New Chairman of WFD appointed by Foreign Secretary

New Chairman of Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), Richard Graham MP, says time for democracies to see off both new and traditional threats to accountability

Following his first official engagement, meeting the Speaker of the Parliament of Albania on 29 May, Richard Graham MP said “in these divisive times the temptations of autocracy to government as a less ‘messy’ way of delivering investment and growth are considerable. But the virtues of democracy – above all accountability to the people and an independent rule of law – are enormous. We need to help each other see off both the new threats of elections distorted by the manipulation of digitalisation, data and social media as well as the more traditional threats to the decision making of Parliaments and voters alike.”

Richard Graham MP added “the next five years are vital to how democracy can flourish in both strong and fragile economies across the world”.

Meeting Richard Graham MP, after his appointment, Foreign Secretary Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP said:

“WFD was founded to help democracies thrive, and since the fall of the Berlin Wall there has never been a more important time for this work. There are real challenges – as well as successes – to be faced, and Richard Graham brings huge experience and commitment as new Chairman to help WFD continue to make a real difference through its projects in over 30 countries across the world.”

About WFD

WFD partners with UK political parties, parliaments, electoral and financial audit institutions to help development countries make their governments fairer, more effective and more accountable. Current WFD initiatives include: helping protect women from violence in the Middle East; engaging women, young people and people with disabilities in politics in sub-Saharan Africa; and building trust in democracy in the Western Balkans.

Last month, at the Commonwealth summit in London, the Foreign Secretary announced a £4 million WFD-led partnership to strengthen democracy and broaden political participation across 18 Commonwealth countries.

(Photo: Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meets WFD Chairman Richard Graham MP and WFD Chief Executive Anthony Smith CMG.)
Continue Reading

Stopping violence against women in politics: time for a new normal

Hungry for good news about politics?

Here’s some: more women than ever before are participating in politics worldwide. It’s a global trend that signals positive outcomes for inclusive governance.

However, as the number of women engaging in political activity has grown, so has the frequency and degree of violent responses to their presence in politics. On March 19-20, the political party offices of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy organised an international conference to identify the sources of this violence and construct recommendations to address it.

(Photo: Sophie Walker, (Leader Women’s Equality Party), Rt Hon Ian Blackford MP (Westminster Leader, Scottish National Party), Dr Mona Lena Krook, Rutgers Unniversity, Michelle Gildernew MP (Sinn Fein), Naomi Long MLA (Leader, Alliance Party of Northern Ireland).)

Uniquely, the conversation was led by political practitioners, including members of parliament, political party leaders, civil society activists and leading academics from more than twenty countries.

The conference produced a rich collection of ideas, experiences, research and recommendations. Initial findings include:

  • The forms of and dynamics behind violence against women in politics are localised but the experience is universal
  • Globally, women pay a higher price for their participation in politics, including having to meet higher standards and facing more personalised forms of scrutiny and criticism
  • Social media platforms are facilitating growing levels of psychological violence as well as physical and sexualised threats
  • As candidates and elected officials, women experience threats and acts of violence from other political party actors as well as from within their own parties
  • Threats and acts of violence tend to be even more pronounced when directed towards women from ethnic minority communities and those facing discrimination linked to disability, age, sexual orientation, religion, gender reassignment or other factors
  • Police often lack the authority, the ability and/or the desire to respond effectively
  • Political parties must develop clear codes of conduct and take action to discipline members who are involved in acts of violence, whether against candidates and officials from other political parties or against their own
  • Parliaments and other legislative bodies must develop and enforce clear codes of conduct for elected members and senior staff, and must address not only physical and sexualised misconduct but also bullying behaviours
  • Credible, accessible and non-partisan complaints and grievance processes must be available to women in politics, including both elected officials and staff
(Photo: Leader of the House of Commons, Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP gives the closing remarks of the conference highlighting what the UK parliament are doing to respond to sexual harassment and bullying.)

Speakers’ notes and video footage of the sessions are under review and will be used to construct a comprehensive conference report and online learning materials.

Violence is one of the strongest and highest barriers keeping women out of politics. It is vital that this type of violence is not accepted as normal. WFD and the political party offices will continue to engage and lead on this important topic and will work with global partners to help develop localised responses to bring an end to violence against women in politics, and to help create a ‘new normal’.

Find out more:

 

Main photo L-R: Anthony Smith (WFD Chief Executive), Liz Saville Roberts MP (Westminster Leader, Plaid Cymru), Cheryllyn Dudley MP (Chief Whip, South Africa), Maria Caulfield MP (Vice-Chair for Women, Conservative Party), Rt Hon Dame Margaret Hodge MP (Labour Party and WFD Governor), Wafa Bani Mustafa MP (Chair of the Coalition of Arab Women MPs to combat violence against women), Ambassador Paddy Torsney (Permanent Observer at the Inter-Parliamentary Union) and Victoria Donda MP (Argentina).
Continue Reading

UK political parties host international summit on Violence Against Women in Politics

On 19-20 March, UK political parties – Conservatives, DUP, Green Party, Liberal Democrats, Labour, Plaid Cymru and SNP – in partnership with WFD, will convene legislators and activists from 20 countries for a two-day conference in London to identify practical means to address violence against women in politics.

Over 50 speakers including party leaders, ministers and experts from UN Women, Amnesty International, the National Democratic Institute and CARE International will discuss new measures to combat violence and intimidation against politically-active women.

About the conference

More women than ever before are participating in politics worldwide. Higher numbers of women are being elected to public office and, in many countries, more women are attending political events, engaging with government bodies and registering as voters.

However, as women’s political activity has grown, so has the frequency and degree of violent responses to their presence in politics. Globally, politically-active women – voters, candidates, local councillors, members of parliament, bloggers and activists – regularly find themselves on the receiving end of acts or threats of violence.

Leading activists in politics, civil society and academia will meet to identify practical means to address the growing incidence of violence against women in politics. The conversation will be led by practitioners – women who have chosen to become active in politics and public life who know and understand the breadth and the impact of violent responses to their activism.

Importantly, this cross-party conference of political and community leaders has been initiated by the UK political parties, who have chosen to work together on this issue and involve their international partners. Unlike many political discussions that start with disagreement and discord, this conference opens with consensus: violence against women in politics must end.

The conference will produce and publish a set of recommendations and actions to be taken by relevant bodies to address violence against women in politics, and will agree a set of steps to advance these.

The programme

The conference will take place at Carlton House in London over two days and will see the launch of a WFD Research report on violence against women in politics.

Day 1 – Monday, 19 March features sessions on:

  • Parliament’s role and responsibilities in addressing violence against politically active women
  • Violence against women during elections
  • The cost of politics
  • Online abuse of politically active women
  • There will also be an evening networking reception

Day 2 – Tuesday, 20 March features sessions on:

  • How women in party youth wings are affected
  • The civil society perspective on VAW in politics
  • The role of political parties in tackling violence against politically active women
  • Recommended actions for political parties and parliaments to protect women’s right to participate in politics and government free from violence

The provisional agenda is available for download.

For more information please email the conference organisers.

WFD’s support for women’s political leadership

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) is a public body sponsored by the UK Government responsible for supporting the establishment of effective multi-party democracy in developing countries. WFD’s work is based on values – that all people are equal and that the protection of their human and democratic rights is essential for fair, safe and prosperous societies.

Continue Reading

Developing a disability policy in Georgia

Dr Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner at the Equality Commission in Northern Ireland, reflects on his time in Georgia as part of Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s Multi-Party Office work with the DUP. 

Last week, I was privileged to be part of a small delegation to Georgia, funded by WFD, to take part in a workshop on the development of a disabilities policy for the Georgian government. This is the second time I have been a guest of that most beautiful place, where hospitality to the foreigner is not simply aspirational but is received as something very practical.

From beginning to end, Paula Bradley (DUP Member of the Legislative Assembly for Belfast North) Thomas Hogg (DUP local councilor for Belfast North) and myself were treated as friends and colleagues and not “experts” from somewhere parachuted in for a few days. For this, we are extremely thankful as we came as “outsiders” but left as good friends and allies.

There is an old Georgian proverb that translates roughly as “The right balance depends on the weigher”. In other words, how we value people depends on our view of the world.

However we treat our fellow human beings, it remains a fact that those living on the margins of society, the people who are disabled by physical conditions or social attitudes, tend to have to struggle to be treated equally. This situation has no geographical limitations.

Numbers of those affected by such conditions are notoriously difficult to obtain in any jurisdiction so it is not surprising that although only 3% of Georgian citizens hold “disabled status”, it has been estimated that about one in eleven Georgians are actually living with a disabling condition (GeoStat Census, 2014).

During the workshop we heard a presentation from GeoWel, of their recent survey detailing the situation relating to disability in Georgia. It was an extremely challenging experience to be given this insight into the daily lives of many Georgian citizens, those “differently abled”, who face huge challenges simply to access services or employment.

The survey highlighted five areas of concern, including status and statistics, perceptions and stigma, children, physical infrastructure and education and support for those living with disabilities. I could equally apply all five to the place I call home.

Georgia operates on a medical model of disability, an approach that tends to allow “hidden disabilities”, such as Down’s syndrome or Autism, to be overlooked, unless they are linked to a physical or mental health condition.

Over the two days, it became clear that all the delegates believed that this basis of assessment needs to be changed to a human rights centred, social model. It was also self-evident that there is a passionate conviction to make real change in Georgia for those living with disabling conditions, a view held equally by Government, public sector colleagues and NGOs. Such a shared vision, in my view, is unusual and is to be commended and supported.

Those of us who came from Northern Ireland were given ample time to present reflections on our own experiences of addressing disability, including Paula on the role of the legislature in creating policy, Thomas on the role of local authorities and myself – examining the need to ensure that equality and human rights principles underpin any disability legislation.

WFD played an essential role supporting the Georgian partners in taking this initiative forward and it was clear that their ongoing non-directional approach was both appropriate as well as beneficial to those involved. There was a clear desire to continue and indeed extend the partnership beyond this project.

So, we left with memories of passionate people, who together want to make real change to the lives of almost 400,000 Georgians who face daily challenges. We all believe that we are more than the sum total of our parts and experiences and that it is in coming together and standing alongside those on society’s margins that we best demonstrate our shared humanity.

 

Continue Reading

UK democracy assistance: Westminster Foundation for Democracy in 2017

By Anthony Smith, Chief Executive

This year saw WFD turn 25 (we were established in 1992). As 2017 draws to a close, I would like to recall some of our best results and lessons learnt over the last 12 months.

January: making politics affordable in developing countries

We presented findings and recommendations from WFD research into the cost of politics in Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Senegal and Ukraine.

Recommendations on how to reduce the cost of becoming a legislator and being a political representative were given to members of parliament, electoral commission and parliamentary officials gathered in Abuja.

We are now working on a follow-up paper on the cost of politics in Ghana, in partnership with the Center for Democratic Development (CDD) with support from DFID. This will look at solutions that could be tested in the Ghanaian context and will be published in January.

February: peace in Colombia

We shared lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process with Colombian legislators and civil society to help inform reconciliation efforts following the peace deal between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).

The parties of Northern Ireland, along with representatives of the Church, women’s organisations, and the British government presented their experiences to Colombian counterparts in a series of meetings and workshops organised by WFD’s Multi-Party office.

The experience of Northern Ireland and the role parties and parliaments can play in addressing conflict remain highly relevant for WFD going forward, especially with reference to countries such as Myanmar and Venezuela.

March: the role of civil society in East Africa

We convened a conference in Kenya with civil society, parliamentary and governmental organisations to respond to growing threats against the role of civil society in several East African countries, where governments have taken actions to restrict and limit the autonomy and influence of non-governmental organisations.

As Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan work toward regional integration as part of the East African Community (EAC), participating organisations agreed to coordinate national responses and take action at regional level, in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), to support civil society.

(Photo: Participants discuss the closing civil society space phenomenon at a conference organised by WFD’s research programme in Nairobi in March 2017.)

April: tackling corruption in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

We unveiled the first anti-corruption strategy in the Kurdistan region of Iraq after facilitating engagement between the Integrity Commission of the Kurdistan Region and the equivalent Federal Commission in Baghdad.

Central to the strategy is a commitment to improve the transparency of public institutions, promote an anti-corruption culture and introduce active coordination mechanisms for tracking and investigating corruption within different institutions.

Our future work in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq will depend on political progress following the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum. We continue to monitor developments very closely but we believe that the training we delivered to beneficiaries and the relationships we built can have a lasting and positive impact.

May: building citizens’ trust through open government

In May, WFD co-sponsored the Global Legislative Openness Conference, which is part of the Open Government Partnership. The conference took place in the Ukrainian Rada and was opened by the Lord Maude, former Minister in the Cabinet Office (UK) and former co-chair of the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee.

Open and transparent parliaments can contribute immensely to effective democratic governance. WFD supports partner parliaments to become more transparent and build the confidence of their constituents. At the conference, WFD presented the achievements of the Western Balkans Network of Parliamentary Committees, as well as recent work on civil society participation in the budget process in Georgia.

June: protecting women and girls in Arab Countries

Between April and August, Jordan and Lebanon repealed legislation that protected rapists by allowing them to marry their victims and escape prison. Tunisia also passed landmark legislation to promote gender equality. These landmark advances were the subject of long campaigns by WFD’s partner, the Coalition of Arab Women MPs to Combat Violence Against Women, which is supporting parliamentary initiatives in 13 Arab countries.

In June, Wafa Bani Mustafa MP, Chair of the Coalition, reported on the process to draft a Convention to Combat Violence Against Women, which earlier this year was formally submitted to Member States of the Arab League. When adopted, the Convention will be the first regional treaty to protect women from violence.

Alongside the Coalition, WFD supports a number of regional networks where effective South-South cooperation takes place. These include networks of activists and political parties such as Tha’era, Women’s Academy for Africa and CEE Gender Network for Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans (all supported by the Labour Party International Democracy Programme funded by WFD) and Rae’dat, which is being supported by the SNP’s WFD-funded programme.

(Photo: Rt. Hon. Francis Maude, former Minister in the Cabinet Office (UK) and former co-chair of the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee opens the Global Legislative Openness Conference with a key-note address on “envisioning a democratic renaissance”.)

July: giving young people a say in how Nigeria is run

In July, the Senate of Nigeria adopted legislation to lower the minimum age for candidates to certain political offices – an important step on the long road toward constitutional reform. This milestone took place as WFD launched its programme to increase political participation and representation of young people in the country.

WFD Nigeria’s Youth Empowerment Programme focuses on cementing consensus around constitutional reform (the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign is run by our local partner YIAGA), supporting Nigerian political parties in creating effective youth wings, and enabling civil society to engage more young people in the democratic process.

The ultimate goal of this programme is best summarised by the words of Kate Osamor MP, chair of the UK House of Commons All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria. At the launch in Abuja she said: “Nigeria’s success as a prosperous and progressive country depends on enabling young people to get involved in the political system, shaping the agenda and taking decisions about the future of their country. That is what the WFD programme will focus on.”

August: giving a voice to persons with disabilities in Sierra Leone

On 7 March 2018, Sierra Leone will go to the polls to elect the President, Parliament and local councils. This August, working in partnership with Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues (SLUDI), we launched a new National Agenda for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the electoral and political process.

The agenda is centred on six pro-disability public policy priorities identified by the disability community following inclusive nationwide stakeholder consultations with nearly 1400 persons with disabilities across Sierra Leone’s 14 administrative districts. Seven political parties, four State Commissions, the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs, the Ministry of Sports, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the media and other pro-disability organisations also contributed.

As this historic election approaches, our work continues to ensure minorities and vulnerable groups are involved in the campaign by competing parties. Following the election, our work will continue in parliament.

September: a new strategy for WFD, a new partnership for elections

In September, WFD launched a new strategic framework for the next five years during a two-day conference in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Houses of Parliament which reviewed the UK’s role in promoting democratic values globally and marked 25 years since WFD’s establishment.

WFD’s traditional focus – supporting more effective political parties and parliaments – remains central to our mission (we are now delivering parliamentary programmes in over 30 countries worldwide).

In addition, WFD will partner with other institutions with different skills, methodologies, and approaches, working together to find ways our programmes can complement one another and address the challenges of strengthening democracy from different angles.

As a leading member of the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), we remain committed to working closely with this network of democracy-support organisations and other European institutions. We will also expand our partnership with institutions from the Commonwealth and around the world, in particular from the global South.

We were therefore delighted to use our 25th anniversary conference to sign a new partnership for electoral assistance in Africa with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).
October to December

(Photo: The National Agenda for People with Disabilities was launched in Sierra Leone in August 2017 following a series of consultations with people with disabilities across Sierra Leone.)

In the last three months of 2017, we have:

What’s next for WFD?

In 2018, WFD will begin to implement our new strategy. This will coincide with the negotiations on a new partnership with the EU which, as the PM’s Art.50 letter said, will include our shared democratic values. I have attended half a dozen discussions in the past few months about the future of Britain’s role in the world. My clear conclusion is that Britain’s democratic culture will be a critical asset not just in setting a clear direction for the future of our country but also in securing our global relationships. This is borne out in the daily interactions that I and the rest of the WFD team have with our partners in Britain and around the world.

A review of 2017 cannot end without heartfelt thanks to all of you who support our work. I wish you all a very peaceful and restful Christmas break and a Happy New Year.

Continue Reading

WFD launches new Strategy at 25th Anniversary Conference

On 12 and 13 September, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) launched a new strategy to strengthen democracy across a growing global network at a conference marking 25 years of WFD activity.

The strategy commits the Foundation, sponsored by the UK Government, to expand the remit of its programmes – working across a wider range of institutions, processes, and themes – to help reform-minded actors and institutions in developing countries to transform their own democratic practices.

Democracy UK: Global Values in an Uncertain World

WFD was founded in 1992 in a period of optimism about the prospects for democracy in the post-Soviet world. Twenty-five years later, the challenges to democratic values have evolved and, on the 25th anniversary of WFD, the conference focused on what lessons the world is learning about sustaining democratic change when democratic freedoms are being squeezed.

Almost 200 delegates from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas took part in the event, held in the Foreign Office and in Parliament in London, which was opened by a video message from UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and keynote speeches by:

  • Mark Field, Minister of State – Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Liz McInnes, Shadow Minister – Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
  • Hanna Hopko, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee – Parliament of Ukraine
(Video: Message from Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, opens the WFD conference.)

Panel discussions chaired by Baroness D’Souza, Dame Margaret Hodge and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson heard interventions from Wafa Bani Mustafa, Chair of Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women, Aaron Mike Oquaye, Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana, Karu Jayasuriya, Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, Dr Bronwen Manby (London School of Economics), Samson Itodo (Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement), Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, Hakim Benchamach, Speaker of the House of Councillors of Morocco, Nikola Dimitrov, Foreign Minister of Macedonia and Alina Rocha Menocal (Overseas Development Institute).

The results of two days of engagement on the themes of democracy and development include:

  • The launch of a new Strategic Framework 2017-2022 which will guide the development of WFD and expand our range of work to cover electoral assistance and enhanced partnership work with civil society (building on parliamentary and political party support).
  • The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between WFD and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), which will help strengthen electoral processes in Africa.
  • Renewed partnerships with long-standing and new partners including the UK Government (FCO and DFID), the UK parliaments, the Parliaments of Ghana, Morocco, Uganda, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, the Government of Macedonia, the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries, European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), BBC Media Action and others.
(Photo: Chair of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries, Wafa Bani Mustafa MP from Jordan addresses the WFD conference on 12 September.)

WFD’s New Strategic Framework 2017-2022

WFD’s traditional focus – supporting more effective political parties and parliaments – will remain a central part of the Foundation’s mission. Following nearly three years of expansion, WFD is now delivering parliamentary programmes in over thirty countries across Africa, Europe, MENA, Asia, and Latin America, and political party programmes in dozens more.

Recognising parliaments and political parties are only part of the picture and institutional strengthening is critical but rarely sufficient to transform political systems. Lasting change requires a wide range of actors to overcome significant obstacles – political, institutional, technical, logistical, and financial – to achieve their goals.

As part of WFD’s new strategy, the Foundation intends to engage more directly with civil society and electoral and other independent institutions. WFD will help them strengthen their skills and partner with other institutions to achieve greater transparency and accountability, more credible and inclusive elections, improved policy making, citizen participation and empowerment, more inclusive representation.

Elections

In a side event during the conference, WFD signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) to expand its electoral assistance programme. The new partnership established a formal commitment to collaborate through information-sharing and development of key projects concerning Africa.

Recognising elections in Africa have made significant progress towards inclusiveness and trust, WFD and EISA agree there are still many challenges to overcome. The partnership will look at:

  • Providing immediate post-election support to implement the recommendations of regional and international observer missions;
  • Developing the skills of local citizen observers and support for parties to develop their capacity to effectively monitor the electoral process,
  • Building the ability to conduct parallel tabulation of results to increase accountability.
(Photo: Chair of the WFD Board of Governors, Sir Henry Bellingham, Chief Executive, Anthony Smith and Executive Director of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, Denis Kadima sign the Memorandum of Understanding.)

The Future of Democracy Support

With over 40 democracy assistance and development organisations in attendance, the second day of conference discussed the future of democracy support and provided feedback on the new WFD strategy.

Organised around six different themes (accountability and transparency, youth participation and leadership, security and stability, women’s political empowerment, political parties and elections), a ‘democracy marketplace of ideas’ invited experts to highlight key challenges and ideas within these themes and the impact on broader democracy assistance.

Presentations were given on:

  • Political Parties – by Kate Osamor, Shadow International Development Secretary will be speaking on behalf of all UK political parties working with WFD.
  • Security and Stability – by Antonella Valmorbida, Secretary General of European Association for Local Democracy (ALDA) and Chair of the European Partnership for Democracy Board.
  • Women’s Political Empowerment – by Wafa Bani Mustafa MP, Chair of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women
  • Youth Participation and Leadership – by Samson Itodo, Executive Director of Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA)
  • Accountability and Transparency – by James Deane, Director of Policy and Learning, BBC Media Action
  • Elections – by Denis Kadima, Executive Director of Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA)

From promoting a ‘universal’ notion of democracy, to integrating IT professionals into electoral support, the complete list of challenges, actions and ideas will inform the implementation of WFD’s Strategic Framework and provide a starting point for increased strengthening of effective, multi-party democracy around the world.

Conference proceedings

(Photo: Delegates discuss outcomes from the ‘democracy marketplace of ideas’ in a parliamentary committee style session.)
Continue Reading

Contributing to the development of democracy across the globe

Patrick Grady MP

The development of inclusive democracy worldwide is a monumental task.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy staff and partners, as well as my fellow parliamentarians and governors, do an incredible job working to promote effective parliaments and multi-party politics in countries transitioning to democracy.

Taking on the role of SNP Governor for WFD is an unexpected, and somewhat bittersweet, opportunity. I’m following my SNP colleague, and former MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. Tasmina, and Alex Salmond, sat as Governors for the SNP as it became the third largest party in the House of Commons in 2015. They oversaw a significant scaling-up of our work within the Foundation and deserve our thanks for their efforts over the last couple of years.

As WFD nears a quarter of a century, we all have a renewed opportunity to ensure we do all we can to provide international partners with the expertise in developing parliaments, political party structures and civil society organisation – the vital institutions of a functioning democracy. I’m looking forward to supporting the continuing growth and development of our WFD funded SNP programmes, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, Kurdistan and Sub-Saharan Africa regions, contributing to the increasing integrated work of WFD parties, and collaboration with likeminded organisations and stakeholders such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

Much of my professional career has been spent in development, with stints in the charitable and public sectors, most recently as Advocacy Manager for the Glasgow based Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF). Through this time, I was aware of and impressed by the activities undertaken by WFD and I have greatly enjoyed working with colleagues from the organisation since my election as Member of Parliament for Glasgow North in 2015.

Some of the most memorable moments from my career in development come from my time spent living in Malawi where I taught at St Peter’s Secondary School in the northern capital, Mzuzu. I was touched by the warmth of the welcome I received from the community in which I lived and I feel both lucky and proud to have retained close friendships with many of those I met. It has been a pleasure to welcome some of those – including teachers, pupils, priests and even a Bishop – on reciprocal visits to Scotland and the rest of the UK. The connections between Malawi and Scotland, in particular, go deep and demonstrate the importance of developing people-to-people relationships to complement those between institutions. I am very pleased that Malawi is now considered a priority country for WFD this year.

During the last Parliament, I was SNP International Development Spokesperson and was pleased to lead our case for the sector. I look forward to bringing this experience to bear as a Governor of WFD and am confident that my successor as SNP International Development Spokesperson, Chris Law MP, will continue to make the case for funding work in international development to ensure that we can alleviate poverty and, more broadly, meet the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

Patrick Grady is MP for Glasgow North, SNP Chief Whip in the House of Commons and a Governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, having been SNP International Development Spokesperson in the last Parliament.

 

Continue Reading

Human rights, the rule of law and global challenges to democracy

By Thomas Hughes, Independent Governor

Democracy worldwide is seemingly under increasing threat, with restrictions and repression on the rise. Well established democracies appear to be eroding their institutions and standards from within, whilst emergent democracies are failing to deliver accountability, broad participation and power-sharing. Leaders of faux-democracies have learnt how to rule with a ‘velvet fist’ to maintain an outwardly palatable veneer whilst suppressing internal opposition. Leaders of established democracies seem increasingly ready to jeopardise long-standing norms for short-term political gain.

If we cast our minds back only 20 years, the post-cold war period of 1990 to 1995 saw an explosion in democratisation, with over 120 nominally democratic countries by the turn of the century. Given this surge, the realisation that much of this progress has not been deep-rooted makes the regression more explainable. Although not an ‘end of history’ fatalist, I nevertheless believe the cards remain stacked in the favour of democracy in the long-term. Where democracy exists, it’s systems and institutions fail because individuals or groups manipulate and abuse them without accountability or recourse.

My reason for becoming an independent governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is that it’s work to strengthen democratic institutions and political parties is crucial for reversing this downward trend. Alongside this, I believe the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law must also be central, with a focus on three areas. Firstly, closing the human rights implementation gap between international standards and national action; secondly emboldening national civil society and media; and thirdly strengthening judiciaries and legal communities.

Human rights, multilateralism and the closing implementation gap

A number of global and regional intergovernmental institutions play important roles in setting and monitoring state compliance with human rights. Among these is the United Nations Human Rights Council. When the Council was created a decade ago it was designed to be more relevant, credible and impartial than its predecessor. The Council has achieved important successes, but there is growing polarisation, as well as clear attempts by states to block or evade human rights scrutiny. The Vienna Declaration, unanimously adopted more than two decades ago, confirmed “the promotion and protection of all human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community.” However, there remains an implementation gap between international agreements and national actions. As such, all states need to seriously pursue implementation of international human rights commitments domestically and must clearly and consistently hold one another to account for doing so.

Emboldening national civil society and media

A robust and protected civic space forms the cornerstone of accountable and responsive democratic governance. As seen by the growing prowess of civic campaigns and the colour revolutions of the past decades, civil society is growing in strength. However, according to the Carnegie Endowment, over the past three years more than 60 countries have passed or drafted laws that curtail the activity of non-governmental and civil society organisations, whilst 96 countries have taken steps to inhibit NGOs from operating at full capacity. This is being done with a ‘viral-like’ spread of new copycat laws targeting areas like finance, registration, protest, censorship and ‘anti-propaganda’ and independent media. To counter this, the rights to information, expression, protest and participation must be rigorously defended.

Strengthening judiciaries and legal communities

Legal communities and the judiciary remain a bulwark against the misuse of power. Recent examples include the East African Court of Justice, a relatively new court based in Arusha, upholding the rights of journalists in Burundi to protect the identities of their sources, and finding the country’s criminal defamation law as inconsistent with international law. In another example, in April the High Court in Kenya ruled that Section 29 of the Information and Communication Act, used to arrest and charge a number of social media users, was unconstitutional. As such, the judiciary is a cornerstone for the defence of human rights and democracy and must be respected and defended as such.

Whilst these are challenging times, the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law are essential for the creation and defence of healthy vibrant democracies.

 

(Top: Photo credit: Studio Incendo – Citizens in Hong Kong protest against proposed electoral reforms, in what became known as the “umbrella movement”

Continue Reading

Democracy and the role of impartial media

By Sue Inglish, Independent Governor

It is a great privilege to be asked to become an independent governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. I have been a broadcast journalist for most of my career covering elections at home and abroad and my experience has shown me that wherever you are in the world, a thriving democracy needs free, independent and impartial media.

As a producer for Channel 4 News in 1986 I was in the Philippines covering an election which pitted the corrupt and violent regime of President Ferdinand Marcos against the widow of one of his political opponents.

Benigno Aquino was assassinated on the tarmac of Manila airport as he returned to his country from exile. Cory Aquino, a woman of tiny stature and huge courage, dressed in her trademark yellow, campaigned fearlessly and drew huge crowds at her rallies.

For the international media flocking to Manila it was a great story and the eyes of the world were on the Philippines. The local media too, particularly radio, played a key role in the election.

As we filmed voters at the polling stations on election day, reports came in from election observers around the country of intimidation and blatant electoral violations by Marcos’s supporters. Despite Mrs Aquino’s undoubted popularity, Marcos was declared the winner. It seemed that dictatorship had trumped democracy and the will of the people had been ignored. But thousands took to the streets in a display of People Power. With the world’s media broadcasting every move in the drama, the US government abandoned its support for the regime, Cory Aquino was sworn in as president and Marcos and his wife, Imelda fled the country. One of the most telling images was of the crowds flocking to the presidential palace, staring in amazement at Imelda Marcos’s collection of thousands of pairs of shoes, a testament to 20 years of greed and corruption.

“For a democracy to function properly, it needs a well-informed electorate”

I left the country with a certificate proclaiming me, along with hundreds of other foreign journalists, a “hero of the Philippine People’s Revolution”. The course of democracy there has not been easy in the intervening years but in 1986, there was no doubt that the Philippine people were the real heroes.

Twenty years later as head of the BBC’s political programmes, I was responsible for political, parliamentary and election coverage. The BBC’s role is to provide all its audiences on television, radio and online with impartial, accurate and comprehensive news and information.

Impartiality in all its news coverage, particularly political journalism, is at the heart of the BBC’s values. Viewers expect the BBC and other broadcasters to examine robustly the policies of the political parties helping them to understand the complex issues of our time. Audience research carried out during the current general election, shows that the BBC is still the most trusted source of news and information.

In 2010 during the UK General Election campaign, for the first time, the leaders of the three largest political parties agreed to take part in three live televised debates. The programmes were watched by a total of 22 million people and were particularly popular among younger viewers and people who usually do not watch traditional political output. Viewers said they were better informed about the key issues as a result.

For a democracy to function properly, it needs a well-informed electorate. In an era of social media and so-called fake news, now more than ever, people need trusted sources of news and information.

I am looking forward to bringing my experience as a journalist to the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in strengthening democracies around the world.

Continue Reading

By Anthony Smith, Chief Executive

UK general election

April brought us the news of a snap general election here in the UK on 8 June. As the leading organisation providing insight into the UK democratic experience this is a great opportunity for our friends and partners to witness our electoral process in action.

The timing of the election means new dates for our anniversary conference: Democracy UK – Global Values in an Uncertain World, which will now take place on 12-13 September in the Foreign Office and Parliament here in London.

Jordan acts to protect women

This month we have also learnt how WFD efforts in the Middle East on ending discriminatory laws have led the government of Jordan to propose amendments to Article 308 of the penal code which protects perpetrators of rape from punishment if they marry the victim.

We are very pleased to observe this development and will redouble efforts to support reform of similar laws across the region in partnership with the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries for Combating Violence Against Women.

With support from the Coalition, MPs in Iraq have already put forward proposals to amend sexual violence laws in the country. WFD will continue to support initiatives to protect and empower women throughout the region.

New case studies from WFD programmes published

Today, we publish case studies from our programmes in Iraq, Kenya, Ukraine and Sri Lanka. This is a small sample from the 70 programmes we have implemented in over 40 countries over the course of 2016-2017. We will unveil further results in the coming months and during the Democracy UK conference in September.

The reports detail how, over the last 12 months we have:

Democracy UK conference (London 12-13 September)

This recent work illustrates the type of investment that WFD makes in strengthening democracies around the world. The payback on these investments can be slow but is critical in building stable democratic institutions in our partner countries.  The contribution from UK parliaments, political parties and others is invaluable.

These themes will be central to WFD’s two-day conference where policy-makers, academics and partners will debate how we can sustain democratic culture and practice at a time when democratic freedoms are being squeezed around the world.

The conference will mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and I hope will be a fitting way to mark the International Day of Democracy on 15 September, with contributions from government, opposition and analysts, as well as former and current Governors and friends of WFD.

We are currently in the process of sending out revised invitation letters and agenda. If you would like more details about our conference, please email events@wfd.org

Continue Reading