Chicago Journal of International Law


In December 1996 the United Nations ("UN") published An Agenda for Democratization, a highly controversial position paper of its then-Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali The agenda has received little public or academic attention. Yet, although not a legal document, it remains of considerable interest to scholars and practitioners of international law. The agenda confronts the traditionally taboo question of UN support for national democratization processes in areas such as holding and monitoring elections, creating independent judicial systems, and strengthening respect for human rights and the rule of law-all of interest to international lawyers. The agenda also confronts the even more controversial question of UN support for "democratization internationally," an area, according to Boutros-Ghali, in which international law has a major role to play. Beyond the substantive content of An Agenda for Democratization, the story of its creation offers an unusually revealing view into the policy-making process at the United Nations and, especially, the role of its Secretary General during a fascinating period in the organization's history. The post-Cold War acceleration of democratization within states coincided with new demands for UN action across the spectrum of its work, often in unprecedented ways or unfamiliar operational environments. In that context of opportunity, uncertainty, and change, Bourros-Ghali as Secretary General frequently put forward political statements designed to stimulate policy debate and decisions from the UN member states. In playing this political role, he applied his understanding of how international law originates and functions. He used the drafting process itself to develop his own policy positions, to clarify the questions at hand, to test his ideas, and to anticipate their reception in various quarters. Writing for Boutros-Ghali, as I did in the mid-1990s, thus required an approach simultaneously intellectual, anthropological, and tactical. In this essay, I attempt to elaborate this drafting approach and the unusual vantage point it affords into the United Nations, while providing political background and an analytical perspective on one of the most important UN documents produced in the past decade. [CONT]