On November 18, the National Endowment for Democracy organized a conference entitled “Middle Eastern Democrats and Their Vision of the Future.” Among the speakers were Representative Howard Berman, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Musa Maaytah, Jordanian minister of political development; and Nouzha Skalli, Moroccan minister of social development, family, and solidarity. Ayman Nour, head of the Egyptian El Ghad Party, sent a video message and participated by phone. Excerpts from his video statement appear below. (For a full version of this text, see www.vimeo.com/7706629.)
I am happy to speak before you today at this conference given the special importance of its topic, participants, and hosts. It would have been a greater pleasure to have had the honor of speaking with you face-to-face. However, the [Egyptian] authorities that permitted me to travel to Belgium this past April to speak before the European Parliament banned me from traveling to America to participate in this conference.
It has become clear that although the government released me from prison on 18 February 2009, only five months prior to the legal release date, with the objective of easing internal and external pressures, the real intention was to deprive me of my basic human and constitutional rights, not just as a liberal opposition leader or as a competitor to the current president or next candidate but as an Egyptian citizen and human being. . . . I was released from my small prison into a bigger prison. . . .
General elections in authoritarian states lack the minimum guarantees of competitiveness and integrity, and this is a very critical situation similar to a defenseless person entering a lion’s den. In reality there are no constitutional, legal, or judicial guarantees, and all authorities are subject to the will of the “Sun King” or ruler who believes in the theory of Louis XIV, who said, “I am the state and the state is I.” When the president is the State and the State is the President, law, justice, reason, and human rights are absent and everything becomes possible. [End Page 175]
In prison, where I spent four years and Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim spent several years in the past, there is a special wing with dozens of rooms and hundreds of detainees known as the “Elections Ward,” and another ward for political activists, where some spend dozens of years without trial or appearing before a fair judge. . . .
What the Ghad Party had become between its establishment in October 2004 and the presidential elections in September 2005 presents overwhelming confirmation of the ability of a liberal political party to succeed as a third alternative to authoritarianism and fundamentalism. . . .
I was released from prison to find a wide cross-section of Egyptians who view us as hope for change. . . . This responsibility led us to issue a declaration on 6 April 2009 entitled the “Cairo Declaration,” which outlines the most significant challenges and aspirations for free, fair, and transparent elections. . . .
The ten points included in the Cairo Declaration are the most important features of our proposal for political and electoral reform through free and fair elections in Egypt, namely:
One, change the constitutional and legal systems that frame the electoral processes for both presidential and parliamentary elections in Egypt. . . .
Four, limit presidential terms to a maximum of two terms with no possibility for renewal. . . .
Ten, form the legal basis for civil and international monitoring in general elections and invite international NGO and parliamentary participation in the development of international standards to determine the transparency of the upcoming Egyptian elections. Also, direct international assistance to support fair and transparent elections and link progress in democracy to progress in the implementation of economic assistance programs. . . .
The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) presented its Light of Truth Award to Wang Lixiong, a Chinese writer who coauthored a 12 March 2008 open letter to the Chinese authorities entitled “Twelve Suggestions for Handling the Tibetan Situation.” Below are excerpts from Wang Lixiong’s acceptance speech on October 7:
At this moment of honor, I remain deeply worried for Mr. Liu Xiaobo, who participated in the drafting of “Twelve Suggestions for Dealing with the Tibetan Situation,” and who at this time is being held in a prison in China for the crime of “incitement to subvert state power.”
I must also add that there are 308 public signatories; the volunteers who were responsible for collecting the signatures were threatened by police, they were hounded out of their jobs, and their email accounts [End Page 176] were attacked by hackers, leading to the ruin of an uncounted number of signatories. . . . Most of the 308 signatories are from the Chinese mainland, along with overseas Chinese and people from other countries. Most of them are Han, although there are people of other ethnicities; and there are many intellectuals but also workers, farmers, scholars and urbanites. If such a diverse group of people were to be epitomized by a single common feature, it would be “of the people.”
This group of people is in no way what the Chinese police or the Great-Han nationalists profess us to be: anti-China. The opposite: We dearly love China. But loving China does not amount to loving the government. Daring to criticize the government is done for the good of China, but a government that cannot accept criticism can only bring harm to China.
Neither is this group what some critics have accused us of being: standing on the side of Tibet. Our position did not arise from choosing camps, it arose from a pursuit of the truth. . . .
The fake propaganda and information blackouts by the totalitarian power have made it difficult for the majority of the Chinese people to understand the truth about Tibet, and they have no way of knowing about the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way. This is the major long-term obstacle to resolving the Tibet Question. Removing this obstacle should be the mission of China’s intellectuals, for there is no greater knowledge than the truth.
The Tibetan uprising still hadn’t subsided when the turmoil in Urumchi rocked China once more. The ferocity of the conflict between Han and Uyghurs in Urumchi presents a most worrying prospect: that ethnic contradictions in China have now become inter-racial. This disastrous consequence is a creation of totalitarianism, and yet it could completely explode during a period of democratic transition. Totalitarianism uses suppression, whereas suppression is weakened by democracy.
This is an emphatic warning to us: We cannot rely solely on a change of systems to resolve ethnic problems, and we cannot assume that everything will be naturally resolved with the coming of democracy. If we cannot eradicate racial hatred beforehand and achieve peace among peoples, then even if the government changes and even if democracy arises, there will still be animosities between the people, and there will be the possibility of civil wars and massacres alike.
The racial hatred created by totalitarianism has perversely become a reason used by the totalitarians to reject democracy, one which is virulently supported by Great-Han nationalists. This logic of kidnapper and hostage living or dying together is a difficult obstacle to remove along the path to democracy.
Overcoming this difficulty requires promoting the start of dialog between the nationalities. It is only when people of all nationalities resolve hatred and realize unity that the totalitarians’ reason of ethnic conflict for rejecting democracy can be dismissed. . . .
In order to guard against the disastrous consequences of totalitarianism [End Page 177] which would manifest with the coming of democracy, democratic groupings and channels of communication first need to be founded under the totalitarian system. Although this is a great challenge to our bravery and our wisdom, all we can do is rise to meet it. For aside from this, there is no other way.
In the face of obstacles placed by totalitarian powers, channels of communication between nationalities within civic spaces will need to rely on new technologies such as the Internet; unprecedented democratic forms need to be discovered and greater organizational structures need to be created. And to this end, we are joining hands. The hardships will be many and there is a lot of work to do. Fortunately, in today’s era of globalization, such just undertakings can seek support from all over the world. Our gathering in this place today is a portrait of these wonderful times.
Thank you, Your Holiness, for your unrelenting search for common understanding with the Chinese people, and for your struggle to find a future where the Han and Tibetan peoples both win; and thank you to all of you here for the support you have granted in the past, and for the support you will grant in the future.
On September 29 in Gdansk, the Lech Wałęsa Institute Foundation awarded the Lech Wałęsa Prize to three Iranian human-rights activists: the sisters Ladan and Roya Boroumand, founders of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, and Shadi Sadr, a lawyer, journalist, and activist in the End Stoning Forever campaign. Below are excerpts from Ladan Boroumand’s acceptance speech. (For a full version of this text, see www.iranrights.org/english/newsletter-13.php.)
They arrest, then deny an arrest ever took place. They torture, but they say torture is banned. They kill, but they say their enemies did it. They murder the best of your fellow citizens, and then they try to make you an accomplice after the fact by believing and repeating their lies. They require this complicity from their citizens and want the whole world to echo their falsehoods.
At first one feels lonely, isolated, and empty-handed in the face of evil, seemingly almighty and invulnerable. But then one realizes that evil has a mortal enemy. That enemy is truth. You understand that you do not need weapons to resist the lies and tell the truth. You only need a strong mind, and a sense of righteous purpose that will not bend or break.
You notice that evil gets its strength less from raw violence than from the way it tempts us to believe its lies. You understand that truth is the power of the powerless. Documenting the truth as much as we can is what Roya and I have tried to do, with humility and perseverance, at the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation. In the daunting task of telling the story of the victims of the Islamic Republic of Iran, we have had the privilege of working with a [End Page 178] dedicated team of researchers. We have benefited so much from the technical, moral, and financial support of the international human-rights community. We would like to thank them all for their support and commitment.
But more importantly we would like to thank our fellow Iranian citizens who have braved danger and defied the power of the lie by pouring into the streets and squares by the millions to tell the truth about the stolen presidential election this past June. They told their government that they did not believe its lies, and they would not be quiet about it. By refusing to accept those lies, they shook the foundation of its totalitarian rule.
We have no doubt that the award we receive today is honoring not only three human-rights advocates, but a nation’s will to reject lies and live in truth. Mr. President, today by honoring three Iranian women with the prestigious Lech Wałêsa prize, you and the honorable members of the award committee are sending a message to our persecutors that the world rejects their lies.
On November 17, the Council of the European Union approved a set of “Conclusions on Democracy Support in the EU’s External Relations.” Annexed to it is an EU Agenda for Action, which is excerpted below:
Democratic and participatory governance and the free will of the people can best assure the right of men and women to live and raise their children in dignity, freedom from hunger and from the fear of violence, oppression or injustice. As recognized in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, everyone has the right to take part in the government of his or her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. Democracy is inextricably linked to the full respect of all human rights, including gender equality.
The EU can play an important role in supporting States and civil society, including human rights defenders and democracy activists, who wish to move towards greater freedom, equity, justice and prosperity. . . .
Though democratic systems may vary in forms and shape, democracy has evolved into a universal value. Democracy ensures that rulers can be held accountable for their actions. Governments with democratic legitimacy must deliver on the basic rights and needs of people or they risk losing legitimacy and public support. The EU remains committed to the principles of ownership of development strategies and programmes by the citizens of partner countries. Locally driven processes and initiatives should be supported by an appropriate mix of financial and political instruments tailored to the specific situation of each country, as long as such initiatives are compatible with international human rights standards. The aim of The EU Agenda for Action on Democracy Support in EU External Relations is to improve the coherence and the effectiveness [End Page 179] of EU democracy support, not to introduce new conditionality for EU development aid. . . .
- Human rights and democracy are inextricably connected. Only in a democracy can individuals fully realize their human rights; only when human rights are respected can democracy flourish.
- Progress in the protection of human rights, good governance and democratization is fundamental for poverty reduction and sustainable development.
- While there is no single model of democracy, democracies share certain common features. These include respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the principle of non-discrimination, which provides that everyone is entitled to enjoyment of all human rights without discrimination as to race, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, birth or other status. Democracy should ensure the rights of all, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities, of indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups.
- Democracy, democratic governance, development and respect for all human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social—are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. . . .
- EU democracy support should include a special focus on the role of elected representatives and political parties and institutions, independent media and civil society. The EU support should take into account the full electoral cycle and not focus on ad hoc electoral support only.
- The EU acknowledges the essential oversight role of democratically elected citizens’ representatives. Therefore it encourages an increased involvement of national assemblies, Parliaments and local authorities in domestic policy-making.
- The accountability of leaders and public officials to citizens is an essential element of democracy. In this context, the EU reiterates its support for the efforts to combat corruption.
- The EU supports the broad participation of all stakeholders in countries’ development and encourages all parts of society to take part in democracy building. NGOs and other non-state actors of partner countries in particular play a vital role as promoters of democracy, social justice and human rights.
- The EU partnerships and dialogues with third countries will continue to promote the common values of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, peace, democracy, good governance, gender equality, the rule of law, solidarity and justice. . . .
More visibility should be given to democracy issues in EU annual reports on development cooperation and human rights and in other relevant country reports. These should, where possible, include a separate section on democracy support. [End Page 180]