Documents on Democracy

Issue Date July 2018
Volume 29
Issue 3
Page Numbers 182-189
file Print
arrow-down-thin Download from Project Muse
external View Citation

On May 6–9, the World Movement for Democracy held its Ninth Assembly in Dakar, Senegal. The gathering brought together 350 democracy activists, practitioners, and scholars representing more than a hundred countries for workshops and panel discussions on the theme “Building Strategic Partnerships for Democratic Renewal.” Discussion focused on priorities presented in the World Movement’s 2015 statement, “A Call for Democratic Renewal,” including the defense of civil society, deepening democratic unity, and protecting the integrity of the information space.

The Assembly opened on May 6 with remarks by Isatou Touray, trade minister of the Gambia, and U.S. Representative Karen Bass (D-Calif.). On May 8, a keynote address was delivered on behalf of Rached Ghannouchi, cofounder and president of Tunisia’s Ennahdha Party, who also spoke by video on the topic of Islam, pluralism, and democracy in Tunisia (see his remarks on pp. 5–8 above). The program concluded on May 9 with the presentation of the World Movement’s Democracy Courage Tributes, recognizing photojournalists in the Philippines, defenders of the rule of law in Africa, and human-rights lawyers in China. (To view the full program, visit: www.movedemocracy.org/ninthassembly.) Excerpts from the honorees’ acceptance remarks appear below.

Philippines

Ezra Acayan and Raffy Lerma accepted the Courage Tribute on behalf of the Philippine Nightwatcher movement, photojournalists who document the extrajudicial killings resulting from President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.” Acayan and Lerma highlighted the importance of a “free and fearless press” for promoting human rights and accountability. Excerpts from their remarks appear below:

Ezra Acayan: We spend long nights on the ground waiting to document the next crime scene, while everyone else sleeps. We spend weekends attending funerals, rather than spending time with our families. As a group, [End Page 182] we’ve probably seen thousands of corpses in the past two years. We’ve probably attended hundreds of funerals already.

The police and the government have made it difficult for us to gather information. They have barred us from getting official police reports of these incidents. They have been taking bodies of dead suspects to the hospital, claiming that they were “rescuing” them, so that journalists won’t have any corpse to see at the crime scene.

My colleagues and I have made a lot of sacrifices to continue our work. In the absence of mainstream media outfits willing to publish these stories, a few of us have left our jobs just so we can keep documenting these killings, using up our own time and our own resources.

We have been constantly threatened and harassed. We receive death threats daily. We have been told how we were going to be killed. Our families have been threatened with rape.

Despite all of this, we will not stop. These pictures should never have been possible. As journalists, it is our duty to tell the truth of this brutality and slaughter of mostly defenseless and poor people. We hope to remind the public that these victims are not “monsters” as our president calls them—that they are not just numbers in a death toll.

We hope to remind the public that they too have names. That they too were fathers, mothers, siblings, children, and friends. That they too have loved ones who are the ones who suffer in the wake of their deaths. That these victims too deserve equal protection of the law and due process. That they too are humans.

We dedicate this award to all our hardworking colleagues back home. We will not stop telling these stories. We will keep telling their stories long after their deaths. We will keep telling their stories even long after they have received justice. We will keep telling their stories so that history may not repeat itself.

We will keep telling these stories despite the difficulties and the lack of resources. We will not stop despite the harassment and threats to our lives. As journalists we are just doing our jobs. As journalists it is our duty to give these victims a voice. As journalists this is what we owe to society.

Raffy Lerma: Thousands have been killed in the Philippine government’s brutal crusade against drugs. They call it a war. It is, instead, a violent campaign against the poorest and most vulnerable.

Many stories have been published. Thousands of images have been captured. For almost two years now, our reports have been all too similar: that people, mostly the poor, are being killed without due process.

On some nights there are no bodies found, but most nights there are maybe one, two, five, ten, twelve—the biggest number in one night was 32. We cover the most that we can.

For this work, we journalists have been called many names—some call us the nightcrawlers of Manila, the nightshift photographers, or extra-judicial [End Page 183] killing (EJK) journalists. [We are also called] biased, “presstitutes,” and destabilizers of the country … [and] alleged to have been hired by drug lords for simply reporting on these crimes.

Supporters of this drug war, some government officials included, have tried to discredit and accuse us—of hiring actors, of staging crime scenes, and [of] manipulating photos.

The government has publicly called our reports fake news. News groups have been targeted. We have been insulted, harassed, threatened with rape and death, on and offline.

We will continue reporting. We will stay on the field to capture the stories of the victims and their families. For us, it’s not about political color. We believe in human rights and the humanity of every citizen, regardless of class or background. We attempt balance and seek accountability. We are biased for facts, and we hope to honor the tradition of a free and fearless press.

To the other awardees, congratulations. We thank the World Movement for Democracy for this Courage Tribute. Thank you for recognizing the work that we do. We were hesitant to accept this, to be awarded for being “courageous.” Frankly, many of us feel we have not been doing enough. We are just doing our jobs as journalists.

We accept this award on behalf of fellow journalists and colleagues back home—both local and foreign media who continue to report on these stories, who remain critical of the government’s methods amidst continuous attacks on press freedom. This tribute is for all of us.

South Africa

Thulisile “Thuli” Madonsela, Public Protector from 2009 to 2016, accepted the Tribute on behalf of advocates for the rule of law in Africa. Madonsela was instrumental in triggering investigations of former South African president Jacob Zuma, who was forced from office in February 2018 amid allegations of widespread corruption. Excerpts from her remarks appear below:

Like Plato, I believe democracy can be messy, but I believe it’s the best system we have for peaceful human coexistence. The challenge of course is to anchor democracy to assure its sustainability and contribution to peace. At the core of anchoring democracy is making democracy work for all. More importantly, the fortunes of individuals should be better together than alone. Equally important is appreciating that democracy cannot work for all in the absence of the rule of law.

This understanding drove the work of the Public Protector South Africa, whose work you seek to recognize today. The vision behind the Public Protector was outlined by the late President Nelson Mandela, [End Page 184] whose centenary we are celebrating this year together with that of another struggle icon, “Mama” Albertina Sisulu. Mandela said:

Even the most benevolent of governments have among them people with all the propensities for human failings. The rule of law as we understand it consists in the set of conventions and arrangements that ensure that it is not left to the whims of individuals to decide what is good for the populace.

… We glean from the quote and the Constitution itself that the architects of South Africa’s democracy opted for constitutional democracy, which unlike parliamentary democracy requires that nobody is above the law, that everyone regardless of rank is answerable for their actions.

… This innovative visionary thinking proved worthy when South Africa found itself once again at the brink of the abyss that leaders such as Mandela had rescued it from. This time the culprit was grand corruption. The slide started with Parliament failing to hold the then-president accountable following the Public Protector’s finding that he violated the Executive Ethics Code and benefited unduly in relation to opulent and unnecessary renovations to his private home in Nkandla in the name of security.

The brink came when the President refused to implement a Public Protector decision regarding the establishment of an independent Judicial Commission of Inquiry into allegations and prima facie evidence of the capturing of state institutions for private commercial interests and subversion of public accountability, justice, and ultimately the rule of law.

Like the Ethiopian proverb which says when spider webs combine, they can even tie up a lion, our strong institutional machinery prevailed against grand corruption.

But this was not without a vicious backlash from the beneficiaries of state capture and related corruption. My team and I felt the pushback. Death threats were regular. … No insult was too outrageous. … I was branded a spy with the most bizarre stories about whom I reported to and what my mission was. I was supposed to be simultaneously the CIA, MI6 and MOSSAD. …

Just as light always overcomes darkness, the forces of corruption were subdued. I say subdued instead of overcome because the struggle continues. The State Capture Commission they fought to prevent has since been appointed and is busy with its work. State institutions that had become paralyzed are back in action. This includes the Hawks, a special organized crime investigation unit, and the Asset Forfeiture Unit. No one is in jail as yet and the looted assets are still to be clawed back.

What we learned, though, is the importance of strong and independent institutions. We also learned the importance of these institutions working in a complementary manner. In the end the webs that combined [End Page 185] to tie up the lion included the Public Protector, opposition parties, the courts, other administrative oversight institutions, the media, and civil society.

We also learned that institutions alone are not enough to support and strengthen democracy. We learned that a democracy-literate and engaged civil society is equally critical, particularly for social accountability. Indeed, while the goal against state capture may have been created by the Public Protector and whistle-blowers, it was a combination of the courts, opposition parties, and people rising that scored the goal.

We are also learning every day that after institutions have been poisoned by the insidious cancer of corruption, they need to be detoxified. The clean-up process is essential to close the fault lines that allowed corruption and to rehabilitate contaminated persons, systems, and processes. An equally important lesson is the importance of putting the right people in state institutions in the first place. Based on their track record, appointees to state institutions should be the most competent for the work, the most trustworthy and the least selfish. They should also be the kind of leaders that are ethical, purpose-driven, impact-conscious, and committed to serve their people and not self-interests and the highest bidder.

Above all, we learned that hope is an invincible force. … The struggle to make democracy work for all continues. The rule of law and social justice remain central to sustainable democracy, development, and peace. I’m glad this democracy movement is there to lead the way.

China

Jin Bianling accepted the Tribute on behalf of her husband Jiang Tianyong and other human-rights lawyers in China. In November 2016, Jiang was detained, forcibly disappeared, and subsequently sentenced to prison for his efforts to defend Chinese dissidents and activists, including victims of the “709 crackdown”—the Chinese government’s sweeping suppression of human-rights defenders that began on 9 July 2015. Addressing the Assembly by video, Jin Bianling called attention to the Chinese government’s intolerance of political dissent and to the uncertain fates of Jiang and other human-rights lawyers detained in China. Excerpts from her remarks appear below:

Hello everyone, my name is Jin Bianling and I am the wife of Jiang Tianyong, a human rights lawyer who is one of many imprisoned by the Chinese government for his work defending political prisoners.

I want to thank the World Movement for Democracy for recognizing the work and bravery of my husband and his fellow lawyers, who have continued to defend the vulnerable populations in China despite the escalating danger and arrests of their community. [End Page 186]

My husband disappeared on November 21, 2016, shortly after he tried to rescue lawyers related to the 709 case.

He was charged with “subversion of state power” and sentenced to two years in prison on November 21, 2017. Despite a forced confession, everyone knows his only crime was not abandoning his principles and his important work. Before his arrest, he told us that any admission of guilt would likely be false and [made] under duress.

Although this is his most severe punishment, it is not the first. Jiang has been disappeared, harassed, threatened, beaten, tortured, and now he is even deprived of his basic rights.

Jiang’s story is one of many in China. Since the 709 case, more than 300 rights lawyers, citizens and rights defenders have been detained and interrogated by the police. The lawyers that attempted to defend them were in turn arrested themselves or disbarred, like Jiang.

I hope the government will release Jiang Tianyong, Wang Quanzhang, and Wu Gan, as well as lawyer Li Lihan and Yu Wensheng who are still in detention. Especially, I hope the government will release Wang Quanzhang. On April 5, it was 1,000 days since anyone had contact with him. No one knows if he is alive or not.

We are also harassed, imprisoned, and beaten. We are thrown out of our homes, jobs, schools because we dare to love and support them in their work.

The government wants us to feel isolated and alone. They want us to step back and give up our pursuit of the rule of law, human rights, and freedom.

The Democracy Courage Tribute award and others like it tell us we are not alone. The world is paying attention and honoring us. The government has failed to erase us from history, and we will continue to appeal for our loved ones.

Cuba

On April 19, the National Assembly announced the election as president of Miguel Díaz-Canel, the handpicked successor of Cuba’s outgoing president Raúl Castro. In a press statement issued that day, the general secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS) criticized the illegitimate nature of the election, the first transfer of power outside the Castro family in nearly six decades. Excerpts from the statement appear below:

The triumph of a dictatorship over freedom is not called a revolution. The presidential succession we have witnessed in Cuba is an attempt to perpetuate a dynastic-familial autocratic regime. It is called a dictatorship. … This means decades without democracy, without human rights, and without fundamental freedoms. [End Page 187]

The election by the Cuban National Assembly of Miguel Díaz-Canel as president of the country is a decision taken without the free expression of the Cuban people. When the sovereign will of the people is ignored, the only foundation of the authority of the government is delegitimized.

In 2018, a regime that imprisons and silences opponents and dissidents, that has eliminated the freedom of expression, that carried out selective political executions over decades, cannot be considered a system whose political practices are acceptable in the Hemisphere.

France

In an April 17 address before the European Parliament in Strasbourg, French President Emmanuel Macron defended liberal democracy and European unity as the “best chance” for confronting the rise of authoritarianism and the many geopolitical threats facing the West. Excerpts from Macron’s remarks appear below:

I firmly believe that European democracy is our best chance in this world at this difficult time. Abandoning our model, and I would go as far as to say our identity, would be the worst mistake. Here in Strasbourg, as in Brussels, you bring democracy in Europe to life, as Tocqueville spoke about. Our identity is first and foremost a democracy which respects the individual, minority, [and] fundamental rights, which [goes] by the name which I shall assert once again: “liberal democracy.”

I do not wish to let this fatal illusion take hold once again, which has, lest we forget, especially here, pushed our continent toward the abyss: the illusion of strong power, nationalism, and the abandonment of freedoms. And I reject this idea which is taking hold even in Europe that democracy is condemned to weakness. Faced with the authoritarianism which surrounds us on all sides, the answer must not be authoritarian democracy but the authority of democracy. …

There are divisions between the countries even within this amphitheater, but beyond these divisions, this democratic model brings us together and is unique in the world. Europe’s identity goes beyond a freedom-conscious democracy, it is a culture found nowhere else in the world which combines this passion for freedom, the taste for equality, the attachment to diverse and different ideas, languages, and landscapes.

… I belong to a generation which has never experienced war and I belong to a generation which is allowing itself the luxury of forgetting what its forebears lived through. … I don’t want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers, I don’t want to be part of a generation which has forgotten its own past and which refuses to face up to the problems of its own present. Over time, everyone will accept their responsibilities, but I want to be part of a generation which has firmly decided to defend its democracy, because democracy is not just some worn-out word [End Page 188] which we take for granted; it is a word which still has its full meaning, because it is the fruit of past battles.

United Kingdom/Russia

On May 21, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament published a report entitled “Moscow’s Gold: Russian Corruption in the U.K.,” highlighting Russian oligarchs’ systematic concealment and laundering of corrupt assets in London and through the U.K. financial system. The Committee’s report recommended the adoption of a comprehensive approach to stopping the illicit flow of funds. Excerpts appear below:

The Government responded robustly to the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury in March 2018. But despite the strong rhetoric, President Putin and his allies have been able to continue “business as usual” by hiding and laundering their corrupt assets in London. These assets, on which the Kremlin can call at any time, both directly and indirectly support President Putin’s campaign to subvert the international rules-based system, undermine our allies, and erode the mutually-reinforcing international networks that support U.K. foreign policy. …

There is a direct relationship between the oligarchs’ wealth and the ability of President Putin to execute his aggressive foreign-policy and domestic agenda. The contemporary oligarchs owe their wealth to the President and act, in exchange, as a source of private finance for the Kremlin. …

The use of London as a base for the corrupt assets of Kremlin-connected individuals is now clearly linked to a wider Russian strategy and has implications for our national security. Combating it should be a major U.K. foreign policy priority. …

The size of London’s financial markets and their importance to Russian investors gives the U.K. considerable leverage over the Kremlin. But turning a blind eye to London’s role in hiding the proceeds of Kremlin-connected corruption risks signalling that the U.K. is not serious about confronting the full spectrum of President Putin’s offensive measures.

… At the time of publication of this report, the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill (2018) is entering the final stages of its passage through Parliament. The passage of the Bill marks an important opportunity for Parliament and the Government to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our existing sanctions regime, and to ensure that sanctions remain an effective part of the U.K.’s foreign-policy toolkit. …

The U.K. must set out a coherent and proactive strategy on Russia, led by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and coordinated across the whole of Government, that clearly links together the diplomatic, military and financial tools that the U.K. can use to counter Russian state aggression.[End Page 189]