International Relations

The UN Democracy Fund

The article explains the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF), its origins and objectives, as well as India and the United States’ involvement in its development.

Why in news?

  • The fund’s assistance for NGOs backed by George Soros, who is on India’s radar, has sparked controversy.
  • He claimed that the Adani controversy would undermine Indian politics and lead to a “democratic revival” in the country.

What is UN Democracy Fund?

  • The UNDEF was founded in 2005 with a $10 million grant each from the United States and India.
  • Its goal is to support projects that increase civil society’s voice and participation, promote human rights, and facilitate the development of democratic institutions and processes.
  • It is totally supported by voluntary contributions from member countries and is controlled by an advisory board of 16 members representing various regions of the world.

Contribution to the advancement of democracy and civic society

  • The aim of UNDEF is to support projects that improve civil society’s voice and involvement, promote human rights, and stimulate the development of democratic institutions and processes.
  • Every year, the fund solicits and accepts up to 3,000 proposals from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) all around the world.
  • An advisory board evaluates these suggestions and proposes them to the Secretary-General for approval.
  • Every year, 30 to 50 projects are chosen, and UNDEF has supported over 880 two-year initiatives in over 130 countries via 15 rounds of funding.

India’s participation in UNDEF governance

  • Since the fund’s founding, India has served on its advisory board.
  • The board is made up of 16 members from various parts of the world, including the eight major member nations and six other states to reflect broad geographical representation, including one “small island” and developing countries.
  • It also has two individuals and two CSOs as members.
  • CIVICUS and the Transparency, Accountability, and Participation Network are two of the current CSOs on the board.

India’s participation in the founding of UNDEF

  • As one of the fund’s founding members, India played an important role in its inception.
  • Manmohan Singh, then Prime Minister of India, and US President George W. Bush announced the US-India Global Democracy Initiative in 2005, which includes assistance for the UNDEF.
  • Since the fund’s founding, India has donated to it on multiple times, however its donations have reduced in recent years.

UNDEF inconsistencies

  • India’s relationship with UNDEF has been riddled with inconsistencies.
  • While India has endorsed and donated to the fund, it has also placed George Soros on a watchlist in India, despite the fact that UNDEF has no issues to the fund making grants to NGOs sponsored by Soros.
  • This highlights a tension between the Modi government’s high-level diplomacy and its internal political ideology.
  • It is only necessary for Delhi to use a delicate touch in the former while playing hardball at home for domestic spectators.

The contribution of India thus far

  • Since its creation, India has contributed to UNDEF on multiple times, albeit its contributions have reduced in recent years.
  • India contributed $5 million to the fund in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2011, but made no contribution in 2007 or 2010.
  • Contributions continued to decline in 2012, when the total was $4.71 million.
  • India reduced its funding in 2014, donating only $200,000 that year and in 2015.
  • It was only $50,000 in 2016, and there was no contribution in 2017.
  • India returned $100,000 in 2018 and 2019, and $150,000 in 2020, 2021, and 2022.
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