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Inter-regional Seminar on "Participatory Development and Conflict Resolution: Path of Democratic Transition and Social Justice"


Since the beginning of 2011, countries of the region have been experiencing events that are necessitating the revision of their policy options, and are increasing their interests in the process of democratic transition as a way to promote participatory development and establish peace and security. The recent uprisings witnessed in countries of the region, are pressing for reform of their systems of governance and the adoption of democratic standards, which only confirms that such a choice is possible. However, experience has shown that the process to reform systems of governance and amend constitutional laws in line with democratic standards is sometimes incomplete and stops short of ensuring freedom and pluralism. The process can also be superficial and, ineffective if it is not anchored in a culture of democracy that safeguards society against tyranny and outdated backward ideologies. It is possible that the emergence of ethnic, racial, sectarian and religious conflicts, together with associated intellectual, religious and political cultures and heritages, will sabotage any partial-legislative system of democracy. Therefore, the sustainability of democratic governance systems and the success of the democratic transition processes are contingent upon the extent to which the culture of democracy is widespread and its values and principles are applied by each society and each State in their participatory development efforts and in their efforts to resolve conflict and disputes peacefully. Democracy and democratic standards are intertwined with the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international instruments. Equality, the right to freedom in its various forms, and rights to justice, security, dignity, property ownership, decent standards of living, and protection from unemployment, and participation in public life, are all key indicators of democracy. The paths of democratic transition in countries of the region must address a number of promising opportunities, pressing issues and complex problems that cannot be dealt with by predetermined partial policies and procedures that are inadequate to achieve participatory development, resolve disputes peacefully, and equally safeguard and further the democratic transition processes.

Noting the importance of addressing issues of democratic transition and social justice, and within the framework of the project of "Participatory Human Development in Post-Conflict Countries", supported financially by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the Social Development Division, ESCWA, in collaboration with the League of Arab States,  convened an inter-regional Seminar entitled "Participatory Development and Conflict Resolution: Path of Democratic Transition and Social Justice", on 23-24 November at the UN House in Beirut.

Participants included leading field actors, political activists, experts, representatives of governments, civil society organizations, research centers, academic institutions, media, UN agencies, regional and international organizations. The seminar aimed at addressing the systems and standards of democratic governance and benefiting from successful and unsuccessful international experiences of democratic transition. It also aimed at identifying problems and obstacles emerging from the Arab uprisings and addressing measures to be undertaken by various stakeholders in policy-making to secure smooth transition to democracy. The seminar also aimed to explore the future of the democratic transition process in the Arab region by focusing on the relationships between various stakeholders involved in policy-making and identifying their new emerging roles.

The seminar’s discussions focused on changes taking place in the region, since the beginning of 2011, which are leading to reassessment of political options for countries witnessing socio-economic uprisings and their growing interest in the process of democratic transition as an option for achieving participatory development, peace and security within each country and in their ties with countries worldwide. The background papers that were presented throughout the seminar’s sessions triggered in-depth discussions on the process of democratic transition in countries of the region and called for the need to address issues, problems and opportunities that methodic, imposed and top-down policies fail to address as a means to achieving participatory development, conflict resolution and peaceful democratic transition.

The seminar concluded with a multitude of recommendations that stressed, among other issues, on the need to promote the culture of democracy in the Arab region, develop a new vision that goes in tandem with the ongoing changes in the region, build the capacity of Arab actors on governance and participatory-based policy processes and adopt a new social contract for a new era to come. A final report (attached below) was produced reflecting the main findings and recommendations drawn from the seminar.