Documents on Democracy

Issue Date July 1997
Volume 8
Issue 3
Page Numbers 184-88
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Hong Kong

On 9 April 1997, with less than three months remaining before Hong Kong’s reversion to Chinese sovereignty, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) presented its biennial Democracy Award to Martin Lee, the leader of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party. Excerpts from his acceptance speech, delivered at the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., appear below:

People receiving an award like this usually say very humbly, “I don’t deserve this,” and so on. But I will tell you I really wanted this thing. I really wanted to be given this award, not for my sake but for the people of Hong Kong, because I want them to know that they are not fighting for democracy alone in Hong Kong. I want them to know that there are many, many friends in the United States, and indeed in other parts of the world, who are supporting us in the fight for democracy. So I thank you all for giving this award to me, and thank God you didn’t give it to anybody else. I don’t say that I deserve it more than anybody else, but I need it more than anybody else. . . .

In Hong Kong a lot of people will say, “Democracy was a new thing from the British government that they didn’t give to Hong Kong people earlier.” True. If you look at British history, they never gave democracy to any colony until the very end. The same goes for Hong Kong. But China is not in a position to complain. . . . To the contrary, China signed this agreement [the Sino-British Joint Declaration], which says in one sentence: “The legislature of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be constituted by elections.” . . . So China cannot complain.

. . . Democracy is something we must always continue to aspire to, and even in your country people cannot take it for granted. There are still many things which we all can do better. In Hong Kong we have so much to learn. . . .

So I don’t believe democracy will be extinguished, because the flame of democracy has been ignited now, belatedly, and it is burning in the [End Page 184] hearts of all the men and women of Hong Kong. So an iron fist cannot extinguish it. It may be blocked, it may be hidden for some time. But the flame will glow, I am sure, because the whole world is going toward democracy and human rights and the rule of law. I cannot believe that the old leaders of China—for they are all still old even after Deng—can block that tide for too long. It’s bound to be there. And we are dedicated to this cause of democracy. We will stay behind and fight for it. . . .

We will stay and fight. People ask me this question again and again: “What is going to happen to you, Martin?” I always give this answer: “Martin Lee is not my problem. Because I rather like this guy and I think you do, too. But they don’t, so they have got to think of some way to get rid of me. I am going to stay there and fight for human rights and democracy and rule of law.”

A lot of my friends praise me—they say I’m courageous and all that. But actually I’m not. Because I believe I am on the winning side. You can be a coward and still bet on a winner. I believe I’m on the winning side because my philosophy in life is very simple: So long as I’m still there fighting, I cannot lose. It is only when I give up that I lose. And I will not give up, so how can I lose? Democracy will come to Hong Kong, as indeed it will come to China. My vision for my country, China, which is a big country, is that soon it will become a really great nation, when the human rights of every Chinese citizen will be respected and protected by law. And I know that these things will come when my friends here and my friends all over the world back us up. I will go back and tell the people of Hong Kong that we are not alone in this fight and that we are going to win.

I want to thank NED, of course, for giving me this award. As I said, I really wanted it, and I will treasure it and look at it every day and remind myself that there are so many people that are with us.

Martin Lee’s speech was followed by impromptu remarks by Cambodian democratic activist Sam Rainsy:

I want to congratulate Martin Lee for his fight for democracy in Asia, and I am very honored to attend this ceremony. I want to express the solidarity of democrats in Cambodia with democrats in Hong Kong, with democrats all over Asia and all over the world. [NED president] Carl Gershman has mentioned that I was the victim of an assassination attempt last Easter Sunday, in which one of my bodyguards who shielded me was killed. I want to remind you that that bodyguard also took part in another demonstration that I led a few months before to protest the visit in Cambodia of Than Shwe, the leader of the SLORC [in Burma]. So even though we are oppressed in Cambodia, we want to express our solidarity with the democracy fighter and activist Aung San Suu Kyi, and we are very proud to have here today representatives of Hong Kong, of [End Page 185] Burma, of Cambodia. Even though we have never met before, fighting for the same noble cause makes us very close to one another, and we want to thank all our American friends for supporting democracy in Asia.

Middle East

On May 17–19, leaders of civil-society organizations from all over the Middle East met in Cairo for the Second Conference of Arab NGOs. The conference was organized by a follow-up committee that was formed in 1989 by Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saoud of Saudi Arabia in the wake of a predecessor conference. Excerpts from an opening address by Prince Talal appear below:

Seven years ago, we held our first conference of Arab NGOs here in Cairo. Our objective was to strengthen and foster the role of civil society within an international climate that encourages the private sector, individual initiatives, and nongovernmental action. Yet, though this sector had practically started in the nineteenth century, very few knew about it, and little information was available on it.

Over the last few years, the wheels have been set in motion and the Arab nongovernmental sector has moved forward; the number of NGOs has increased; new modes of nongovernmental action have emerged to face new social and economic problems. . . .

The process of mapping out the future no longer involves only government and governors; rather, it has become one of the tasks of civil society, side by side with the governmental sector, within a new world that is witnessing important changes based on freedom and the right of choice.

Today, the whole world speaks of the era of democracy, human rights, freedom of thought and expression, internationalization, freedom of labor, and free competition. It follows that in our Arab world we cannot disregard all these values and principles, nor can we remain detached from them.

The current revolution in the fields of information, media, and communications technology has brought about radical changes and has turned the world into a small, universal, electronic, and computer-based village, within which an acculturation process is taking place, and experiences are being exchanged. . . .

It is clear that the latest developments characterizing our new world have stirred up the forces of change, led by civil society and NGOs, particularly in our Arab societies, and have provided them with an influential driving force that seeks to change the current state of affairs, to map out a better future using scientific and objective means, and to introduce social changes in a peaceful and democratic way. . . .

When we look forward to the future with great expectations and [End Page 186] optimistic views, we do not, in fact, shut our eyes to our current state of affairs. We are indeed fully aware that we work, dream, and hope within an Arab scene that still knows restrictions, notwithstanding the winds of democracy and human rights which are blowing all over the world.

. . . While thinking out the way to dive into the new century with fresh visions, we first have to identify clearly the impediments and constraints that are likely to face us. . . .

The wasting of the human wealth with which God has endowed us, for some of the rulers monopolize both wealth and power, and disregard the other citizens. . . .

The expansion of the powers of central authorities at the expense of pluralism, individual initiatives, and voluntary nongovernmental action.

. . . Curtailment of the culture of freedom, encroachment upon human rights, and disregard of the international changes and developments resulting from the democratic trend prevailing in all parts of the world. . . . We cannot, therefore, remain isolated from this historical process of change; hence the necessity for us to catch up and get ready, which, of course, does not run counter to our values and heritage.


On 9 April 1997, 70 deputies from the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the former rebel group led by Jonas Savimbi, took their seats in the National Assembly in accordance with the results of the September 1992 elections and the 1994 Lusaka Protocol, which ended more than two decades of civil war. Excerpts from a speech by National Assembly chairman Roberto de Almeida at the swearing-in ceremony in Luanda appear below:

I would first like to salute the distinguished deputies being sworn in today, thus becoming part of the National Assembly. . . .

The number of deputies elected in the 1992 elections has now been met. Thus, conditions are in place for a more effective pluralist democracy in Angola. . . .

It is well known that democracy is not an end in itself. Rather, it is a tool to achieve an ultimate goal that is not exhausted in alternate or shared power. Albeit short, our experience has been interesting. It has taught us that democracy is, at the same time, an ideal that seeks to meet the needs of justice and the demands pertaining to the management of public affairs with a view to achieving our people’s legitimate aims. There must be justice so that no one feels excluded, or excludes himself or herself from democracy and its benefits. . . .

Political dialogue is never over in a democracy, but this must not prevent the making of timely decisions or individual choices. This is why this Assembly must hold the law in general, and the Constitution in [End Page 187] particular, in the greatest respect, irrespective of the various parties represented here. The Constitution must be seen as the supreme document governing the structure, aims, and functions of the state; defining the attributions, duties, and limits of its institutions; and enshrining the rights of citizens.

In this regard, there have been disquieting signs lately which force us to issue this warning: Please do not interfere with deputies as they give their opinions and make choices and decisions. When this happens, it is democracy that suffers and this Assembly that is hurt in its sovereignty, its most vital area.


A reception was held on 13 May 1997 at the New York Public Library on the occasion of the publication of Letters from Prison, the prison writings of Chinese democratic activist Wei Jingsheng. Czech president Václav Havel wrote a statement for the occasion, which appears below:

I am sorry to be unable to attend the gathering where you will present Letters from Prison by Wei Jingsheng, a Chinese human rights champion who spent years in prison before and is now serving, under harsh conditions, another long prison sentence for his political beliefs.

I have spoken out in defense of Wei Jingsheng a number of times already. Believing that his courage deserves recognition, I nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Chinese and, more generally, Asian civilization—the environment that forms the background of Wei Jingsheng’s fate—is one of the roots and inseparable components of global civilization. I have a profound esteem for the legacy of Asia’s culture, philosophy, and thought that remains a source of inspiration for the world today. These ancient traditions are, however, distorted in certain Asian countries through the application of totalitarian practices, and the distorted version is then presented as a specific quality of the Asian circumstance. Many countries in Asia as well as on other continents share a commitment to individual human rights and to the advancement of democracy. The stand taken by these nations and the struggle of people like Wei for the human rights cause demonstrate that human freedom cannot be divided by national frontiers or unacceptable interpretations of local traditions or customs.

When I express my solidarity with those who engage in nonviolent action on behalf of human dignity and democracy anywhere in the world and face persecution because of their love for freedom—with people like Wei Jingsheng, whose Letters from Prison are now presented to the world public—I do not encroach upon a no-trespassing zone regarding internal affairs; I simply do my duty.