In March, popular protests forced Kyrgyz president Askar Akayev into exile and eventually led to his resignation on April 5. On March 31, Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko and Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili issued a joint statement to the Kyrgyz nation, excerpted below:
We address you—a proud and freedom-loving Kyrgyz nation—on behalf of all Ukrainian and Georgian people with wholehearted words of support and solidarity. Millions of our fellow citizens daily follow the developments in Kyrgyzstan with dismay and compassion, because they know well what it means to fight for one’s freedom, for dignity and rights. Revolutionary events in your country showed that universal human values do exist in the world regardless of geography, nationality, or religion. These events showed that in our three countries the elections were just one of the reasons, the last straw that exacerbated the patience of the people and moved them towards the uprising. Finally, the Tulip Revolution manifested that revolutions cannot be exported, they happen only where there are objective grounds in place.
We have no intention to take any sides. The Kyrgyz people are the main source of power in the country. You are the only one to decide your destiny. We just want to help you with the experience of our nations to travel in a peaceful and civilized manner this difficult road to a genuine democracy. During the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine our compatriots were surprised at themselves and proud that they could win back their democratic rights and freedoms without a drop of blood. They heard quite often the words “The whole world is looking at you in amazement! Be worthy of this honor!” We address you now in the same words: “The whole world is looking at you!” We are deeply convinced and hope that the Kyrgyz people, with its rich history and culture, will also manage to leave behind honorably today’s difficult situation.
Eighteen months ago people in the streets of Tbilisi chanted, “Georgia is one nation!” A year later the streets of Kyiv reverberated with the [End Page 181] sound of “East and West are together!” Let the streets of Bishkek today be flooded with the slogan “North and South are together!” Stay together. A neighbor should reach out his hand of friendship to a neighbor. We wish the police be always on the side of the people. We wish you peace, good, love and patience. Help your new government to build a democratic nation, become a strong civil society. . . .
Ukraine and Georgia are with you!
The Club of Madrid, an independent organization dedicated to strengthening democracy worldwide, organized the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism, and Security in Madrid on March 8–11. The Summit adopted the Madrid Agenda, which is excerpted below:
We, the members of the Club of Madrid, former presidents and prime ministers of democratic countries dedicated to the promotion of democracy, have brought together political leaders, experts and citizens from across the world.
We listened to many voices. We acknowledged the widespread fear and uncertainty generated by terrorism. Our principles and policy recommendations address these fundamental concerns.
Ours is a call to action for leaders everywhere. An agenda for action for governments, institutions, civil society, the media, and individuals. A global democratic response to the global threat of terrorism.
Terrorism is a crime against all humanity. It endangers the lives of innocent people. It creates a climate of hate and fear, it fuels global divisions along ethnic and religious lines. Terrorism constitutes one of the most serious violations of peace, international law, and the values of human dignity.
Terrorism is an attack on democracy and human rights. No cause justifies the targeting of civilians and noncombatants through intimidation and deadly acts of violence.
We firmly reject any ideology that guides the actions of terrorists. We decisively condemn their methods. Our vision is based on a common set of universal values and principles. Freedom and human dignity. Protection and empowerment of citizens. Building and strengthening of democracy at all levels. Promotion of peace and justice. . . .
Only freedom and democracy can ultimately defeat terrorism. No other system of government can claim more legitimacy, and through no other system can political grievances be addressed more effectively.
Citizens promote and defend democracy. We must support the growth of democratic movements in every nation, and reaffirm our commitment to solidarity, inclusiveness, and respect for cultural diversity.
Citizens are actors, not spectators. They embody the principles and [End Page 182] values of democracy. A vibrant civil society plays a strategic role in protecting local communities, countering extremist ideologies and dealing with political violence.
In response to signs that the European Union would lift the arms embargo imposed on Beijing following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, five hundred Chinese human rights and democracy activists signed an open letter addressed to Javier Solana, EU high representative for common foreign and security policy, and José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. Excerpts from the letter appear below:
Sixteen years ago, the European Union set specific human rights conditions when it imposed a set of sanctions on China for its military crackdown on prodemocracy protest in June 1989. Despite continued human rights abuses, and specifically, the Chinese government’s refusal to be accountable for the crackdown, the EU is considering lifting the arms embargo, the last and most significant of these sanctions. While the EU has temporarily postponed its decision, it should not resume the discussion until China meets specific conditions of human rights.
We, the former leaders in the 1989 prodemocracy movement and families of victims of the Tiananmen massacre, would like to respectfully remind the EU of the enduring relevance of the events of 1989 to the Chinese people. We request that any future discussion about ending the embargo be conditioned on improving human rights in three particular areas:
- A general amnesty of all prisoners of conscience, including those imprisoned in connection to peaceful protest in 1989, and public trials by independent courts for those charged with “criminal” acts.
- A reversal of the official verdict on the 1989 movement as a “counterrevolution[ary] riot,” allowing an independent “truth commission” to investigate and provide a comprehensive account of the killings, torture, and arbitrary detention, and bringing to justice those responsible for the violations of human rights involved.
- Adoption and implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, taking concrete actions to enforce other international human rights conventions and treaties that China has joined.
Contrary to the claims made by some European leaders recently, the human rights situation in China has not undergone any fundamental change since 1989. The regime’s position—that peaceful demonstration to demand democracy and freedom was “counterrevolutionary,” hence justifying brutal suppression and even use of deadly force—remains unchanged. Public commemoration and demands for reevaluating this official verdict remain punishable offenses. In the last few months alone, police detained, beat, and put under housearrest several [End Page 183] dozen people, including members of the Tiananmen Mothers and former student leaders, who openly demanded the government to reverse its verdict on June 4th and release the more than 250 political prisoners jailed for their roles in the 1989 movement.
Sixteen years after Tiananmen, the Chinese state remains highly repressive despite its calculated token gestures to avoid international censure. Rapid economic growth has not been translated into improvement of social and economic rights and has resulted in new patterns of rights abuses. The state continues to incarcerate people for expressing their ideas or organizing to defend their own rights, detain people in reeducation-through-labor camps without judicial review, persecute practitioners of officially unsanctioned religions, use torture to extract evidence, and engage in widespread and arbitrary use of the death penalty. The Chinese government has made use of sophisticated technology to infringe upon freedom of expression and information.
In 1989, the imposition of the arms embargo and other trade sanctions sent a clear message to the Chinese government to censure its bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters. They demonstrated Europe[an] and other democratic nations’ strong commitment [to] and firm support for the arduous struggle of the Chinese people for human rights and democracy. . . .
Given the EU’s commitment to promoting human rights, democracy, and [the] rule of law in China, we hope the EU will not let business interests stand in the way of advancing its “core values.” We believe it is imperative that the EU make concerted efforts to pressure the Chinese government to meet the three minimal conditions specified above before reconsidering whether to lift the embargo. Doing away with this sanction without corresponding improvements in human rights would send the wrong signal to the Chinese people, including especially those of us who lost loved ones, who are persecuted, and [to] all Chinese who continue to struggle for the ideals that inspired the 1989 movement.
The third UN Development Programme Arab Human Development Report, entitled “Towards Freedom in the Arab World,” focuses on the region’s freedom and good-governance deficits. The report was released on April 5 in Amman, Jordan. Excerpts follow:
No Arab thinker today doubts that freedom is a vital and necessary condition, though not the only one, for a new Arab renaissance, or that the Arab world’s capacity to face up to its internal and external challenges depends on ending tyranny and securing fundamental rights and freedoms. . . .
Despite variations from country to country, rights and freedoms enjoyed in the Arab world remain poor. Even disregarding foreign [End Page 184] intervention, freedoms in Arab countries are threatened by two kinds of power: that of undemocratic regimes, and that of tradition and tribalism, sometimes under the cover of religion. These twin forces have combined to curtail freedoms and fundamental rights and have weakened the good citizen’s strength and ability to advance. . . .
With limited exceptions in some countries and certain areas, freedoms, particularly those of opinion, expression, and creativity, are under pressure in most Arab countries. . . .
Why do Arabs enjoy so little freedom? What has led Arab democratic institutions (where they exist) to become stripped of their original purpose to uphold freedom? Some analysts seeks answers in the fraught and ambiguous relationship between “East” and “West,” portrayed as a stark split. The first pole is usually associated with “despotism” as a supposedly inherent characteristic of “the East” and “Eastern” civilization, while the second is linked to freedom, purportedly a fundamental quality of “Western” civilization. A few have claimed that Arabs and Muslims are not capable of being democrats, for the very reason of being Arab (“the Arab mind”) or Muslims. However, a recent research effort, the World Values Survey (WVS), has exposed the falseness of these claims by demonstrating that there is a rational and understandable thirst among Arabs to be rid of despots and to enjoy democratic governance. Among the nine regions surveyed by the WVS, which included the advanced Western countries, Arab countries topped the list of those agreeing that “democracy is better than any other form of governance.” A substantially high percentage also rejected authoritarian rule (defined as a strong ruler who disregards parliament or elections).
Undoubtedly, the real flaw behind the failure of democracy in several Arab countries is not cultural in origin. It lies in the convergence of political, social, and economic structures that have suppressed or eliminated organized social and political actors capable of turning the crisis of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes to their advantage. The elimination of such forces has sapped the democratic movement of any real forward momentum.
Thich Quang Do, Buddhist monk and deputy leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, has spent more than two decades in prison for his advocacy of human rights and democracy in Vietnam. Currently under house arrest, he secretly taped an audio message for the annual session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, held March 14–April 22 in Geneva. Below are excerpts from his message:
“Human rights” means the right of every human being to live as a free and respected member of society. But in Vietnam today we are not [End Page 185] free. We are prisoners in our own country, in our pagodas, in our homes. Prisoners of a regime which decides who has the right to speak and who must keep silent. Who has the right to freedom, and who must be detained. We are prisoners of a regime, which, thirty years after the end of the Vietnam War, continues to fight a battle against its own people and deprive them of their basic human rights.
For the past thirty years, the communist authorities have sought to stifle all independent voices in Vietnam. Today, we have no opposition parties, no free press, no free trade unions, no civil society. All independent religions are banned. All citizens who call for political reform, democracy, or human rights risk immediate arrest.
Because we refuse to accept this, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam has been systematically repressed. Our Church is outlawed, our leaders arrested, our followers harassed. For more than twenty-five years, the Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and I have been imprisoned or exiled, simply for demanding the people’s basic human rights. As I speak to you today, I am under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon. Secret police keep watch on me day and night. My telephone is cut, my communications are monitored, and I am forbidden to travel. This message was recorded in secret, and Buddhist followers took great risks to send it to the International Buddhist Information Bureau and the Vietnam Human Rights Committee in Paris, who helped bring it to your gathering today.
The communist government claims that we do not need freedom, that by opening Vietnam’s markets they can fulfill the people’s needs. But their policy of “doi moi”—economic opening under authoritarian control—has failed disastrously, and led to serious human rights abuses. . . .
What can we do to bring stability, well-being, and development to the people of Vietnam? During my long years in detention, I have thought deeply, and I have come to the conclusion that there is only one way—we must have true freedom and democracy in Vietnam. This is the only possible solution. We must have pluralism, the right to hold free elections, to choose our own political system, to enjoy democratic freedoms—in brief, the right to shape our own future, and the destiny of our nation. Without democracy and pluralism, we cannot combat poverty and injustice, nor bring true development and progress to our people. Without democracy and pluralism, we cannot guarantee human rights, for human rights cannot be protected without the safeguards of democratic institutions and the rule of law. . . .
This is why we Buddhists, and Vietnamese people from all walks of life are calling out urgently for freedom, democracy, and human rights. The authorities try to stifle our voice by repression, imprisonment, and violence. But they cannot stifle the people’s will. We shall continue our peaceful struggle. We will not stop until we realize our aspirations for democracy in Vietnam.