Documents on Democracy

Issue Date January 1998
Volume 9
Issue 1
Page Numbers 183-86
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After spending a total of over 16 years as a political prisoner, Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng was released on medical grounds and exiled to the United States on November 16. He gave his first press conference at the New York Public Library on November 21. Excerpts from his opening statement appear below:

I want to thank the people and governments around the world that have made enormous efforts to press the Chinese government for the release of political prisoners. I would also like to thank friends in the media who have given me this opportunity to freely express my opinions. I have waited decades for this chance to exercise my right to free speech, but the Chinese people have been waiting for centuries. Right now there are several thousand political prisoners still suffering in Chinese Communist Party jails for exercising their freedom of speech. Our conscience as human beings will not allow us to forget them, not even for a single moment.

Democracy and freedom are among the loftiest ideals of humanity, and they are the most sacred rights of mankind. Generations of martyrs sacrificed themselves in order to obtain democracy in Europe, North America, and many other places in the world. But people should not be satisfied with this. Those who already enjoy democracy, liberty, and human rights, in particular, should not allow their own personal happiness to numb them into forgetting the many others who are still struggling against tyranny, slavery, and poverty, and all those who are suffering from unimaginable forms of oppression, exploitation, and massacres. Dictators can never be satisfied with the power they already hold; the freedoms and prosperity you have gained are not protected by walls of steel. If you look aside when gangsters abuse your neighbors, then your own home will no longer be safe. Only when people join together to defeat all such gangsters will everyone be safe and free. [End Page 183]

In his essay on pp. 27–34 above, Michel Oksenberg notes that China’s leaders have increasingly begun to employ the rhetoric of democracy. Evidence of this was apparent in an address that President Jiang Zemin delivered on October 30 at a luncheon in Washington, D.C., hosted by the America-China Society and five other organizations. An excerpt appears below:

We will further enlarge democracy, run the state according to law and turn China into a socialist country ruled by law. . . . We believe that without democracy there can be no modernization. We will ensure that our people hold democratic elections, make policy decisions democratically, carry out democratic management and supervision, and enjoy extensive rights and freedoms under the law while giving greater play to their creativity and their sense of being the masters of state affairs. We will continue to safeguard the dignity of the Constitution and other laws, further to improve the legal system, and to strengthen supervision of government organs and leading officials at all levels to ensure that all work of the country is carried out according to law. The overall goal of our political restructuring is to build socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics while upholding and improving our basic political system.

Organization of American States (OAS)

In December 1992, the OAS General Assembly approved an amendment to the OAS Charter that allowed for the suspension of member states whose democratically elected governments fall victim to coups. With action by Venezuela achieving the required ratification by two-thirds of the member states, the amendment came into force on September 25. It is excerpted below:

Article 9

A Member of the Organization whose democratically constituted government has been overthrown by force may be suspended from the exercise of the right to participate in the sessions of the General Assembly, the Meeting of Consultation, the Councils of the Organization, and the Specialized Conferences as well as in the commissions, working groups, and any other bodies established.

  1. The power to suspend shall be exercised only when such diplomatic initiatives undertaken by the Organization for the purpose of promoting the restoration of representative democracy in the affected Member State have been unsuccessful;
  2. The decision to suspend shall be adopted at a special session of the General Assembly by an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Member States; [End Page 184]


As Shaul Bakhash reports in his essay on pp. 80–94 above, the campaign of Iran’s new president Mohammad Khatami stressed the rule of law, political participation, and civil society. These themes were also reflected in his August 4 inaugural address, excerpted below:

“Protecting freedom of individuals and the rights of the nation,” which constitutes a fundamental obligation of the President upon taking the oath, is an imperative emanating from the exalted worth and dignity of the human person enshrined in our Divine religion. Fulfillment of this responsibility can only be attained through wider popular awareness of their own rights, provision of the necessary conditions for the realization of constitutionally guaranteed liberties, strengthening and expansion of the institutions of the civil society, promotion of ethical values, strengthening of the culture of dialogue, discourse, appraisal and critique, and prevention of any violation of the integrity, dignity, and constitutional rights and freedoms of individuals. . . .

Anybody who lives under the Islamic system and complies with the law is entitled to the rights of life, freedom of expression, enjoyment of a decent living, and participation in social, economic, and political affairs. The state is duty-bound to safeguard these rights and boundaries and provide the people with the necessary milieu and means of tranquility and peace of mind in all public and private spheres of life, advancing the rule of law and consolidating security and stability. . . .

The legitimacy of the government stems from the people’s vote, and a powerful government, elected by the people, is representative, participatory, and accountable. . . . The people must believe that they have the right to determine their own destiny and that the power of the state is bound by limits and constraints set by law. State authority cannot be attained through coercion and dictatorship.


On October 15–16 more than 40 participants from 19 countries, including both established and new democracies, gathered to discuss “Democracy Foundations: Their Role and Prospect.” Cosponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the meeting was hosted by Taiwan’s Institute for National Policy Research, which had also joined NED in sponsoring a 1995 meeting on “Consolidating the Third Wave Democracies.” Excerpts from the keynote speech by NED president Carl Gershman appear below:

Our present meeting builds upon the idea of consolidating third wave democracies but is inspired by a different and arguably far bolder [End Page 185] proposition: namely, that the time has come for all of the world’s democracies—regardless of whether they are classified as first, second, or third wave—to establish foundations devoted to the defense and promotion of democracy around the world. . . .

Such foundations need not follow any particular model. In some cases they may have a domestic as well as an international focus, especially in newer democracies. . . .

Nonetheless, there are some fundamental features that such foundations would have in common. They would be public in character, representing a national or regional commitment to the furtherance of democracy. As such, they would draw upon public funds for their work, though not necessarily to the exclusion of raising private funds for particular initiatives. At the same time, they would be independent of their governments, though the degree and nature of that independence would undoubtedly vary from country to country. Most importantly, they would all share a commitment to the core values of freedom, tolerance, and the rule of law. Moreover, they would have a natural affinity with similar institutions in other regions. Thus even if they chose to limit the geographic scope of their work, they would be part of a larger effort devoted to the support of democracy throughout the world. . . .

In a very real sense the third wave has made it possible for the first time to consider the development of a truly worldwide, multicivilizational effort to support democracy. As a result of the third wave, there now exists a critical mass of democracies drawn from all regions of the world and representing all of the world’s civilizations. Even in the regions where democracy is weakest, there are now countries that can provide a base of regional support for fledgling democratic groups. Over time, that base will grow more secure and the groups will gain experience and strength. Moreover, given the nature of globalization and the speed with which information and other forms of assistance can be transmitted over great distances, small subcultures of democracy will be able to draw upon wide networks of support as they seek to grow stronger.

Because freedom is an innate human aspiration, the gradual universalization of democracy within a world of diverse cultures is a feasible objective. Obviously the pace and character of the evolution towards democracy will vary depending on the country and culture that are involved. The forces unleashed by technology and globalization have drawn people throughout the world into an accelerated dynamic of change. These historical forces could lead to a more open, prosperous, and secure world, or to one that is more conflicted and violent. The outcome is not inevitable or predetermined but will be shaped by human actions. It is my hope that this meeting, by giving impetus to the expansion of democracy foundations, will contribute to the realization of a more peaceful and democratic world.