Documents on Democracy

Issue Date January 2014
Volume 25
Issue 1
Page Numbers 179-183
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Mongolia/North Korea

On October 30, near the end of his official state visit to North Korea, Mongolian president Tsakhiagiyn Elbegdorj delivered a speech at Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang highlighting the importance of freedom. Excerpts from his speech appear below:

No speech on Mongolia’s foreign policy would be complete without noting some crucial aspects of our domestic policy, for Mongolia’s foreign and domestic policies are entwined and holistic.

We, Mongolia, are a country that respects human rights and freedoms, upholds rule of law, and pursues open policies. Mongolia holds dear the fundamental human rights—freedom of expression, the right to assembly, and the right to live by one’s own choice.

I believe in the power of freedom. Freedom is an asset bestowed upon every single man and woman. Freedom enables every human to discover and realize his or her opportunities and chances for development. This leads a human society to progress and prosperity. Free people look for solutions in themselves. And those without freedom search outside themselves for the sources of their miseries. Mongols say, “Better to live by your own choice, however bitter it is, than to live by another’s choice, however sweet.”

No tyranny lasts forever. It is the desire of the people to live free that is the eternal power. In 1990, Mongolia made a dual political and economic transition, concurrently, without shattering a single window or shedding a single drop of blood. Let me draw just one example. Over twenty years ago, the share of the private sector in Mongolia’s GDP was less than 10 percent, whereas today it accounts for over 80 percent. So, a free society is a path on which to go—a way to live, rather than a goal to accomplish.

Strengthening a free society and transitioning to it is not easy. It is a daily task, a grueling mundane routine to cleanse our free society of ills [End Page 179] and dirt, just as parents change the diapers of their babies every morning. These days Mongolia is paying concerted attention to judicial reform. Corruption is a mortal enemy on our way to development. Mongolia strives to implement a policy of zero tolerance to corruption.

We do not hide our shadow. Our mistakes and our lessons are open. Freedom is a system where one can make a mistake, and also learn from the mistake. The path a free and open society walks on is a learning process itself. I am a learning man as well. I was born to a herder’s family. I am the youngest of a couple with eight sons. And I am very happy for the chance given by the free choice of my people to serve the common interests of my people.

Burma/Czech Republic

On September 15-18, the Forum 2000 Foundation held its seventeenth annual conference in Prague, entitled “Societies in Transition.” During the opening ceremony, Burmese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi delivered a speech in honor of Václav Havel, who founded Forum 2000 along with Japanese philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel in order to support democracy, human rights, civil society, and tolerance. Excerpts from her speech appear below:

Of course, all of you know that it is thanks to [Václav Havel] that I was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and I have never made a secret of the fact that if instead of nominating me he had accepted the nomination for himself, he would have been the Nobel Peace [Prize] Winner of 1991. I will always believe that because I think that was the truth—and he believed in truth, facing the truth.

I have tried to look at different aspects of his life and of his work for human rights and for democracy and wondered how I would like him to be remembered in my country and in other countries where democracy and human rights are valued. I see him primarily as a man who loved freedom. That is so important for us—freedom—and when I say that he loved freedom, what I mean is that love entails cherishing, and cherishing entails enhancing. He loved freedom, he cherished freedom, and he enhanced freedom because he lived his ideas and his beliefs as few other people have lived.

When I was under house arrest for many years in Burma I knew that somewhere in the world there was a man who was speaking out for me and because of whom my freedom remained intact, in spite of physical detention. He made me feel free, because he was free and he believed in the right of every human being to freedom. . . .

The ultimate freedom was that of “living in truth,” the kind of freedom that can never be taken away from any of us. Because he believed [End Page 180] in freedom, he believed in living in truth. If you cannot live in truth, if you cannot live as you believe you should live, you are not a free person, even if you are not physically detained in any way, even if you think you can do anything you like. But as long as you do not have courage to face the truth and live the truth, you cannot truly be a free person. And that is what he taught me, and I am sure he taught this to others as well: that to be completely free you have to be true to yourself and to your beliefs.

We in Burma have started out on the process of transition, which is why it is so appropriate that I should be able to come here today and thank the man who made it possible for us to keep alive our belief in our ability to effect transition from military dictatorship to democracy. We have not effected this transition yet. We are still in the process of trying. And if he were alive today and here with us, I am sure he would say to me—to all of you—it is not going to be easy but you persevere and you will get there. And this is exactly what I believe. It is not going to be easy and we have just started out. . . .

When I was under house arrest in Burma, I used to think of Czechoslovakia, as it was then, as a faraway friend on whom we could always rely in times of need. I knew that some of our dissidents were given sanctuary in your country, and I knew that all the time your leader was speaking out for us, for me, for our country, for democracy, for human rights. When I received his books—I was allowed to receive books from time to time—I read them avidly to try to find out how I too could survive the years of struggle as he survived, and that is when I understood that the ultimate freedom was to be able to live in truth. And that is what we are still trying to do in my country.

Global

On September 23, U.S. president Barack Obama organized a meeting of governmental, private-sector, and civil society leaders to discuss the growth of restrictions on civil society globally. The participating governments issued the joint statement appearing below:

We, the governments of the United States, Australia, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Ireland, Japan, Libya, Lithuania, Mexico, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom, taking note of the important work of the Community of Democracies, the Open Government Partnership, and the Lifeline Fund, met on September 23 along with representatives of civil society, the philanthropic community, the private sector, and the United Nations on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Our purpose was to reinforce the central role of civil society in working with governments to address common challenges and to coordinate action to [End Page 181] promote and protect civil society in the face of ongoing assault around the world. We affirmed that the strength and vibrancy of nations depend on an active civil society and robust engagement between governments and civil society to advance shared goals of peace, prosperity, and the well-being of all people. We noted our deep concern that many governments are restricting civil society and the rights of freedom of association and expression, both online and offline.

To combat this alarming trend, our governments committed to work together to respond to growing restrictions on civil society that undermine its ability to perform its crucial role. We will ensure effective coordination of the multiple efforts already underway toward this end, including through the U.N. system, the Community of Democracies, the Open Government Partnership, and Lifeline, and commit to strengthen our support for these existing mechanisms. We will enhance our support for the work of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. We will lead by example to promote laws, policy decisions, and practices that foster a positive space for civil society in accordance with international law, and oppose legislation and administrative measures that impede efforts of civil society. We will undertake joint diplomatic action whenever necessary to support civil society in countries where it is under threat, and to defend the fundamental freedoms of association and peaceful assembly.

We will also work to develop new and innovative ways of providing technical, financial, and logistical support to promote and protect the right of citizens and civil society to freely associate, meaningfully engage with government, and constructively participate in processes to improve the well-being of their countries. Throughout all of these efforts, our nations will continue to engage with representatives of civil society to help us understand and respond to the challenges they confront.

We commit to gather again at the opening of the 69th United Nations General Assembly to review our progress toward these objectives. We will work in concert over the coming year to ensure a robust, effective international response to the proliferation of restrictions being placed on civil society. We call on representatives of civil society, the philanthropic community, the private sector, and other governments to partner with us in supporting and defending civil society.

Asia

On October 21-22, civil society leaders gathered in Seoul to launch the Asia Democracy Network (ADN), whose establishment was announced during the Seventh Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies in April. ADN’s membership includes a hundred NGOs from 26 countries in the region. An excerpt from its charter appears below: [End Page 182]

Vision, Mission and Goal

  1. 1. ADN is committed to building a just, equitable and sustainable community of democratic societies in Asia, where all human rights of all individuals, groups and peoples are fully respected and realized. (Vision)
  2. 2. ADN works to promote and advance democratization and democratic governance at all levels of society through effective solidarity and cooperation among civil society organizations and democracy advocates in Asia. (Mission)
  3. 3. ADN aims to build a stronger regional democracy network and movement engaged effectively in international advocacy and engagement with governments, inter-governmental organizations and other stakeholders in Asia and beyond. (Goal)

Values and Principles

  1. 1. ADN embraces principles such as international solidarity and partnerships, plurality and diversity, shared responsibilities and leadership, human rights based approach.
  2. 2. ADN believes: that democracy is a universally recognized ideal as well as a goal, which is based on common values shared by peoples throughout the world community; that participatory and inclusive democracy plays a role in promoting social justice, reducing inequality, and preventing armed conflict; that women’s active participation and empowerment is crucial in advancing inclusive democracy; that democracy should contribute to the protection of religious, ethnic and other minorities; that free, fair and democratic elections are essential to good governance; that education for democracy at all levels ensures that citizens are aware of their rights and civic duties.
  3. 3. ADN recognizes: the role of the private sector in democracy building by promoting good and sustainable business practice according to international norms and standards; the importance of international development cooperation as an effective tool for democracy promotion; the importance of constructive engagement with governments and international organizations while maintaining independence and autonomy.
  4. 4. ADN upholds and reaffirms universal values such as human rights and democracy as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Universal Declaration on Democracy (1997), UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms [Human Rights Defenders] (1998). [End Page 183]