Global Democracy Manipulators

The first two parts of this four part series introduced the new head of the UN Democracy Fund, Roland Rich, and provided a critical examination of the ‘democratic’ background of key former UN staffer, Mark Malloch Brown. The penultimate part of this series investigated the history of the UN Democracy Fund itself, while this part examines the ‘democratic’ credentials of some of the recipients of the UN Democracy Fund’s first round of funding. It concludes by offering some strategies to help progressive activists address the worrying issues that have been raised about the UN’s global role as a key democracy manipulator.

In 2006, the UN Secretary General approved the funding of 125 projects distributed all over the world by the UN Democracy Fund. This section initially runs through some of the better known democracy manipulating organizations that received backing from the Fund’s first grant making round, and investigates the ‘democratic’ ties of lesser known UN-funded groups.

For ease of reference I have categorised the bodies receiving Democracy Fund grants into three groups: those tied directly to the UN, those that I have previously linked to global democracy manipulating institutions, and finally those organisations that I will link to democracy manipulators within this confines of this article. Thus to start with fifteen grants were given to the UN Development Programme, another four to the UN Development Fund for Women, and a further three to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. In addition, single grants were also given to the UN System in Guatemala, and to the UN Mission in Liberia. Other UN-linked bodies that received funding included the Inter Press Service (whose international trustees includes Boutros Boutros-Ghali), and the Arab NGO Network for Development – whose executive director, Ziad Abdel Samad, is a director of CIVICUS, and is a member of the UN Development Programme’s Civil Society Organizations Advisory Committee.

A further fourteen organizations that have already been linked to the work of global democracy manipulators obtained UN Democracy Fund grants, these included CARE International (one grant for Kosovo, and one for work in Sudan), the Club of Madrid, the Council for a Community of Democracies, the Eurasia Foundation, Global Rights, the Inter-American Dialogue, International Alert, the International Centre for Democratic Transition, the International Foundation for Election Systems, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the International Research and Exchanges Board, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (which is included here because thesesuch German foundations provided an “important model for democracy assistance” which helped catalyse the creation of the NED),[1] the National Democratic Institute (a core NED grantee), People In Need, and finally Transparency International.

Preliminary, but by no means exhaustive research also indicates that a further fifteen groups that have received UN Democracy Fund monies can also be linked to the broader democracy manipulating community. Therefore, the following section of this article will briefly introduce these organizations (in alphabetical order) and outline some of their more visible ‘democratic’ ties.

Actionaid India Society – which is a part of Actionaid, an international development agency that was formed in 1972 and aims is “to fight poverty worldwide”. Actionaid receives strong support from the UK Department for International Development, and in 2005 alone, they obtained over $30 million from them. One of Actionaid’s international trustees, Candido Grzybowski, is also a member of the UN Development Programme’s Civil Society Organization Advisory Committee.

The Association of Election Officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina (AEOBiH) – was established in 1999 “under the auspices of OSCE” (becoming independent of OSCE in 2000). The US-based International Foundation of Election Systems (IFES) provided professional expertise to AEOBiH until March 2003.” According to their website they count among their international donors the following ‘democratic’ organizations, IFES, USAID, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and World Learning – a group that worked closely with the NED throughout the 1980s to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. Honorary members of AEOBiH  include Juliana Geran Pilon, Richard W. Soudriette (who has been the IFES president since 1988, and is a member of the Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion), and Michael Yard (who has worked for IFES, and was worked for Democracy International between 2004 and 2006 in Guyana).

Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development – was founded in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1992 and is a public policy think-tank that specializes “in a broad area of democracy development”. The Institute’s chair, Ghia Nodia, is a past NED Reagan-Fascell Democracy fellow (2000-01), and serves on the steering committee of the World Movement for Democracy. The Caucasian Institute has also received NED funding in the following years, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999, and 2001.

The Center for Community Journalism and Development – was formed in the Philippines “by a group of journalists and development workers in July 2001”. In 2002, they received a $200,000 grant from the Ford Foundation.

Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamerica (Center for Mesoamerican Research or CIRMA)is located in Antigua Guatemala, CIRMA was founded in 1978 and “today is one of the region’s premier social science research centers”. Curiously, CIRMA are part the “largest single program ever supported by the Ford Foundation”, the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP), which aims to provide “opportunities for advanced study to exceptional individuals who will use this education to become leaders in their respective fields”. As I have stated at the start of this essay, owing to the lack of critical commentary on the activities of many ‘democracy promoting’ organizations it is little surprise that sometimes even the most progressive of activists become entangled in their operations. Thus it is interesting to note that Greg Grandin, author of the excellent book Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (2006) – which talks at length about the US-‘democracy promoting’ industry – sits on CIRMA’s study abroad advisory committee.

Committee to Promote Women’s Political Participation – was established Cambodia in August 2005, and the Committee is composed of seven local NGOs, many of which have ties to the international democracy manipulating community. ‘Democratically’ linked members of the Committee include the Cambodia Development Research Institute (which obtains financial support from a multitude of international development agencies, and groups like the Rockefeller Foundation and the Asia Foundation),  Cambodian Women for Peace and Development (whose work is supported by USAID, CARE (Cambodia), and PACT (Cambodia), and the Rockefeller Foundation), the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (which has received support from the National Democratic Institute), and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (which has also received support from the National Democratic Institute).

Conectas Direitos Humanos (Conectas Human Rights)is an international NGO that was “founded in Sao Paulo, Brazil in October 2001” to promote “respect for human rights and contributing to the consolidation of the Rule of Law in the Global South (Africa, Asia, and Latin America)”. Their website notes that the “[i]nitial funds to launch the organization were provided by the Ford Foundation and the United Nations Foundation”, while their main donors today include amongst other the Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the Tinker Foundation. They also receive aid from Ashoka and the British Council.

Crime Prevention Fund – was founded in 1998, and is a NGO that is “engaged in lowering the crime rate and increasing social engagement rate” in Bulgaria. Crime Prevention Fund obtains some of its funding from the Open Society Institute, the British Council, and the Program of the Democracy Commission to the US Embassy in Bulgaria.

Femmes Africa Solidaritewas formed in late 1996 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after the Geneva-based international NGO, “Synergies Africa held a brainstorming session with a group of women lawyers, judges, academics and entrepreneurs, along with representatives of other NGOs and international organizations”. It receives financial support from George Soros’ Open Initiative for West Africa, the Ford Foundation, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, a gamut of UN agencies, and a number of European governments. In 2004, Femmes executive director, Bineta Diop, also attended the Third Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy in Durban, South Africa. Furthermore, Esi Sutherland-Addy – a member of Femmes Africa Solidarite executive board – formerly served on the board of directors of the Open Initiative for West Africa.

Institute for a Democratic South Africa (IDASA) – was founded in 1987 and describes itself as “an independent public interest organization committed to promoting sustainable democracy based on active citizenship, democratic institutions, and social justice”. Julie Hearn (2000) notes that: “In 1996 it received $1.165 million from the Ford Foundation. This is an exceptionally large grant by the Foundation’s standards, which normally provides grants from $200 000 to $50 000 to CSOs in Africa, and is by far the largest grant to any grantee in South Africa. At the same time IDASA received a $1 million grant from USAID for a two-year period.”[2] The IDASA’s website also notes that they receive funding from the Westminster Foundation. Furthermore, in 1992 they also received a $300,000 grant (labeled as AID Funds) from the NED. Furthermore, in 1990, 1991 and 1993 the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies also received NED grants (worth between $230,000 and $330,000 each) which it passed on to IDASA. Former IDASA executive director, Wilmot G. James, currently serves as a trustee of the Ford Foundation, and is a member of the international working and advisory group of the Comparative Human Relations Initiative, where he rubs shoulders with the likes of Peter D. Bell, and Franklin A. Thomas (see earlier).

Journalists for Human Rights – is Canada’s largest international media development organization. Journalists for Human Rights co-founder and executive director, Ben Peterson, previously “worked for the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy”, and “also sits on the Canadian Commission for UNESCO’s youth advisory committee”. Journalists for Human Rights also note that amongst others they have worked in partnership with Rights and Democracy, the Ghana Journalists Association (which received Westminster Foundation funding in 1996), and Reporters Without Borders (an organisation that maintains tight links to numerous democracy manipulators).

Mossawa Center – based in Israel, the Center “seeks to improve the social, economic, legal and political status of the Palestinian Arab citizens in Israel”. The Mossawa Center receives funding from groups that include the Ford Israel Fund, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the Heinrich Boell Foundation, the Moriah Fund, the New Israel Fund, and the Open Society Institute.

Non c’e’ pace senza giustizia (No Peace Without Justice) – “is an international non-profit organisation, born in 1993 by a campaign of the Transnational Radical Party (PRT), working for the protection and promotion of human rights, democracy, the rule of law and international justice”. One of the leaders of the PRT, Emma Bonino, also serves on the international advisory board of the Democracy Coalition Project, and the PRT itself also helps coordinate the UN Democracy Caucus along with the Democracy Coalition Project and Freedom House. No Peace Without Justice works closely with the Istanbul-based think tank the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, which received a $40,000 grant from the NED in 2004, and is a member of the World Movement for Democracy network.

Omar Dengo Foundation – is a private, non-profit organization that was formed in Costa Rica in 1987 that “develops and executes national and regional projects in the fields of human development, educational innovation and digital technologies”. The Foundation’s work is supported by USAID, the UN Development Programme, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States, and the International Development Research Centre.

This is not a comprehensive analysis of all the groups funded by the UN Democracy Fund. It is a mere illustration of how the activities of the Fund are closely related to those of the wider democracy manipulating community – whose work is best typified by that of the NED. Considered in conjunction with the findings in the body of this preliminary exploration of the UN’s ‘new’ role in the polyarchy promoting industry, it is evident that, at the very least, concerned citizens should adopt a more critical approach to the role the UN plays in the world.

Ending Multi-Lateral Imperialism

Sadly the deep polyarchal relationship that exists between the UN Democracy Fund and the NED’s cadres does not bode well for progressive citizens’ hoping to reclaim/reform the United Nations as a tool by which to promote a more equitable global world order. Indeed, as this article has revealed, the UN is currently being used by cynical political elites to promote a regressive low-intensity democracy globally. Far from benefiting the majority of the world’s citizens, the promotion of such low-intensity, diminished forms of democracy ultimately only serve elite anti-democratic interests. 

As Edward S. Herman (2007) recently pointed out, the “already weak (plutocratic) democracy is in deep trouble in the United States” and “good arguments can be made that it is likely to be stripped of its façade in the very near future.” This should worry everyone around the world, bearing in mind that the US is the world leading democracy exporter/manipulator.

Herman goes on to note that, “[P]ower sovereignty, not popular sovereignty” dominates US politics,

“The Bush-Cheney team has already done serious damage to the democratic structures of this country: the checks-and-balances system is badly impaired, executive power to ignore congressional legislation is now openly asserted  and still in place, executive power to permit torture and ignore international law  has been strengthened, the right to privacy and due process has been weakened and habeas corpus in jeopardy, and the executive’s power to go to war and carry out assassinations and other covert and military operations abroad has also been strengthened.” 

Needless to say this democratic onslaught is not a new phenomenon. While, in the not so distant past, progressive citizens would have vigorously opposed these policies, the contemporary mainstream Left is lying in tatters and is evidently unwilling to raise a response. Few mainstream critics are willing to comprehend, let alone counter, the fact that presently one of the main global proponents of ‘peace’, ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’ is the Bush administration itself.  Of course the definition of these terms given by Bush and his cronies leaves a lot to be desired, especially by those citizens who prefer tax payer monies be spent on strengthening participatory processes rather than polyarchal/plutocratic ones. So, while progressives correctly campaign on issues relating to the world’s Global Warming Catastrophe, and other ‘progressives’ undermine democracy by working to promote imperial interventions (usually referred to in peacespeak as ‘humanitarian interventions’); collectively speaking many of the Left seem to be united in forgetting that the Bush administration is on the brink of launching the next World War. (That is, an escalation of the Long War they are already fighting).

Vibrant ongoing campaigns to oppose such rampant warmongering must be a priority for all concerned citizens; This does not mean, however, that such activism should neglect other key global issues. Indeed climate change is already intimately linked to US ‘national security’ concerns. Furthermore, progressive campaigners must not delimit their critiques of the current world order to analyzing the actions of the ‘crazy’ neocons, but must also extend their investigations to (seemingly) progressive organizations like the UN Democracy Fund, and the many other liberal philanthopists who are working hand-in-hand with numerous democracy manipulators to promote ‘humanitarian interventions’ and low-intensity democracy worldwide. Taking on such a colossal task will not be easy, especially given that major parts of the US anti-war movement are embedded with the Democrats. Nonetheless, it is a task that needs to be undertaken immediately. Of course, the fight for life will always be long and difficult, but if these issues are not addressed now the number of weak crushed under our imperial footprint will continue to spiral upwards.

Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He can be reached at Michael. J. Barker [at] All four parts of this United Nation’s essay and some of his other articles can be found here.


[1] By the 1990s Germany’s Stiftungen or party foundations, “had resident representatives in more than 100 countries and field offices in some of them for well over 30 years. Between 1962 and 1997 they handled in total over DM4.5 billion reaching around DM290 million annually by the 1990s. Although in the period before 1990 it is debatable how much can be called democracy support rather than activities primarily intended to meet other purposes  In Pinto-Duschinsky’s words they were ‘powerful instruments not only for promoting democracy, but also for furthering German interests and contacts’.”

Stefan Mair, Germany’s Stiftungen and Democracy Assistance: Comparative Advantages, New Challenges, In: Peter J. Burnell (ed.) Democracy Assistance: International Co-operation for Democratization (London, Frank Cass: 2000), pp.128-149.

Heinrich Boll representative, Sascha Müller-Kraenner, was also a signatory to a recent letter (dated November 11, 2004) which was sent by the NED to Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez to urge him “to reconsider the prosecution of the leadership of Sumate, as well as the proposal to criminalize democracy assistance from abroad”. Sumate is the Venezuelan group that received assistance from the NED to facilitate the unsuccessful ouster of Chavez in 2002.

[2] Julie Hearn, Aiding Democracy? Donors and Civil Society in South Africa, Third World Quarterly, 21 ( 5), 2000, pp.827-8.


Leave a comment