The 124-strong Interparliamentary Union

Foto Andreotti

     Over a century ago, an Association was born of members of 124 parliaments worldwide who continue to meet in plenary sessions at six-monthly intervals and in venues chosen by rota. I refer to the Inter-Parliamentary Union though it certainly does not enjoy the same fame or world attention as the United Nations Organization. Nor is it required to take decisions implementing international agreements. But it is in this precise characteristic, of reserve almost without ostentation, that its value lies.
     The Union holds two annual meetings: to assess crises and solutions; to sound out ways of eliminating prejudice by rejecting all barriers to communication. Even when there were no relations between Israel and Arab countries, Union delegations from both sides took part in the association's debates and also cooperated on the commissions appointed to draft universally acceptable reports on various items of the agenda. Moreover during the protracted Iran-Iraq War, both these States continued to send their parliamentarians to Union meetings. This is not to say that the repercussions of given situations were not felt each time. Indeed, for a long time the existence of world blocs (West, East and Non-Aligned) obliged them to form lobbies around positions and motions but always within the margins of willingness and dialogue. We of the European Community, for example, created a Twelve Plus Commission, and a special inter-European group began to make its voice heard within the then Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (now the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE).
     The Berlin Wall was still standing when the German Democratic Republic hosted a Union session with the full participation of their counterparts in the Federal Republic.

     But there have been some difficult moments. I remember our meeting in the immediate wake of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, one of the Non-Aligned States which were all particularly reactive.
     The Cubans, who held the rota chair of the Association at the time, had heard about the occupation, like everyone else, from the radio and television and it was a severe blow to their prestige. A very harsh report was being formulated by our conference to the great embarrassment of a very agitated Rt. Hon. Ruben, head of the Moscow delegation and then speaker of the Soviet Chamber of Nationalities. How ever could he go back home with this formal condemnation of the Soviet invasion? He would have lost his job but he seemed to fear an even worse fate. So, at a private meeting, we threw him a lifebelt, so to speak, which he was also to use in the translation of the report into Russian. We proposed that the military invasion be condemned omitting Soviet. Thus, Ruben could vote in favor and the report was unanimously approved.

Over a century ago, an Association was born of members of 124 parliaments worldwide who continue to meet in plenary sessions at six-monthly intervals and in venues chosen by rota. I refer to the Inter-Parliamentary Union though it certainly does not enjoy the same fame or world attention as the United Nations Organization. Nor is it required to take ...

     Such approaches might appear to be expedients but keeping the lines of dialogue open, however tenuous, was and still is paramount.
     I would add another factor and it is the precious nature of the personal relationships one weaves over the years. When I was Italian Foreign Minister, I found my informal contacts with my old friends of the Inter-Parliamentary Union of great advantage on several occasions. They meant that I knew the exact nature of situations and where the line had to be drawn in taking action.

     The most recent Union conference was held in early September in Cairo on a theme which is more or less to the fore everywhere - how to guarantee stable democracy by strengthening bonds between citizens and their parliamentary institutions.

... decisions implementing international agreements. But it is in this precise characteristic of reserve, almost, without ostentation that its value lies. The Union holds two annual meetings: to assess crises and solutions; to sound out ways of eliminating prejudice by rejecting all barriers to communication

     Given the disparate scenarios that the world presents, this meant encouragement for some countries as they take their first steps, while for others the theme addressed long-standing institutional frameworks. And this is the key to the final report.
     The point of departure is that the dignity of the person is sacred and that respect for human rights (especially for the rights of women and children) is not just of fundamental value but is a crucial factor for the development of stable societies, both democratic and prosperous. It is recognized that respect for the rights of man is an indispensable condition for peace in every State and for peaceful, good-neighborly relations among States. A freely, properly elected Parliament is the best way to guarantee human dignity and the prosperity of citizens. For, it is in a democracy that citizens may best develop their creativity and contribute to the constitution, growth and stability of their society, ensuring participation for all through education and information.

     A single model, then, across the board? No. Every nation has its particular features depending on its history, culture and juridical constitution. But there are some fixed points:
     - the absolute right to decide policy programs and guidelines either directly or through elected representatives;
     - governments must be given the means for real, effective, integral and transparent leadership;
     - governments must be politically accountable to the people.
     There is an additional express statement on the role of parliaments, as the true and legitimate representatives of the people, who must feel increasingly bonded with their institutions which in their turn must work in full view keeping the public informed.
     Nor did the final report overlook the role of the so-called mass media in fostering communications and it did not neglect to mention efforts to protect certain socio-cultural, political and economic groups.

     Some final net requests were made:
     1) that all States guarantee free, proper elections without discrimination;
     2) that all violent behavior in regard to candidates and elected representatives and to the people in general be rejected;
     3) that the prerogatives of members of parliaments be jealously safeguarded so that they may be totally free to fulfill their functions, both as legislators and as monitors of governments and debates on the major social questions;
     4) that every obstacle to citizens' access to information and education be removed by the increasing use of new technologies;
     5) that diversities and pluralism be considered assets never to be under-valued;
     6) that the possibility of recurring to congruous direct means, such as petitions, referenda and legislative initiatives from the grassroots be fostered in the various constitutional systems;

     7) that effective citizen participation in the democratic process be fostered by the drafting of laws in clear, simple, unequivocal terms;
     8) that contact between citizens and their members of parliament be protected at the highest levels and also internationally;
     9) that the work of members of parliaments be transparent and, that is, easy for public opinion to follow; this not only in general terms and by ensuring that sufficient space in the press be bound over for the purpose;
     10) that all explanations be objective, impartial and in keeping with the principles of ethics;
     11) that members of the parliaments of all countries be attentive to human rights questions assuming the condemnations of ad hoc organizations as their own.

     Some might say that there is nothing new in this and they would be right. But repetita iuvant. And, while parliaments are risking being stripped of their irreplaceable value in the alleged interests of rapidity and efficiency, there is a need today to give new life to these fundamental rules.

     I would like to share some of the other themes that developed in the course of the Cairo meeting.

The most recent Union conference was held in early September in Cairo on a theme which is more or less to the fore everywhere - how to guarantee stable democracy by strengthening bonds between citizens and their parliamentary institutions

The Socio-Economic Affairs Comission analyzed the problem of work at this time of rising unemployment in industrialized countries; of a critical lack of jobs in many planned economies; of lower standards in working conditions in some countries, especially in the so-called developing world.
     We cannot become resigned to all of this in the conviction that the globalization process under way could stimulate job creation on a world scale while increased international trade and higher investment rates could result in bigger markets as well as the vital factor of a fairer distribution of the world's economic resources to the benefit of all States.
     This much-needed analysis dwelled on the socio-political consequences of structural adjustments - especially but not only in developing countries.

There was special mention of the destruction caused by wars and by "embargoes" and, on a wider scale, of the problems of immigration and child labor (a specific report also focused on the sexual exploitation of children).

     The conference then approved a draft Declaration on the Principles of Democracy, as follows.

Declaration on the Principles of Democracy

     1. Democracy is a universally recognized ideal as well as a goal, which is based on common values shared by peoples throughout the world community irrespective of culture, political, social and economic differences. It is thus a basic right of citizenship to be exercised under conditions of freedom, equality, transparency and responsibility, with due respect for the plurality of views, and in the interest of the polity.
     2. Democracy is both an ideal to be pursued and a mode of government to be applied according to modalities which reflect the diversity of experiences and cultural particularities without derogating them from internationally recognized principles, norms and standards. It is thus a constantly perfected and always perfectible state or condition whose progress will depend upon a variety of political, social, economic and cultural factors.
     3. As an ideal, democracy aims essentially at preserving and promoting the dignity and fundamental rights of the individual, at achieving social justice, fostering the economic and social development of the community, strengthening the cohesion of society and enhancing national tranquillity, as well as creating a climate that is favorable for international peace. As a form of government, democracy is the best way of achieving these objectives; it is also the only political system that has the capacity for self-correction.
     4. The achievement of democracy presupposes a genuine partnership between men and women in the conduct of the affairs of society in which they work in equality and complementarity, drawing mutual enrichment from their differences.

     5. A state of democracy ensures that the processes by which power is acceded to, wielded and alternates allow for free political competition and are the product of open, free and non-discriminatory participation by the people, exercised in accordance with the rule of law, in both letter and spirit.
     6. Democracy is inseparable from the rights set forth in the international instruments recalled in the preamble. These rights must therefore be applied effectively and their proper exercise must be matched with individual and collective responsibilities.
     7. Democracy is founded on the primacy of the law and the exercise of human rights. In a democratic State, no one is above the law and all are equal before the law.
     8. Peace and economic, social and cultural development are conditions for and fruits of democracy. There is thus interdependence between peace, development, respect for and observance of the rule of law and human rights.

Second Part.
The Elements and Exercise
of Democratic Government

     9. Democracy is based on the existence of well-structured and well-functioning institutions, as well as on a body of standards and rules and on the will of society as a whole, fully conversant with its rights and responsibilities.
     10. It is for democratic institutions to mediate tensions and maintain equilibrium between the competing claims of diversity and uniformity, individuality and collectivity, in order to enhance social cohesion and solidarity.
     11. Democracy is founded on the right of everyone to take part in the management of public affairs; it therefore requires the existence of representative institutions at all levels and, in particular, a Parliament in which all components of society are represented and which has the requisite powers and means to express the will of the people by legislating and overseeing government action.
     12. The key element in the exercise of democracy is the holding of free and fair elections at regular intervals enabling the people's will to be expressed. These elections must be held on the basis of universal, equal and secret suffrage so that all voters can choose their representatives in conditions of equality, openness and transparency that stimulate political competition. To that end, civil and political rights are essential, and more particularly among them, the rights to vote and to be elected, the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, access to information and the right to organize political parties and carry out political activities. Party organization, activities, finances, funding and ethics must be properly regulated in an impartial manner in order to ensure the integrity of the democratic processes.
     13. It is an essential function of the State to ensure the enjoyment of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights to its citizens. Democracy thus goes hand in hand with an effective, honest and transparent government, freely chosen and accountable for its management of public affairs.
     14. Public accountability, which is essential to democracy, applies to all those who hold public authority, whether elected or non-elected, and to all bodies of public authority without exception. Accountability entails a public right of access to information about the activities of government, the right to petition government and to seek redress through impartial administrative and judicial mechanisms.

     15. Public life as a whole must be stamped by a sense of ethics and by transparency, and appropriate norms and procedures must be established to uphold them.
     16. Individual participation in democratic processes and public life at all levels must be regulated fairly and impartially and must avoid any discrimination, as well as the risk of intimidation by State and non-State actors.
     17. Judicial institutions and independent, impartial and effective oversight mechanisms are the guarantors for the rule of law on which democracy is founded. In order for these institutions and mechanisms fully to ensure respect for the rules, improve the fairness of the processes and redress injustices, there must be access by all to administrative and judicial remedies on the basis of equality as well as respect for administrative and judicial decisions both by the organs of the State and representatives of public authority and by each member of society.

     18. While the existence of an active civil society is an essential element of democracy, the capacity and willingness of individuals to participate in democratic processes and make governance choices cannot be taken for granted. It is therefore necessary to develop conditions conducive to the genuine exercise of participatory rights, while also eliminating obstacles that prevent, hinder or inhibit this exercise. It is therefore indispensable to ensure the permanent enhancement of, inter alia, equality, transparency and education and to remove obstacles such as ignorance, intolerance, apathy, the lack of genuine choices and alternatives and the absence of measures designed to redress imbalances or discrimination of a social, cultural, religious and racial nature, or for reasons of gender.
     19. A sustained state of democracy thus requires a democratic climate and culture constantly nurtured and reinforced by education and other vehicles of culture and information. Hence, a democratic society must be committed to education in the broadest sense of the term, and more particularly civic education and the shaping of a responsible citizenry.
     20. Democratic processes are fostered by a favorable economic environment; therefore, in its overall effort for development, society must be committed to satisfying the basic economic needs of the most disadvantaged, thus ensuring their full integration in the democratic process.
     21. The state of democracy presupposes freedom of opinion and expression; this right implies freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
     22. The institutions and processes of democracy must accommodate the participation of all people in homogeneous as well as heterogeneous societies in order to safeguard diversity, pluralism and the right to be different in a climate of tolerance.
     23. Democratic institutions and processes must also foster decentralized local and regional government and administration, which is a right and a necessity, and which makes it possible to broaden the base of public participation.

Third Part.
The International
Dimension of Democracy

     24. Democracy must also be recognized as an international principle, applicable to international organizations and to States in their international relations. The principle of international democracy does not only mean equal or fair representation of States; it also extends to the economic rights and duties of States.
     25. The principles of democracy must be applied to the international management of issues of global interest and the common heritage of humankind, in particular the human environment.
     26. To preserve international democracy, States must ensure that their conduct conforms to international law, refrain from the use or threat of force and from any conduct that endangers or violates the sovereignty and political or territorial integrity of other States, and take steps to resolve their differences by peaceful means.
     27. A democracy should support democratic principles in international relations. In that respect, democracies must refrain from undemocratic conduct, express solidarity with democratic governments and non-State actors like non-governmental organizations which work for democracy and human rights, and extend solidarity to those who are victims of human rights violations at the hands of undemocratic regimes. In order to strengthen international criminal justice, democracies must reject impunity for international crimes and serious violations of fundamental human rights and support the establishment of a permanent international criminal court.