuwaiti civil society in the consultation process. I look forward to welcoming the Kuwait Graduates Society and many other civil society groups to UN House for the consultation roundtables to be held in October. All civil society groups are invited to submit their vision for the development priorities that UNDP should focus on in the next programme cycle.

It is my hope that this year’s commemoration of the International Day of Democracy will mark a watershed in the relations between civil society and State institutions. This roundtable discussion tonight can be a significant step forward in a broader process of strategic engagement. Civil society in Kuwait has been progressive in its identification and voicing of concerns. As a key national development partner, UNDP would like to see the Kuwaiti civil society move to the next level and begin to develop a strategic framework for engagement with the Government. Coordination of civil society groups around joint priorities is critical. With the participation of so many talented and dedicated individuals, civil society groups in Kuwait could mobilise themselves to conduct research and draft position papers on key issues and organize online debates and public roundtables such as tonight’s discussion to identify, and build momentum for, a platform for change.

I believe this evening’s discussion will be extremely interesting. Once more I would like to express my thanks to the Kuwait Graduates Society for partnering with UNDP Kuwait on this initiative and the hope that the collaboration between our two organisations will continue to grow for the benefit of an ever more inclusive and democratic Kuwait.