The 124-strong Interparliamentary Union
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.
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.
| 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.
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
- 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;
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 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.
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.