On October 16, five opposition parties and nine national figures in Syria signed the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change, calling for the widening of political and social freedoms. Excerpts from the Declaration follow:
Syria today is being subjected to pressure it had not experienced before, as a result of the policies pursued by the regime. . . . In view of the signatories’ feeling that the present moment calls for a courageous and responsible national stand. . . . they have reached an accord on the following bases:
Establishment of a democratic national regime is the basic approach to the plan for change and political reform. It must be peaceful, gradual, founded on accord, and based on dialogue and recognition of the other. . . .
Adoption of democracy as a modern system that has universal values and bases, based on the principles of liberty, sovereignty of the people, a State of institutions, and the transfer of power through free and periodic elections that enable the people to hold those in power accountable and change them.
Build a modern State, whose political system is based on a new social contract, which leads to a modern democratic Constitution that makes citizenship the criterion of affiliation, and adopts pluralism, the peaceful transfer of power, and the rule of law in a State all of whose citizens enjoy the same rights and have the same duties, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sect, or clan, and prevents the return of tyranny in new forms. . . .
Guarantee the freedom of individuals, groups, and national minorities to express themselves, and safeguard their role and cultural and linguistic rights, with the State respecting and caring for those rights, within the framework of the Constitution and under the law. . . .
The signatories to this declaration believe the process of change has begun, in view of its being a necessity that brooks no postponement [End Page 181] because the country needs it. It is not directed against anyone, but requires everyone’s efforts. Here we call on the Ba’athist citizens of our homeland and citizens from various political, cultural, religious, and confessional groups to participate with us and not to hesitate or be apprehensive, because the desired change is in everyone’s interest and is feared only by those involved in crimes and corruption. The process of change can be organized as follows: . . .
5. Pave the way for convening a national conference in which all the forces that aspire to change may participate, including those. . . among the regime, to establish a democratic national regime based on the accords mentioned in this declaration, and on the basis of a broad and democratic national coalition.
6. Call for the election of a Constituent Assembly that draws up a new Constitution for the country that foils adventurers and extremists, and that guarantees the separation of powers, safeguards the independence of the judiciary, and achieves national integration by consolidating the principle of citizenship.
7. Hold free and honest parliamentary elections that produce a fully legitimate national regime that governs the country in accordance with the Constitution and the laws that are in force, and on the basis of the view of the political majority and its program.
On 27 October 2005 at the United Nations, 21 international organizations and NGOs concerned with election observation endorsed the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and the Code of Conduct for International Election Observers. The project began in 2001 at the initiative of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division. The preamble to the Declaration appears below:
Genuine democratic elections are an expression of sovereignty, which belongs to the people of a country, the free expression of whose will provides the basis for the authority and legitimacy of government. The rights of citizens to vote and to be elected at periodic, genuine democratic elections are internationally recognized human rights. Genuine democratic elections serve to resolve peacefully the competition for political power within a country and thus are central to the maintenance of peace and stability. Where governments are legitimized through genuine democratic elections, the scope for non-democratic challenges to power is reduced.
Genuine democratic elections are a requisite condition for democratic governance, because they are the vehicle through which the people of a country freely express their will, on a basis established by law, as to who shall have the legitimacy to govern in their name and in their [End Page 182] interests. Achieving genuine democratic elections is a part of establishing broader processes and institutions of democratic governance. Therefore, while all election processes should reflect universal principles for genuine democratic elections, no election can be separated from the political, cultural and historical context in which it takes place.
Genuine democratic elections cannot be achieved unless a wide range of other human rights and fundamental freedoms can be exercised on an ongoing basis without discrimination based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, including among others disabilities, and without arbitrary and unreasonable restrictions. They, like other human rights and democracy more broadly, cannot be achieved without the protections of the rule of law. These precepts are recognized by human rights and other international instruments and by the documents of numerous intergovernmental organizations. Achieving genuine democratic elections therefore has become a matter of concern for international organizations, just as it is the concern of national institutions, political competitors, citizens and their civic organizations.
International election observation expresses the interest of the international community in the achievement of democratic elections, as part of democratic development, including respect for human rights and the rule of law. International election observation, which focuses on civil and political rights, is part of international human rights monitoring and must be conducted on the basis of the highest standards for impartiality concerning national political competitors and must be free from any bilateral or multilateral considerations that could conflict with impartiality. It assesses election processes in accordance with international principles for genuine democratic elections and domestic law, while recognizing that it is the people of a country who ultimately determine credibility and legitimacy of an election process. . . .
International election observation has the potential to enhance the integrity of election processes, by deterring and exposing irregularities and fraud and by providing recommendations for improving electoral processes. It can promote public confidence, as warranted, promote electoral participation and mitigate the potential for election-related conflict. It also serves to enhance international understanding through the sharing of experiences and information about democratic development. International election observation has become widely accepted around the world and plays an important role in providing accurate and impartial assessments about the nature of electoral processes. Accurate and impartial international election observation requires credible methodologies and cooperation with national authorities, the national political competitors (political parties, candidates and supporters of positions on referenda), domestic election monitoring organizations and other credible international election observer organizations, among others. [End Page 183]
On September 15–17, more than 300 democracy and human rights activists convened in Taipei for the first biennial conference of the World Forum for Democratization in Asia, hosted by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. The meeting culminated in the signing of the Taipei Declaration on Democracy in Asia, which is excerpted below:
We believe that:
- Democracy is a universal value and a fundamental right to which all citizens and people in Asia are entitled, and it is indispensable for sustainable peace and development.
- Democracy, human rights, human development, and peace are inter-dependent, inter-related, and mutually reinforcing.
- The rule of law and independence of the judiciary, transparency, and accountability are essential for democratic governance.
- Democratic development is enhanced by the political, cultural, and religious diversity of Asian societies.
- The rights of minorities and vulnerable groups in Asia should be respected and protected before, during, and after democratization.
- All peoples have the right to self-determination as a foundation for democracy, and all peaceful struggles for self-determination deserve our support.
- Gender equality and women’s political participation and empowerment are essential for strengthening participatory democracy in Asia.
- Asian governments have primary responsibility to promote and protect all human rights, by establishing public institutions and strengthening inter-governmental cooperation in accordance with universal democratic norms and standards.
- Democracy requires international solidarity and cooperation among peoples in Asia, in particular among democracy advocates and human rights defenders, working in partnership with the global community.
- Democratic societies in Asia have a political and moral responsibility to promote democracy in other societies, particularly those struggling under authoritarian and repressive regimes, by supporting and assisting their endeavors.
- Political parties have a responsibility to foster a democratic political culture through developing effective mechanisms for representing the public interest.
- Civil society—both domestic and international—has a critical role to play in advancing democratization and defense of human rights, as well as transformation of conflicts.
- Free media, as the fourth pillar of democracy, has a vital role to promote political culture conducive to transparent and accountable governance.