Third Forum for the Future

Dead Sea, 30 November-1 December 2006

Within the Democracy Assistance Dialogue (DAD) program, the political pluralism and electoral processes theme is implemented in close cooperation with the Government of Italy by No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ).
This exercise gathered momentum in the October 2005 Rabat International Colloquium on Political Pluralism and Electoral Processes, that pioneered successful civil society participation side-by-side with governments in a multilateral regional forum, with discussion of complex issues taking place in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. The Colloquium was held in three thematic working sessions, during which participants identified a number of points of convergence on issues that could provide useful guidance for the development and implementation of reform initiatives at the national level. This dialogue led to the adoption by consensus of an outcome document, including a final statement shared by governments and non state actors and formal reports from each working session.
The Colloquium provided an important opportunity for government participants to renew their commitment to strengthen the bases of democracy and to broaden the scope of participation in political life and public affairs. Moreover, it constituted the first high-level meeting devoted to the direct exchange of views on political processes between governmental representatives and non-state actors in the region, in which civil society, in particular political parties and non-governmental organisations, was recognised, in the final statement, as a “legitimate counterpart of dialogue in the democracy-building process”.
In June 2006, NPWJ together with the Government of Yemen and its NGO counterpart, the Human Rights and Information Training Center (HRITC), organised the Sana’a International Conference on Democracy, Political Reforms and Freedom of Expression. The purpose of the Sana’a International Conference was to assess the progress made in dialogue for democratic reform since the Sana’a Conference on Democracy, Human Rights and the Role of the International Criminal Court in January 2004, and in particular those activities carried out by the DAD partners during its first year, facilitating and reinforcing the various initiatives carried out in the region over the past few years. This exercise was undertaken with a view to deepening the constructive cooperation between governments and non-state actors as the two necessary components of a partnership for change on issues of democratic reform. As an essential step in the follow-up activities to the Rabat International Colloquium NPWJ and the Italian Government were directly involved in the organisation and implementation of the Sana’a Conference. The Italian Government provided financial support directly through the Government of Yemen and NPWJ played a leading role in the organisation of the Conference and its successful outcome, including an instrumental role during the complex negotiations on the final communiqué, which resulted in its adoption by consensus. Among other results, participants reaffirmed their commitment to advancing the implementation of all recommendations made jointly by governments and non state actors at the Rabat International Colloquium on Political Pluralism and Electoral Processes of October 2005.
Now is the time to give effect to the willingness expressed in the Rabat Final Statement “to initiate a precedent of dialogue between governments and non-state actors on profound political issues, with a view to the promotion of political pluralism and electoral governance” by transposing to a national level the same type of effective civil society participation in dialogue and joint decision-making. To this end NPWJ and the Italian Government, in cooperation with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), developed a project designed as the second year of activities in the framework of the DAD program in the field of political pluralism and electoral processes.
The overall project objective is to provide adequate follow-up to the commitments undertaken during the Colloquium by strengthening the contribution of civil society to the democratic process and promoting dialogue with decision-makers and state structures. The project aims at strengthening the capacity of civil society to interact effectively with governments, with the result of making them the legitimate counterpart of dialogue with governments on issues of democratic reform; implementing on a national level the commitments undertaken at the Colloquium on freedom of association and the participation of civil society in the reform process, and finally, at undertaking specific consultations to attain real progress on the issue of civil society participation in the political process, in order to facilitate the establishment of a lasting system, practice or habit of consultation between state structures and non-state actors.
Among the participants and target groups, members of political parties will be included as an essential part of civil society. Within the DAD framework, in particular, the non-governmental component of the dialogue includes civil society representatives, academics, intellectuals, politicians, media and other opinion leaders.
The project will select three target countries, in which activities will have a different focus depending on the needs and constraints of each country. The identification of these specific countries is part of the consultation process based on the following criteria:
a)         Each country will be at different stages of democratic development and each represent one of three sub-regions (Gulf, Mashreq and Maghreb);
b)         The governments will have demonstrated on a regional level a commitment to dialogue between governments and non-state actors and therefore can be expected to adopt a policy of consultation at the national level; and
c)         Civil society will be sufficiently developed to enable them to interact constructively with their respective governments and to work towards establishing and maintaining a lasting system of constructive dialogue at a national level.
Project activities are designed to build on the commitments undertaken at the Colloquium by facilitating the establishment of a sustainable system of consultation between government and non-state actors through reinforcing the role of democracy advocates, building their capacity and expanding their opportunities for meaningful contribution to the democratic process through the promotion of constructive dialogue with decision-makers and state structures.
Capacity building and training activities will be adapted to the country situation, depending on the existing capacity of civil society to engage in effective dialogue with governments. Activities will focus on: developing civil society’s professional skills necessary to enter into effective dialogue, interaction and cooperation with State-structures; coordinating civil society’s agenda, advocacy skills, public diplomacy, outreach and communication; and mainstreaming and systematizing civil society contribution to the decision-making process and reducing the scope of “redline issues”, which are currently not open for discussion. Within this project component, a combination of workshops, seminars and training courses will be held. Direct engagement of government and political institutions will also be adapted according to the needs and constraints of each target country, complementing activities undertaken with civil society, in order to create conditions that will facilitate the receptiveness of state structures on the establishment of a lasting system of consultation with non-state actors on issues of democratic reform, within the administrative and legal framework of each target country. The organisation of joint government and civil society dialogue fora will provide support to the capacity building and training of civil society and actively engaging both governments and civil society in the policy discussions and practical organisation leading to the events in each target country, engaging in mediation, facilitation and systematisation of their relationship. Finally, technical advice activities will identify solutions to consolidate and systematise the involvement of civil society within the decision- and policy-making processes. This activity will involve research and analysis of options that can ensure sustainability of the dialogue through identifying solutions within the administrative and legal framework of each target country for the establishment of a lasting system of civil society and government consultation on issues of democratic reform.
The project builds on existing initiatives that have successfully incorporated civil society participation in regional governmental fora, including the Sana’a 2004 Conference and activities implemented during the DAD process that fully integrated civil society within inter-governmental regional discussions. The important element added by this project is the transposition to the national level not only of the substance of the commitments undertaken by governments on a regional level, but also of the role of civil society in deliberations and decision-making on the implementation of these commitments.
By focussing on the establishment of a lasting system of consultation between governments and civil society that gives concrete effect to civil society participation in the democratic decision-making process, through giving opportunities to civil society to have a real impact on policy-making, the project builds on and complements other initiatives focusing on freedom of association as a legal right. The project envisages multiplier effects resulting from two elements:
a)         The involvement of democracy advocates from the region in the activities, which is specifically designed for the purpose of facilitating the use of a similar methodology elsewhere in the region; and
b)         The fact that the commitments made by target governments have been undertaken by other governments from the region in the same fora, to which target governments will report the progress they have made in implementing these commitments, also through this project.
The year 2005 could be characterised as “the discovery of the magic of the ballot”, with 11 elections in the region, including Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and DAD activities have made a useful contribution through supporting and reinforcing democratic forces in the region.