Documents on Democracy

Issue Date October 2011
Volume 22
Issue 4
Page Numbers 176-183
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Egypt

On August 22, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and 35 other Egyptian human-rights organizations sent a complaint to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The statement condemned the campaign of the Egyptian government and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces against the country’s civil society organizations and human-rights groups following the deposal of former president Hosni Mubarak. Excerpts appear below:

The undersigned organizations wish to draw your attention to the organized campaign by the Government of Egypt (GoE) against Egyptian civil society organizations. The aim of the campaign is to discredit these groups by branding them as foreign agents allied with foreign states, because of the foreign funding which they receive.

These accusations are a direct response to the role played by Egyptian civil society, particularly human rights defenders, in exposing abuses committed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Recently, civil society groups have raised several rights issues related to transitional justice and the democratic transition in Egypt. They have also publicly exposed several abuses perpetrated by the military police. . . .

The GoE has adopted a set of increasingly harsh measures against Egyptian civil society. The government has attempted to amend legislation to create new obstacles to their work. A governmental fact-finding commission, headed by the Minister of Justice, is looking into the funding of civil society organizations, and the government has requested from the Central Bank to monitor all their bank transactions. Finally, it was reported in the press that the Supreme State Security Prosecution has launched investigations into the receipt of foreign funding by several civil society groups, and specified that these groups would face [End Page 176] charges of high treason, conspiracy against the state, and of compromising national security through the implementation of foreign agendas. This is in addition to the intensive and organized campaign launched by the state-owned press to discredit Egyptian civil society, particularly rights groups. . . .

It was expected that, after the revolution, the GoE would take measures, including legislative amendments, to free NGOs from the tight grip of the state. Instead, we have been dismayed by the tendency of the GoE and the SCAF to place additional restrictions on the work of NGOs. It is difficult to understand what new legal restrictions the government seeks to enshrine, as the current law already contains numerous restrictions, particularly on the receipt of foreign grants, which require prior government approval. Practical experience has shown that such laws regulating grants tend to be used to hinder the work of civic organizations, particularly if these organizations work to defend human rights and expose government abuses. . . .

There is undoubtedly an organized state campaign to discredit civil society groups, particularly those working in human rights. The constant talk of investigations and measures against these organizations, the investigations against them by the Supreme State Security Prosecution, and talk of charges of conspiracy and treason, all serve to make Egyptian society wary of these groups and suspicious of their objectives, and ultimately, to undermine their work in exposing human rights violations. Indeed, it makes the very message of such groups— respect for human rights—subject to doubt, due to developing societal belief that these groups are implementing foreign agendas. This incitement to hatred against civil society associations carries the threat of some form of violence in the future, as a result of such provocative allegations. It also makes society predisposed to reject the ideas advanced by the groups, from peaceful coexistence to the respect for human rights.

The stance of the current government in this regard is no different from that of previous governments in the era of former president Hosni Mubarak, and may even be more severe. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that one of the defining features of the former president’s rule was human rights abuse; however, even Mubarak never accused human rights groups of high treason.

The undersigned organizations condemn the assault of the GoE and the SCAF on civil society organizations, and request the Special Rapporteurs to call on the GoE to:

  1. 1. End the targeting and harassment of civil society groups, particularly those working in the sphere of human rights, and ensure an end to all forms of pressure, which has a negative impact on their work in defense of human rights and liberties.
  2. 2. Comply with its obligations under Article 22 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Paragraph 1 of that article states: “everyone [End Page 177] shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” . . .
  3. 3. End the vicious media campaign launched by the government and the SCAF, which aims to discredit civil society groups and stigmatize them with charges of foreign collaboration, high treason, and lack of patriotism.
  4. 4. Review relevant national legislation and revise the NGO law with the purpose of freeing civil society from the grip of the Egyptian state, which obstructs its activities, particularly for human rights groups, and to ensure that these laws are compliant with international law and treaties to which Egypt is a party.

Ukraine

On August 5, during her trial on the charge of “abuse of power” in connection with the 2009 gas deal that she signed with Russia, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was found to be in contempt of court and was arrested. Tymoshenko’s supporters see the trial as politically motivated, and several Western governments have also criticized it. Two top EU officials, Catherine Ashton and Stefan Füle, issued a statement on Tymoshenko’s arrest, which is excerpted below:

We are extremely concerned by reports of today’s events in Pechersk District Court, culminating in the arrest of Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the Batkivschyna Party.

The EU and other international partners of Ukraine have repeatedly underlined the need for fair, transparent and independent legal processes to avoid any perception of a policy of selective justice. Today’s events are therefore a cause for concern about the state of the rule of law in Ukraine.

We reiterate previous statements that we and other colleagues have made on the high standards we expect from a country aspiring to political association with the EU. We urge Ukraine to uphold the principles and common values that form the core of the Eastern Partnership.

Mongolia

On June 15, on the eve of Mongolia’s assumption of the presidency of the Community of Democracies, Mongolian president Tsakhia Elbeg-dorj gave a speech at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Excerpts appear below:

On 10 December 1989, we organized our first demonstration in Mongolia. As you know, December 10th is International Human Rights Day. [End Page 178] Because of that, we chose that date, just showing to the leaders of our country that we are going to celebrate Human Rights Day in Mongolia. Our demands from the demonstration were very, very strong to the politburo during that time. We demanded freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the right to own our property, the right to choose a multiparty system, and democratic elections in Mongolia. All those were during that time prohibited by law and by our constitution. . . . The whole country was on the rise. . . . No authoritarian government, no military regime, no tyranny can stand against the collective will of people who are determined to be free. They cannot stand. . . .

Small Mongolia, how did it transition without bloodshed, not shattering a single window? We did it peacefully, because in our hands, we only had a microphone and paper. We only demanded from our leaders to sit together, at one table, and discuss and negotiate. Actually we gave them space. . . . In June 1990, we had our first democratic elections and the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party won 70 percent. But they became a part of the movement. They became part of the reforms. . . .

Democracy, freedom is really about opportunity: in Communist regimes, if you make mistakes, I think that might be your last mistake. But in freedom, you can fix it. That’s the beauty of freedom. Our new government, democratic government, makes many mistakes, but we can fix them. . . .

Democracy—freedom—means everyday life. Also, it never grows up. In that environment, for 22 years now, every morning it’s like changing diapers. You have to take care of that every day, every morning. With this daily work, democracy, democratic institutions can advance. . . . We have to encourage public participation. We have to give more rights to the people, to the local governments. Maybe many decisions can be made through a referendum asking direct questions, and maybe people can challenge the decisions made by Parliament.

Since 1990, we had Parliamentary elections in Mongolia five times, local elections five times, and Presidential elections five times. And we shifted political power from one party to another party without violence. That’s a great thing. But, of course, we had challenges, sandwiched between those two neighbors [Russia and China], making the transition quite difficult. . . .

One quite attractive thing about the Mongolian transition was that we made the political and economic transitions side by side. Some skeptics say that it’s impossible to make dual transitions, political and economic transitions, in Asian countries. But Mongolians broke that stereotype. We proved that it can be done in every country, in every corner of the world; it can be done. We proved that. . . . Imagine—just 20 years ago we had a North Korea-like society and today we are chairing the Community of Democracies. . . .

I think we will continue all the great traditions, and the recent reforms, [End Page 179] within the Community of Democracies. Also we will help to share the transition experiences of each country—for example, from communism to a market economy, from a one-party system to a multi-party system. We will also exchange our experience with the newly emerging democracies in the Middle East and in other parts of the world. We will give every support to those people who dream about their freedom. I think freedom is the strongest power man ever has.

Latin America

On June 7, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) passed a resolution entitled “Promotion of the Rights to Freedom of Assembly and of Association in the Americas.” Excerpts appear below:

Bearing in mind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights, which establish that all persons shall be entitled to freedom of peaceful assembly and association;

Reaffirming that the participatory nature of democracy in our countries in different aspects of public life contributes to the consolidation of democratic values and to freedom and solidarity in the Hemisphere; . . .

Considering that the freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds by any medium whatsoever, is provided for in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; . . .

Reaffirming that everyone has the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and that no one may be compelled to belong to an association; . . .

Concerned that situations exist in the Americas that directly or indirectly prevent or hinder the work of governments, individuals, or independent democratic groups, or organizations working to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms; . . .

Concerned also about the increase in new restrictive legislation regulating the creation and operation of non-governmental organizations and any abuse of civil or criminal proceedings against them because of their activities for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms; . . .

Recognizing: The importance of participation by civil society organizations and other social actors in consolidating democracy in all [End Page 180] member states; that all social actors, including civil society organizations, can contribute to the workings of the bodies and organizations of the inter-American system; and that exercising the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, in line with the parameters set by international law, in particular international human rights law, is indispensable to the full enjoyment of these rights, particularly where individuals may espouse minority or dissenting religious or political beliefs,

Resolves: . . . 3. To call upon member states to respect and fully protect the rights of all individuals to assemble peacefully and associate freely, and to take all necessary measures to ensure that any restrictions on the free exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are within the framework of national constitutions and laws and in accordance with their obligations under international human rights law and agreements. . . .

5. To again recommend to member states that they develop and, as the case may be, expand networks of information on public policies and programs in order to enable citizens to play a much more effective role in decision-making in government.

6. To encourage member states to ensure that applicable national law allows human rights defenders and their organizations to carry out their work in a free, transparent, and open political environment and in a manner consistent with applicable international human rights and humanitarian law.

7. To encourage all social actors, including civil society, to promote the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, recognizing that civil society can contribute to the fulfillment of the principles and purposes of the OAS Charter.

Sri Lanka

Former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (19942005) gave a speech on July 24 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, noting the country’s difficulties in achieving peace. Such criticism of government is rare due to fear of retaliation. Excerpts appear below:

There exists much evidence to demonstrate that inclusive government reduces the probability of political instability and violent conflict, when power is shared and there exists less political inequality. . . .

As for Sri Lanka, very little serious research has been done in this field. I will venture to state that, based on empirical evidence and knowledge, the constant and comparative economic, social and cultural deprivation of the Northern and Eastern regions is clearly related to the violent conflict we have witnessed here. Low levels of development of infrastructure, relatively much less opportunity to access quality education and employment, and political marginalization with minimal opportunity [End Page 181] to participate in decision-making processes in the political and administrative superstructures, together with the language barriers erected by the “Sinhala Only” policy, are undoubtedly the root causes that gave rise to the terribly violent conflict in our country. . . .

The policy of “Sinhala Only” adopted in 1956 entrenched the dominance of the Sinhala Buddhist polity to the massive exclusion of all others . . . This policy positively helped rebuild a Sri Lankan national identity after 450 years of its systematic destruction during colonial rule. But it erred by ignoring the necessity to incorporate arrangements to include “the others”—the Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays—so that they too may live within the Nation, with dignity and equal rights and opportunities. . . .

Both the 1972 and 1978 Constitutions failed to introduce any arrangements to resolve the minorities issue by enacting inclusive measures to guarantee the rights of the minorities in the political, social, and economic fields. . . .

For the first time in the history of independent Sri Lanka, my government offered a comprehensive solution to the minorities’ problem. Even while war had to be waged, we began and completed a large number of essential development projects in the North and East. . . .

However, we understood that economic development alone could not succeed in creating a society where all our people would feel they were fairly and equitably included. For this, it was required to share political power which we the Sinhalese had jealously guarded for ourselves since independence, marginalizing all others not only in practice but also by law, by means of various legal enactments of constitutions and laws.

Hence we proposed to enact a new constitution, containing extensive devolution of power to the minorities, together with various other measures adopted to guarantee their rights. . . . We could not translate our dream of enacting this constitution and transforming a divided violent Lanka into a united nation where humanity and peace prevail. . . .

Today, we have a situation where the War has been won by the State. The major antagonist the LTTE has been defeated and decimated. The victorious government and the Sinhala community must comprehend that the Tamil civil community is different from the LTTE—which is an extremist outgrowth of the long unresolved Tamil problem. The Tamils, as well as the other minority groups, simply desire to live as equal citizens in Lanka. They wish to live with the Sinhala, as our brothers and sisters, in a land where all enjoy equal rights and opportunities, in an inclusive, harmonious society of a united and peaceful Sri Lanka. . . .

An essential prerequisite for Peace, a stable and strong government, and prosperity is a democratic, pluralist State. This is the only magic potion I know to bind together diverse peoples of a multi-ethic, multi-linguistic, multi-religious and cultural country like ours, as one undivided and strong Nation. [End Page 182]

Tibet

On August 8, Dr. Lobsang Sangay was inaugurated as prime minister (Kalon Tripa) of the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India. He is the third directly elected prime minister, but the first since the 14th Dalai Lama delegated his administrative and political authorities to the democratically elected leaders of the Central Tibetan Administration in May 2011. Excerpts from his inaugural speech follow:

I promise to work to fulfill the vision of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to create a truly secular democratic society. This year’s dynamic Tibetan election demonstrated to the world our commitment to genuine democracy and the universal principle of human freedom. Our democratic election reveals that Tibetan unity is built upon and sustained by universal democratic principles that transcend region, sect, gender, and generations.

The results of this election should send a clear message to the hard-liners in the Chinese government that Tibetan leadership is far from fizzling out—we are a democracy that will only grow stronger in the years ahead. And we are here to stay.

Let me be very clear: Our struggle is not against the Chinese people, nor is it against China as a country. Our struggle is against hard-line policies of the Chinese regime in Tibet. Our struggle is against those who would deny freedom, justice, dignity, and the very identity of the Tibetan People. Chinese authorities and our Chinese friends alike must realize that the grievances of Tibetan people are many and genuine. . . .

Despite the tragedy in Tibet, we want the world to know, especially our Chinese friends, that we remain firmly committed to non-violence. We do not view China as a nation and the Chinese as a people with malice but with respect. Guided by the wisdom of our forefathers and fore-mothers, we will continue the Middle-Way policy, which seeks genuine autonomy for Tibet within the People’s Republic of China. This, my fellow Tibetans, is a win-win proposition for both the Tibetans and the Chinese. We believe in a peaceful resolution for Tibet, which means a peaceful process and peaceful dialogue. We are also willing to negotiate with the Chinese government anytime, anywhere. . . .

In conclusion, it is important to remember that the devolution of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s political power is not at all solely to me as the Kalon Tripa, but to all Tibetans. His Holiness’s trust and belief in the people and our 50 years of consolidation of democratic institutions now will be challenged to survive and thrive independently, without his political involvement. So this is a test for each of us. It is a test, for the leadership in the judiciary, for the parliament and for the executive branch to live up to His Holiness’s expectations and to work as an effective and united entity. This is our challenge and our opportunity. [End Page 183]