Documents on Democracy

Issue Date January 1996
Volume 7
Issue 1
Page Numbers 184-88
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Defying pleas for clemency from world leaders, Nigeria’s military dictatorship executed nine Ogoni men on November 10, having convicted them of inciting others to murder. Among those executed was Ken Saro-Wiwa, a prominent environmentalist, writer, and human rights activist who had been a vocal critic of the Nigerian government. Following are excerpts from a statement that Saro-Wiwa made to a military-appointed tribunal shortly before his execution:

We all stand before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people who live on a richly endowed land, distressed by their political marginalization and economic strangulation, angered by the devastation of their land, their ultimate heritage, anxious to preserve their right to life and to a decent living, and determined to usher into this country as a whole a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group and gives us all a valid claim to human civilization, I have devoted my intellectual and material resources, my very life, to a cause in which I have total belief and from which I cannot be blackmailed or intimidated. I have no doubt at all about the ultimate success of my cause, no matter the trials and tribulations which I and those who believe with me may encounter on our journey. Neither imprisonment nor death can stop our ultimate victory. I repeat that we all stand before history. My colleagues and I are not the only ones on trial. Shell [Oil Company] is here on trial. . . . The crime of the company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.

On trial also is the Nigerian nation, its present rulers, and those who assist them. Any nation which can do to the weak and disadvantaged what the Nigerian nation has done to the Ogoni loses a claim to independence and to freedom from outside influence. I am not one of those who shy away from protesting injustice and oppression, arguing that they are expected in a military regime. The military do not act [End Page 184] alone. They are supported by a gaggle of politicians, lawyers, judges, academics and businessmen, all of them hiding under the claim that they are only doing their duty, men and women too afraid to wash their pants of urine. We all stand on trial, my lord, for by our actions we have denigrated our country and jeopardized the future of our children. . . .

In my innocence of the false charges I face here, in my utter conviction, I call upon the Ogoni people, the peoples of the Niger delta, and the oppressed ethnic minorities of Nigeria to stand up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights. History is on their side. God is on their side. For the Holy Koran says in Sura 42, verse 41: “All those that fight when oppressed incur no guilt, and Allah shall punish the oppressor.” Come the day.


For 17 years following Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953, until a military coup d’état in 1970, Prince Norodom Sihanouk dominated national politics. In mid-1993, elections administered by the United Nations led to a new constitution and the reinstatement of the monarchy with Sihanouk as king. (See the article by Julio Jeldres on pages 148–57 above.) Following are excerpts from an interview with Sihanouk conducted by Bernard Krisher and Barton Biggs of the Cambodia Daily and published in that newspaper in March 1995:

In the fifties and sixties I was elected under free elections under the CIC (Commission Internationale de Contrôle), with India as the chairman and Poland and Canada as members. In order to run in the elections, I abdicated the throne to my father, and I won the elections. There was then a party like Lee Kuan Yew’s. I was like Lee Kuan Yew. I was like Mahathir. I was like Suharto. So I cannot criticize them, because I was like them. They might say, “Oh, we imitated Sihanouk.”

And Ranariddh says all the time: “You criticize us, but my father was like Lee Kuan Yew, like Mahathir and Suharto. . . . But you impose your liberal democracy, which is a Western creation, not in conformity with our aspirations, our nature as Asians or Southeast Asians.” So I repeat, I cannot criticize them, because they were . . . my successors as powerful, if not dictatorial, leaders. I was called a dictator, too, so I keep quiet about it.

Today Cambodia has only one choice: liberal democracy, Western-style. When I say Western-style, it is not accurate, because the concept of liberty, of freedom, of democracy, is the same for all mankind. We cannot say it is specifically Western and not Asian. Because, black or yellow or red or white skins, we are all mankind. We should not say it is imported from the West. We must say, we have simply to make [End Page 185] a choice: whether to have a real, genuine liberal democracy or not. That is all. Each country has the right to choose its own path, its own way of governing and administrating. We have chosen freely to abide by a unanimous decision to make Cambodia a liberal democracy. Only the Khmers Rouges decided afterwards not to abide by their promise. We must keep them aside, but all the other parties—those of Son Sann, Ranariddh, Hun Sen, and Sihanouk himself—we promised each other to make Cambodia a very advanced liberal democracy in order to have reasons to be proud, in order to give a good example to the Third World. . . .

Now we must follow the trend of the liberal democracies. This is a new trend, and we must modernize ourselves. We are condemned to death if we do not follow this trend. The future of mankind does not belong to dictators—even good kings as dictators—but to democracies. The power of the people will prevail. Not a communist power, but the real people, like the power in America. . . .

[Cambodia’s democracy] is very fragile because there are still many nondemocratic behaviors among some individuals. But that does not mean I will agree to assume power. I will remain a constitutional king until I die. I fear, however, that this fragile democracy might one day lead to a dictatorship, but not by Sihanouk. Maybe by one man or one party; I do not know who will be the dictator. If democracy fails, it will lead to a dictatorship.


On November 21, prominent Chinese democracy advocate Wei Jingsheng was arrested on charges of sedition. Eight days later, 15 dissidents submitted an appeal to China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), demanding freedom for Wei and all other political prisoners. Excerpts from their petition appear below:

On 21 November 1995, the Chinese government formally arrested Wei Jingsheng, after detaining him illegally for 20 months. Wei Jingsheng’s illegal detention was already a violation of China’s existing constitution, Article 37, and the Procedure Law, Article 48. Whatever its purpose, his formal arrest constituted an even more serious infraction of Chinese law, because Wei Jingsheng had been peacefully exercising his right to freedom of speech, as guaranteed in Article 35 of the Chinese constitution. . . .

According to Chinese law, the National People’s Congress is the country’s most powerful authority, charged with overseeing the Administration. In light of the aforementioned violations of the existing constitution and laws, the NPC must exercise its power to protect the justice and integrity of Chinese laws. . . . [End Page 186]

It has been 18 years since China’s economic reforms started; now, more than ever, we need political reforms. The NPC should ride on the historical tide of worldwide democratization, lead the will of the Chinese people, be responsible for China’s unprecedented changes, and become a driving force for political reforms. Wei Jingsheng’s arrest is an opportunity for the NPC to show its will to play a major role in our nation’s public affairs. We urge the NPC to act immediately and decisively.

According to Article 5 of the existing constitution, “All state offices, armed forces, political parties and organizations, and other social entities must abide by China’s constitution and laws. Any violation of constitution and laws must be pursued and brought to justice. No organization or individual has privileges above or beyond the constitution and laws.”

Together with the people of China, the NPC shoulders undeniable responsibility to protect the integrity of China’s constitution. We demand that the NPC urge the Chinese government to release Wei Jingsheng and all political prisoners, and to advance democracy and the rule of law in China.


On 5 October 1995, Pope John Paul II addressed the United Nations as part of the celebration of its fiftieth anniversary. Excerpts from his speech appear below:

On the threshold of a new millennium, we are witnessing an extraordinary global acceleration of that quest for freedom which is one of the great dynamics of human history. This phenomenon is not limited to any one part of the world, nor is it the expression of any single culture. Men and women throughout the world, even when threatened by violence, have taken the risk of freedom, asking to be given a place in social, political, and economic life which is commensurate with their dignity as free human beings.

This universal longing for freedom is truly one of the distinguishing marks of our time. It is important for us to grasp what might be called the inner structure of this worldwide movement. It is precisely its global character which offers us its first and fundamental key, and confirms that there are indeed universal human rights rooted in the nature of the person, rights which reflect the objective and inviolable demands of a universal moral law. . . .

The moral dynamics of this universal quest for freedom clearly appeared in Central and Eastern Europe during the nonviolent revolutions of 1989. . . . The decisive factor in the success of those nonviolent revolutions was the experience of social solidarity in the face of regimes backed by the power of propaganda and terror. That solidarity was the [End Page 187] moral core of the power of the powerless, a beacon of hope and enduring reminder that it is indeed possible for man’s historical journey to follow a path which is true to the finest aspirations of the human spirit.

The quest for freedom in the second half of the twentieth century has engaged not only individuals, but nations as well. Fifty years after the end of the Second World War, it is important to remember that the war was fought because of violations of the rights of nations. Unfortunately, even after the end of the Second World War, the rights of nations have continued to be violated. . . . It was only when freedom was restored to the nations of Central and Eastern Europe that the promise of the peace which should have come with the end of the war began to be realized for many of the victims of that conflict.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 spoke eloquently of the rights of persons, but no similar international agreement has yet adequately addressed the rights of nations. . . . A presupposition of a nation’s rights is its right to exist. Therefore, no one, neither a state nor another nation nor an international organization, is ever justified in asserting that an individual nation is not worthy of existence. This fundamental right to existence naturally implies that every nation also enjoys the right to its own language and culture through which a people expresses and promotes that which I would call its fundamental spiritual sovereignty. . . .

Our respect for the culture of others is therefore rooted in our respect for each community’s attempt to answer the question of human life. And here, we can see how important it is to safeguard the fundamental right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience as the cornerstones of the structure of human rights and the foundation of every truly free society. No one is permitted to suppress those rights by using coercive power to impose an answer to the mystery of man.

We must clarify the essential difference between a form of nationalism, which teaches contempt for other nations or cultures, and patriotism, which is a proper love of one’s country. True patriotism never seeks to advance the well-being of one’s own nation at the expense of others. For in the end, this would harm one’s own nation as well— doing damage both to the aggressor and the victim. Nationalism, particularly in its most radical forms, is thus the antithesis of true patriotism. And today we must ensure that extreme nationalism does not continue to give rise to new forms of the aberrations of totalitarianism.

Ladies and gentlemen, freedom is the measure of man’s dignity and greatness. Living the freedom sought by individuals and peoples is a great challenge to man’s spiritual growth and to the moral vitality of nations. The basic question which we must all face today is [what constitutes] the responsible use of freedom, in both its personal and social dimensions.