Documents on Democracy

Issue Date January 2005
Volume 16
Issue 1
Page Numbers 179-85
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After meeting in Prague on September 17-19, the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba issued the declaration excerpted below. The signatories included a number of former presidents and prime ministers, including Patricio Aylwin (Chile), Kim Campbell (Canada), Philip Dimitrov (Bulgaria), Václav Havel (Czech Republic), Mart Laar (Estonia), Luis Alberto Lacalle (Uruguay), and Luis Alberto Monge (Costa Rica).

It is inconceivable and unacceptable that people continue to be imprisoned in Cuba for their ideals and peaceful political activity. We know that the majority of Cubans desire nonviolent democratic change in order to establish freedom and democracy in their land. Furthermore, all of us here are convinced of the necessity of this change due to the contact we maintain not just with the prodemocracy movement, but also with the silent majority of citizens who are paralyzed by the fear of repression.

The true source of sovereignty lies in the exercise of their innate rights by the citizens of any given country. A people are not sovereign if they cannot exercise these rights, if they cannot freely elect their political representatives from different ideological options, if they cannot count on the existence of an independent judiciary to balance the power of the government. We defend Cuban sovereignty when we defend the right of the Cuban people to democracy and when we insist that the Cuban government comply with the international agreements on democracy and human rights that it has signed. Without a general amnesty for all political prisoners, recuperation of civil liberties and free general multiparty elections the Cuban people cannot fully exercise their sovereignty.

Our goal is to help create the conditions so that the Cuban people can bring about democracy through a nonviolent transition. Our priority is to strengthen the civil society and civic movement that are bringing about that democracy. In order to accomplish this, we seek to set out common objectives for a general plan of support for democracy in Cuba that can be implemented in a coordinated manner at different levels and from different [End Page 179] parts of the world. The task of general coordination and support for this plan will correspond to the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba. . . .

The ICDC commits itself to long-term work on behalf of Cuban democracy so that one day all Cuban citizens will live in dignity and be able to fully exercise their rights as human beings. This summit marks the beginning of a concerted international effort to aid Cuba in becoming a full member of the world democratic community. We are convinced that through their own efforts and with international solidarity, Cubans will one day enjoy the true peace that only freedom brings. It is to this worthy goal that we fully commit our efforts.


Following the Beslan hostage crisis in early September 2004, President Vladimir Putin introduced a series of “reforms” that aimed at a further centralization of power in Russia. In response, leading European and North American democrats issued on September 28 the following open letter to the heads of state and government of the EU and NATO:

As citizens of the Euro-Atlantic community of democracies, we wish to express our sympathy and solidarity with the people of the Russian Federation in their struggle against terrorism. The mass murderers who seized School No. 1 in Beslan committed a heinous act of terrorism for which there can be no rationale or excuse. While other mass murderers have killed children and unarmed civilians, the calculated targeting of so many innocent children at school is an unprecedented act of barbarism that violates the values and norms of our community and which all civilized nations must condemn.

At the same time, we are deeply concerned that these tragic events are being used to further undermine democracy in Russia. Russia’s democratic institutions have always been weak and fragile. Since becoming President in January 2000, Vladimir Putin has made them even weaker. He has systematically undercut the freedom and independence of the press, destroyed the checks and balances in the Russian federal system, arbitrarily imprisoned both real and imagined political rivals, removed legitimate candidates from electoral ballots, harassed and arrested NGO leaders, and weakened Russia’s political parties. In the wake of the horrific crime in Beslan, President Putin has announced plans to further centralize power and to push through measures that will take Russia a step closer to an authoritarian regime.

We are also worried about the deteriorating conduct of Russia in its foreign relations. President Putin’s foreign policy is increasingly marked by a threatening attitude towards Russia’s neighbors and Europe’s energy security, the return of rhetoric of militarism and empire, and by a refusal to comply with Russia’s international treaty obligations. In all aspects of Russian political life, the instruments of state power appear to be being [End Page 180] rebuilt and the dominance of the security services to grow. We believe that this conduct cannot be accepted as the foundation of a true partnership between Russia and the democracies of NATO and the European Union.

These moves are only the latest evidence that the present Russian leadership is breaking away from the core democratic values of the Euro-Atlantic community. All too often in the past, the West has remained silent and restrained its criticism in the belief that President Putin’s steps in the wrong direction were temporary and the hope that Russia would soon return to a democratic and pro-Western path. Western leaders continue to embrace President Putin in the face of growing evidence that the country is moving in the wrong direction and that his strategy for fighting terrorism is producing less and less freedom. We firmly believe dictatorship will not and cannot be the answer to Russia’s problems and the very real threats it faces.

The leaders of the West must recognize that our current strategy towards Russia is failing. Our policies have failed to contribute to the democratic Russia we wished for and the people of this great country deserve after all the suffering they have endured. It is time for us to rethink how and to what extent we engage with Putin’s Russia and to put ourselves unambiguously on the side of democratic forces in Russia. At this critical time in history when the West is pushing for democratic change around the world, including in the broader Middle East, it is imperative that we do not look the other way in assessing Moscow’s behavior or create a double standard for democracy in the countries which lie to Europe’s East. We must speak the truth about what is happening in Russia. We owe it to the victims of Beslan and the tens of thousands of Russian democrats who are still fighting to preserve democracy and human freedom in their country.

Arab World

On September 5, more than forty leading civil society groups from the Middle East and North Africa met in Beirut and issued a statement that was presented at the G-8 and Arab world meeting in New York on September 24. The statement is excerpted below:

We would like to welcome the G-8 initiative to support political, economic, and social freedom in the broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA). This initiative finally converges with civil society’s continuous efforts for reform in this region. We particularly welcome the G-8 intention to engage civil society of this region in their reform initiatives. International initiatives for reform are particularly important because they lend support to proreform forces in BMENA societies and proreform leaders among BMENA ruling elites.

We are here, as individuals, simple members of the BMENA civil society, women and men who believe in the rule of law, an independent judiciary to protect it, an active and freely elected parliament to enact laws, an accountable, [End Page 181] freely elected government to carry them through, and in meaningful human rights, including foremost the freedom of expression.

We do not claim to represent our societies: only a free vote will. And while most of our countries have parliaments and, occasionally, courageous and outspoken members within them, their efforts are curtailed by executive power, as indeed is the power of our judges which is constantly undermined by executive interference. What we can confidently claim to represent is a pressing voice in our societies that calls for a profound, non-violent change at all levels. . . .

We take pride in a profound and varied tradition that includes some of the most remarkable human achievements in law, theology, literature, arts and science. While this tradition continues, it suffocates under the joint pressures of authoritarian governments and extremists within our societies who remain unpunished for grave abuses of our freedoms. Our societies also suffer from international realpolitik, which sacrifices principles in support of a status quo and the entrenched interests which this status quo protects. Civil society in the BMENA region is, therefore, under many layers of siege: domestic and international. . . .

Governments of the BMENA have failed to achieve development and to absorb pressures from their local public opinion for reform. Warning against the threats of chaos that might result from reforming the region ignores the fact that anarchy has already mushroomed in some of the states of the region. The threat of total collapse would be the result of delaying the onset of reform. Extremism is coterminous with marginalization or suppression of the other intellectual and political currents and their symbols. This is maintained under hegemony of extremist religious discourse, which is often allowed to have public space while denying such space to proreform forces. We are convinced that this is contrary to the interests of the peoples and the objectives of Islam. Such deterioration per se necessitates an urgent response to the calls for reform.

An Arab Reform Agenda needs to raise the value of life of all Arab citizens. This requires a relentless push for pro-poor economic development, a serious program to improve the quality of education, both secular and religious, and most importantly an unconditional respect for human rights of all citizens of the region and for civic liberties without emergency laws, exceptional and military courts. As a handful of us seek your attention and action, many more free men and women have suffered for their courage by being silenced, more often than not by violent means. We request their release and their right to rehabilitation and integration in a nonviolent, meaningful political process.


In response to the initiation of criminal proceedings against Súmate, a Venezuelan NGO working to educate voters, leading democrats from [End Page 182] around the world—including Václav Havel, Madeleine Albright, former Nicaraguan president Violeta Chamorro, former Chilean minister Genaro Arriagada, and U.S. senator John McCain—sent an open letter to Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. Excerpts appear below:

We write to you as democrats from around the world to express our solidarity with and deep concern for some fellow democrats in your country who face prosecution for exercising their civic rights.

It has come to our attention that the leaders of Súmate, a civic organization, face criminal prosecution for accepting international assistance to help educate citizens about their rights under Venezuela’s constitution. As democrats, we are appalled that this group is being singled out for punishment, a group whose deep commitment to democratic principles we share and applaud.

We are equally troubled that this prosecution appears to be just the beginning of a larger effort to criminalize the receipt of foreign funds by Venezuelan NGOs. We agree with the denunciations of this proposed “reform” of the penal code by human rights groups in Venezuela and elsewhere as a clear violation of international standards and practices.

As you undoubtedly know, proceeding against nongovernmental organizations for receiving democratic assistance is a violation of both the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Warsaw Declaration of the Community of Democracies, a document your government signed along with over 100 others four years ago. . . .

We urge you to reconsider the prosecution of the leadership of Súmate, as well as the proposal to criminalize democracy assistance from abroad. Both are clearly inconsistent with international democratic norms and constitute a grave threat to democracy.


A Workshop of ASEAN Parliamentarians on the Myanmar Issue, held in Kuala Lumpur on November 26-28, issued the statement excerpted below:

There is a political and humanitarian crisis in Myanmar that is causing massive suffering and that has a spillover effect on its regional neighbours, seriously affecting regional security through refugee and drugs flows, that requires urgent action by all parties involved. . . . The [government of Myanmar] has given public commitments to ASEAN members, agreeing to political change . . . which they have not yet implemented. . . .

Parliamentarians from ASEAN countries have a role to play in shaping their respective governments’ policies regarding Myanmar and in supporting fellow Parliamentarians from Myanmar to implement the people’s mandate. . . . After over a decade, ASEAN’s constructive engagement policy has yet to yield the desired results for change.

The Chairmanship of ASEAN cannot be awarded to Myanmar in 2006, [End Page 183] without undergoing systemic and irreversible change in its governance, as it will have a deleterious impact on all ASEAN and its member nations. In this context, we call for the immediate review of Myanmar’s membership of ASEAN.

Broader changes in Myanmar can only be effected with pressure from other ASEAN governments. Unless ASEAN governments take an interest in pressuring for inclusive democracy in Myanmar, any government set up as a result of the National Convention without NLD participation would result in the formation of a “puppet” government. . . .

[We] make the commitment to: . . .

  • Lobby our respective governments to support international organisational initiatives to implement pressures on Myanmar for failing to abide by its commitments to reform, including those of the UN General Assembly and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
  • Initiate the formation of national nonpartisan level prodemocracy caucuses on Myanmar in our respective Parliaments.
  • Establish an Interim ASEAN Inter-Parliamentarian Caucus on democracy in Myanmar (IPC) to be formalised in 2005, in view of the short 18-month period up till the formal date for Myanmar’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2006. Membership invitations should also be extended to people’s representatives in Laos, Brunei and Vietnam.
  • Convene a meeting on Myanmar, in tandem with the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly in Manila, April 3-8, 2005, that will be also be open to Parliamentarians from outside ASEAN. . . .

We hereby declare the formation of an interim ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Caucus on Myanmar in order to implement the aims outlined in this statement.

We call on our Parliamentary colleagues from ASEAN member states, Asia, Europe, North America and other parts of the world to work with us in solidarity for the achievement of these aims.

We believe that this forum is a significant step in achieving a breakthrough on Myanmar. It is time that all key players in the region and the international community including Parliamentarians and civil society work collectively to help resolve the crisis in Myanmar.


On December 7, Hamid Karzai was inaugurated as Afghanistan’s first elected president. (For more on his election, see Larry Goodson’s article on pp. 24-38 of this issue.) Below are excerpts from his inaugural speech:

Nothing makes me more hopeful about the future of this country—and my ability to serve it—than the incredible experience of our people’s participation in the recent elections. So it is with God’s blessing, and our people’s support, that I resolve to fulfill this great responsibility that has been put on my shoulders today.

My brothers and sisters, I have heard, over the past month or so, many [End Page 184] extraordinary stories of the Afghan people’s participation in the elections. Someone told me the story of an elderly woman in Farah province who arrived at a polling station with two voter’s cards. She went up to an election worker and declared that she wanted to vote twice, once for herself, and again for her daughter who, she said, was about to deliver her child and unable to come to the polling station to vote. “We are sorry, but no one can vote for another person, this is the rule,” the elderly lady was told. So she voted—for herself—and left the station. Later in the day, the election worker was shocked to see the elderly woman back, this time accompanying her young daughter to the polling station. Her daughter carried her newborn baby, as well as her voting card which she used to cast her vote. . . .

Every vote that was cast in the elections was a vote for Afghanistan, whether I received it or another candidate. Every voter had Afghanistan’s best interests at heart. I thank all the voters who participated in the elections, and I respect their vote. I am confident, and proud, that this nation is determined to rebuild Afghanistan, and rebuild it fast; to live in security, and to stand on its own feet. . . .

During our election campaign, we presented a manifesto for the future to the people of Afghanistan. Our principal promises concern strengthening the security sector and ensuring lasting stability throughout the country; the elimination of poppy cultivation and the fight against processing and trafficking of drugs; the disarmament and demobilization of former combatants; the eradication of poverty, generation of wealth and the provision of public services, especially to the rural areas; the rule of law and the protection of civil liberties and human rights; the acceleration of administrative reform to strengthen administration, root out corruption, stop the abuse of public funds, and ensure meritocracy; the strengthening of national unity; the rebuilding and building of the country’s infrastructure; and of course the strengthening of understanding and cooperation with the international community. We feel obliged to work to deliver on these promises, with the help of God the Almighty, over the next five years.

In addition to the above, a significant challenge facing us over the next few months is conducting parliamentary elections. Again with help of the Almighty, and participation of the people of Afghanistan, this challenge will also be overcome and parliamentary elections will be held on schedule, in a safe and free environment. The election of the legislature will complete the establishment of the third branch of power in our state, paving the way for a law-abiding, progressive and prosperous Afghanistan. . . .

Three years ago, the firm and productive cooperation of the international community rid Afghanistan from the rule of terrorism. The same cooperation has led to the rebuilding of the Afghan state, and significant progress in restoring peace, stability and security to our country. As a result, we have now left a hard and dark past behind us, and today we are opening a new chapter in our history, in a spirit of friendship with the international community.