Documents on Democracy

Issue Date July 1999
Volume 10
Issue 3
Page Numbers 182-86
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In Geneva on April 27, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution on the “Promotion of the Right to Democracy” by a roll-call vote of 51–0, with 2 abstentions (China and Cuba). Excerpts from the resolution appear below:

The Commission on Human Rights,

Bearing in mind the indissoluble links between the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the foundation of any democratic society . . .

Recognizing that democracy, development and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing, and that democracy is based on the freely expressed will of the people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives,

. . . Resolved, on the eve of a new century and millennium, to take all measures within its power to secure for all people the fundamental democratic rights and freedoms to which they are entitled,

  1. Affirms that democracy fosters the full realization of all human rights, and vice versa;
  2. Also affirms that the rights of democratic governance include, inter alia, the following:
    1. The rights to freedom of opinion and expression, of thought, conscience and religion, and of peaceful association and assembly;
    2. The right to freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media;
    3. The rule of law, including legal protection of citizens’ rights, interests and personal security, and fairness in the administration of justice and independence of the judiciary;
    4. The right of universal and equal suffrage, as well as free voting procedures and periodic and free elections; [End Page 182]
    5. The right of political participation, including equal opportunity for all citizens to become candidates;
    6. Transparent and accountable government institutions;
    7. The right of citizens to choose their governmental system through constitutional or other democratic means;
    8. The right to equal access to public service in one’s own country;
  3. Notes that the realization of all human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social, including the right to development—are indispensable to human dignity and the full development of human potential and are also integral to democratic society;
  4. Urges the continuation and expansion of activities carried out by the United Nations system, other intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and Member States to promote and consolidate democracy within the framework of international cooperation and to build a democratic political culture through the observance of human rights, mobilization of civil society and other appropriate measures in support of democratic governance.


On April 26 in Rangoon, Aung San Suu Kyi, General Secretary of Burma’s National League for Democracy and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, outlined her thoughts on the role of the military in society and on democracy in Burma. Excerpts from her remarks follow:

The question is “What is the political ideology of the present government?” Since it is a military dictatorship there is no political ideology. Only politicians will have political ideologies. A military dictatorship is militaristic and will govern the country from a military point of view. This is how I see it.

We who have faith in democracy believe that one cannot govern successfully from a militaristic standpoint. This is not said out of disrespect for the Tatmadaw [the Burmese army]. It is not because we want to belittle the role of the military. The Tatmadaw has a role. Military rule should be confined to the military. It is not appropriate for them to take over the governing of the whole country. The laws that are applicable to the battlefield should not be applied for governing the whole country. Military rules and regulations are designed for victory on the battlefield. Everything has its proper place and its proper role. If the Tatmadaw will perform its proper duties with dignity and honesty in its proper place there is no reason for us to find it unacceptable. We will all respect them. We will cooperate with them. But in governance, there must be political ideologies and political principles.

Everyone knows that we want a democratic system, which is one of [End Page 183] many political systems. The people have already indicated their preference for democracy as evidenced in the results of the 1990 general elections. Even before independence was gained, my father declared that democracy is the only system suitable for an independent country. Why is this a fact? A country is truly independent when its entire people truly enjoy freedom. No way can a country be said to be independent if its people are denied all their rights and have no security or freedom. What do we need then for this sort of country where people have no freedom or security and no personal rights? We need democracy. We have been saying this over and over again.

Democracy is not the perfect system. We humans too are not perfect. No political system is perfect. But learned political leaders have claimed that human beings are so equipped that they deserve democracy. The system has its weaknesses. These weaknesses of man can be controlled by a democratic system. It exercises control over those who govern the country. Government is composed of people, not angels. So there are controls in the democratic system, which act as a check on the people who govern the country. On the other hand, it is because of the strength of the people that the democratic system endures. Democracy will work if we embrace it and systematically put it into practice. . . .

Some have said that Burma is not fit for democracy. Others claim that democracy is not appropriate for the East. These comments are made and spoken by people who do not want to adhere to democratic principles because they want to withhold democracy from us. We are all human beings. Are we inferior to other people? Should we have less freedom than others? Those kinds of comments amount to denigrating us. What do they mean when they say that democracy is for the Western countries only?

That is completely unacceptable to us. Our people have the necessary qualifications for democracy.

Middle East

The First International Conference of the Arab Human Rights Movement was held in Casablanca on April 23–25 at the invitation of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, and hosted by the Moroccan Organization for Human Rights. The conference concluded by adopting the “Casablanca Declaration of the Arab Human Rights Movement,” excerpts from which appear below:

Responsibilities of the Arab Human Rights Movement:

1. Promoting the struggle for democracy and basing the general strategy of the movement on such a task. The Conference affirms that the aims of preserving the non-partisan nature of the movement and ensuring its independence from political parties do not exclude working [End Page 184] towards a constant dialogue between human rights organizations and all political parties. Such a dialogue should aim at cooperation to consolidate democratic transformation and respect for human rights, and to draft a code of minimum standards for the respect of human rights and democracy that takes into consideration the specific political and social context of every single country. . . .

4. Struggling for entrenching the values of human rights in the Arab and Islamic culture. This includes the following:

• Urging those Arab governments that did not ratify international human rights instruments to do so immediately and without reservations, and urging those that ratified them to lift their reservations, and to comply to the provisions of such instruments regarding the mechanisms of protection.

• Urging academics, researchers and religious scholars to shed light on the roots of human rights in the Arab culture, to exhibit the contribution of the Islamic civilization in establishing the values of human rights, and to dismantle the artificial contradictions between some human rights principles and some obsolete fundamentalist interpretations. Calling upon all Arab intellectuals and politicians to refrain from entangling Islam in a confrontation with human rights, and to consider those rights provided by international human rights law as a minimum to build upon and not to seek to reduce or call for their violation in the name of specificity or any other pretext.

5. Struggling for the recognition of women’s rights as an integral part of the human rights system.


On February 27, Olusegun Obasanjo was chosen as Nigeria’s first elected president in 15 years. Excerpts from his inaugural address on May 29 appear below:

Twelve months ago, no one could have predicted the series of stunning events that made it possible for democratic elections to be held at the local government level, the state level, and culminating in the National Assembly elections. Thereafter, you the good people of Nigeria elected me, a man who had walked through the valley of the shadow of death, as your president. . . . I wish to pay tribute to the great and gallant Nigerians who lost their lives in the course of the struggle for liberty, democracy, and good governance. They held the beacon of freedom and liberty high in the face of state terrorism and tyranny. We thank God that their sacrifice has not been in vain. We will surely always remember them. Our thanks go also to the friends of Nigeria in many lands for the commitment and unrelenting support they gave throughout the dark ominous days of the struggle. Nigerians [End Page 185] living in foreign lands deserve special tribute for not forgetting their fatherland, and for making their voices heard persistently in defense of freedom; and I must commend you, my home-based fellow Nigerians for the way you bore unprecedented hardship, deprivation of every conceivable rights and privileges that were once taken for granted. . . .

Fellow Nigerians, the entire Nigerian scene is very bleak indeed; so bleak, people ask me: Where do we begin? I know what great things you expect of me at this new dawn. As I have said many times in my extensive travels in the country, I am not a miracle worker. It will be foolish to underrate the task ahead. Alone, I can do little. You have been asked many times in the past to make sacrifices and to be patient. I am also going to ask you to make sacrifices and to exercise patience. The difference will be that in the past, sacrifices were made and patience exercised with little or no results. This time, however, the results of your sacrifice and patience will be clear and manifest for all to see. . . .

Corruption, the greatest single bane of our society today, will be tackled head-on at all levels. Corruption is incipient in all human societies and in most human activities, but it must not be condoned. This is why laws are made and enforced to check corruption so that society will survive and develop in an orderly, reasonable, and predictable way. No society can achieve anything near its full potential if it allows corruption to become the full-blown cancer it has become in Nigeria. One of the greatest tragedies of military rule in recent times is that corruption was allowed to grow unchallenged and unchecked even when it was glaring for everybody to see. . . .

Under this administration, therefore, all the rules and regulations designed to help honesty and transparency in dealing with government will be restored and enforced. . . .

Let me once again thank our international friends who fought for democracy alongside us. Today, we are taking a decisive step on the path of democracy. We will leave no stone unturned to ensure sustenance of democracy because it is good for us, it is good for Africa, and it is good for the world. . . .

The incursion of the military into government has been a disaster for our country. The esprit de corps among military personnel has been destroyed. Professionalism has been lost. Most youths go into the military now not to pursue a noble career but with the sole intention of taking part in coups and to be appointed as military administrators of states and chairmen of task forces. As a retired officer, my heart bleeds to see the degradation in the proficiency of the military. A great deal of re-orientation has to be undertaken and a redefinition of roles, retraining, and re-education will have to be done to ensure that the military submits to civil authority and regains its pride, professionalism, and tradition. We shall restore military cooperation and exchanges with our traditional friends and we will help the military to help itself.