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Project: The UN's Role in Democratization: Capacity-building in Transition and Consolidation

This project is organized jointly with the Centre for Democratic Institutions, Australian National University -

This research project will examine the UN's assistance in democratic transition and consolidation. It will analyze a number of pressing issues both in general and with reference to specific cases of UN involvement. Particular emphasis will be given to post-conflict societies and cases of major current concern, such as Kosovo, East Timor and Afghanistan. Historical perspectives will be provided by examining earlier cases that continue to hold relevance for UN activities, such as Haiti, Cambodia and Namibia.

The objective of the project is to draw forward-looking conclusions about the impact and effectiveness of the UN in democracy - and particularly electoral - assistance, and generate conclusions about how the UN's activities can better promote sustainable democracy. The project will make a contribution to the academic study of the UN and democracy promotion, and provide policy ideas that will be of interest to UN practitioners and the wider policy community. To accommodate these aspirations, the project includes the participation of academics and UN practitioners, including scholars and policy analysts from countries that have received UN assistance. The project outputs will be an edited book and an executive summary/policy brief.

A number of lines of inquiry will be pursued: Can the UN - as an 'external' actor - have a decisive, substantial and enduring impact upon domestic transition and democratization? Is the UN facilitating democratic processes that rely upon favorable local conditions? Has the promotion of democracy by the UN in post-conflict and divided societies had a significant role in conflict amelioration and reconciliation? What values or models of democracy does the UN bring with it to the democratization process? Does the UN seek to have a political impact - such as sidelining extremist forces and promoting pluralist political actors in the democratic process - and is this legitimate? Can democracy in certain (especially post conflict) circumstances be in tension with other values and public goods - such as peace, stability and reconciliation - and how does the UN cope with the international pressure to hold elections early in post-conflict situations? What is the record of the UN's indigenous capacity building in electoral and civic institutions - does the UN instill sustainable democratic processes that societies can support in the future, avoiding the emergence of 'donor dependency'? Practically, how successful has UN assistance been in terms of consolidating democracy in transitional societies - what is the record? To what extent is it possible to draw conclusions and generalizable 'best practices' from limited experience in different contexts? From a theoretical perspective is it possible for external actors to instill or alter conditions that are conducive to democracy?

See project update published in UNU's WORK IN PROGRESS, Vol.16 No.3, Summer 2002