Documents on Democracy, April 2011

Issue Date April 2011
Volume 22
Issue 2
Page Numbers 181-185
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Egypt

On February 12, after Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stepped down following weeks of protests against his rule, the Forum of Independent Human Rights Organizations—made up of thirteen Egyptian NGOs—issued a statement containing a “Roadmap for a Nation of Rights and the Rule of Law.” Excerpts appear below:

The Forum of Independent Human Rights Organizations congratulates the Egyptian people for their successful revolution and the removal of the dictator Hosni Mubarak, who denied dignity and humanity to Egyptians for three decades. . . . [I]t applauds the third communiqué issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which stated that the council “will not be an alternative to the legitimacy approved by the people.” As such, the Forum calls on the Supreme Council to quickly release a timetable for the transfer of power to a civilian body to manage the transition phase to a civil, democratic state that respects human rights, in cooperation with the armed forces, and with the participation of civil society, which can monitor the implementation of the roadmap. . . .

The Forum offers the following proposals:

Dissolve the People’s Assembly, the Shura Council, and local councils, which are the product of the most fraudulent elections in Egypt’s history, in order to avoid any challenge to the legitimacy of legislative or constitutional amendments issued by the parliament. Moreover, all officials involved in the administration of elections to these bodies must be investigated. The Forum believes that holding parliamentary or presidential elections in the current corrupt legislative and political environment will produce results that differ little from the previous elections. Indeed, the next elections must be held after a transitional period of at least one year during which time public liberties are respected in full, particularly the right to form political [End Page 181] parties, professional and trade unions, civic associations, and all forms of media. . . .

Stop all prosecutions, arrests, and harassment of political activists, journalists and foreign correspondents, and human rights defenders; immediately end the military police’s participation in civilian police affairs and their involvement in arrests and detentions; immediately investigate all human rights violations; immediately release all those detained by the military police; and, refer those suspected of violations of the general law to the civil investigating authorities. . . .

Issue an immediate declaration rescinding the exceptional state of emergency, which has led to the collapse of sovereignty of the law and the independence of the judiciary, and under which torture, abductions, and extrajudicial killings have increased, human dignity [has been] denied, and court rulings [have been] disregarded.

Adopt a comprehensive program for far-reaching constitutional and legislative reforms that will pave the way for democratization and respect for human rights, in accordance with a specific timetable. This program should include:

Constitutional reform: Draft a new constitution that will have enshrined in it the separation of powers, end the executive’s absolute control over the legislative and judicial authorities, and limit the absolute authorities given to the president.

Guarantee the right of all individual citizens to run for the office of president and limit the presidency to no more than two four-year terms.

Restrict the authority of the president to declare a state of emergency, ensuring that it can only be invoked for a limited period and only in cases of war, armed internal unrest, or natural catastrophes. In all cases, it should be limited to the affected areas of the country.

Establish the civil nature of the state as a state for all its citizens based on the principles of equality and impartiality toward all citizens regardless of religion, belief, gender, or race. Competence should be the sole standard used to determine appointment to the civil service.

Guarantee freedom of religion and belief for all citizens without discrimination and criminalize incitement to religious hatred and sectarian violence.

Guarantee the independence of state-owned media from the executive so that it can accurately reflect the intellectual, political, cultural, religious, ideological, racial, and social diversity of Egyptians.

Enshrine the sovereignty of constitutional guarantees for rights and public freedoms above all other supplementary legislation.

Enshrine the hierarchy of international human rights agreements above Egyptian legislation, making them invulnerable to abrogation, amendment, or suspension by any subsequent law.

Legislative reform: [A]dopt a law grounded in international norms that protect the freedom of association, guaranteeing the freedom to establish [End Page 182] political parties and gain legal status by notice alone. The regular judiciary should have jurisdiction over the establishment and operation of political parties. . . .

[Observe] international norms that guarantee the right to association, particularly the following provisions:

Recognition of all forms of civic association without restriction or discrimination. . . .

Take the necessary legislative measures to ensure freedom of the media by. . . .

Abolish[ing] legislative and administrative restrictions on the circulation of information and the right of citizens to information. . . .

Abolish[ing] penal provisions that mandate prison time for publication crimes. . . .

Amend the judiciary law to guarantee the independence of the Public Prosecutor from the executive, prohibit intervention by the Justice or Interior Ministry in the legal process. . . .

Electoral reform: [E]nd the Interior Ministry’s control over general elections, including presidential polls, and grant oversight of all elections to one independent judicial body chosen by judges through the courts’ general assemblies. . . .

Adopt a proportional, open list system, which can guarantee better representation for political parties and empower social sectors that have long been marginalized in political life.

Legalize the right of NGOs to monitor elections at all stages, facilitate their ability to act independently, end the National Council for Human Rights’ monopoly over permits for election monitoring, and accept international monitors for general elections.

Belarus

Following president Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s crackdown on the opposition after the December 19 election, delegations and NGOs from EU countries, the United States, and Canada attended the International Donors’ Conference in Warsaw, Poland, on February 2. Radosław Sikorski, foreign minister of Poland, gave the keynote speech on “Solidarity with Belarus” at the conference, which served as a forum for the discussion of policy toward Belarus and financial assistance for Belarusian society. Excerpts of his speech appear below:

[S]omething extraordinary has happened over the last two decades. Belarus has taken its place on the international stage, a fully recognized state, in principle free to shape its own destiny. But Europe found it difficult to focus on this new family member that used Soviet iconography and rhetoric so liberally. This tended to be a source of mild amusement: “Look, Belarus still has the KGB—what a quaint example of post-modern irony!” [End Page 183]

The irony was clear. Unfortunately, it was much clearer than the actual activities of the Belarusian KGB, which imprisoned and beat activists, shut down prodemocracy organizations. . . .

Europe’s detached, patronizing attitude has continued for too long. . . . No one could reasonably deny that Minsk is in Europe. Belarus is part of Europe, not only geographically, but mentally and culturally. It belongs to our European family of nations. . . . However, belonging to a family entails responsibilities as well as privileges. Meanwhile, President Lukashenka has shown himself unwilling to accept a single responsibility associated with belonging to the European family. And the rest of Europe has had to watch with growing dismay, now indignation, as basic human rights, basic civil liberties, and basic human decency have been sidelined and ignored. . . .

[T]he European Union decided to take active steps to help Belarus move forward. . . . Our offer to Belarus was modest and reasonable. We were willing to accept an election process which met minimum standards, and to build on that outcome, whatever it was. We offered Belarus a generous financial helping hand as part of the deal. The European message got through to the Belarusian people. It became clear to them that they had been given a chance: their country could at last consolidate its hard-won independence by joining the wider European integration process. Tragically for Belarus, President Lukashenka has shown himself unwilling to refrain from using repression against his compatriots. . . . And so began a new round of crude repressions against the opposition. . . .

The Lukashenka phenomenon is in fact simply the latest example of the foreign policy challenges posed by authoritarian states. How best to respond to a leadership that puts its own interests above those of its country and its people? Other examples of such behavior include Cuba, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Burma. Closer to home, we were shown just how much damage can be done by an authoritarian ruler by Slobodan Miloševiæ, and how difficult it is to mobilize a successful policy against such a man by the ensuing war.

This is the paradox. On the one hand, a policy based on sanctions and isolation suits such a leadership just fine—these people draw strength precisely from being separated from the international mainstream. On the other hand, a policy of engagement and principled partnership may serve to encourage the existing government and provide further hindrance to pro-democratic forces.

So how should the European Union proceed in its dealings with Belarus? I stand before you today with three answers to this question.

My first message is to President Lukashenka and his circle. You are losing. If you did not realize that in December, it should be blindingly obvious to you today, following the events in Tunisia and Egypt. Your methods have no place in modern Europe. Sooner or later you too will be [End Page 184] running away from your own people, hoping to find a country with even lower democratic standards than your own that is willing to take you in. You may want to consider keeping a jet ready to leave Minsk at the drop of a hat. But it needn’t be this way. Despite this latest setback, Europe stands ready to engage with those of you who realize that this is no way to continue—that Belarus deserves to be led by reasonable people.

My second message is to the people of Belarus. Europe is with you, and you are with Europe. We are not going to stop supporting you merely because President Lukashenka finds it personally inconvenient or threatening to certain powerful economic interests. The European Union’s practical commitment to Belarus will rise: more opportunities will emerge for you to travel to the European Union, to join European programs, to enjoy the benefits of modern European life. . . .

Poland has already decided to engage even more deeply in the development of Belarusian civil society in a number of areas. The recently announced lifting of visa fees for Belarusian citizens will strengthen ties between our societies and thus bring ordinary Belarusians closer to democracy and European values . . . We hope other countries will follow Poland’s example. . . .

Last year, we provided support for the victims of repression and their families. We also helped develop independent media centers . . . along with a host of educational and cultural initiatives for the promotion of Belarusian culture. . . .

As many as 250 Belarusian young people have taken part in the Konstanty Kalinowski scholarship program to study in Poland. Over 100 Polish universities have declared themselves ready to admit any Belarusian students expelled from academic institutions in their home country. We hereby call upon the EU and its member states to offer scholarship programs to Belarusian students. . . .

My third message is to you, the people sitting in this room and the governments and organizations that you represent. Our Belarusian policy is working—we need to stick with it. The opposition is more vigorous than ever. Lukashenka did not win the elections!

Yes, economically times are tough for us all. But it is when the going gets rough that it becomes all the more important that we display our generosity, especially towards those Europeans who need it most. . . .

In order to provide effective assistance to Belarusian civil society we suggest increasing the funding offered to Belarusian NGOs. . . .

We support the idea of multilateral cooperation with Belarus within the framework of the Eastern Partnership—however, we suggest a reduction of Belarusian participation in initiatives that could strengthen the regime’s institutions (such as cooperation between police forces). In supporting Belarus, we focus on the diversity of projects and the diversity of the recipients of aid. We want to show that only pluralism and a diversity of views can bring freedom, democracy, and well-being. [End Page 185]