Documents on Democracy

Issue Date July 2002
Volume 13
Issue 3
Page Numbers 183-88
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Sierra Leone

In the first presidential election since the end of Sierra Leone’s civil war and the disarming of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (RUF), incumbent president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was reelected on May 14. Excerpts from his May 19 inaugural address appear below:

The people have spoken. They have made what I described two weeks ago as one of the most far-reaching decisions in the current history of Sierra Leone. They have chosen the men and women who they would like not just to lead, but more importantly to serve this nation in the next five years. They did it in the democratic way—freely, transparently, and peacefully.

Let me therefore start by congratulating the entire electorate for successfully demonstrating to the rest of Africa and the world at large that Sierra Leone is indeed a democracy, and that we are determined to resume our status as a model of peace, stability, and democracy in the African continent. . . .

In these elections that we all agreed were not a war but a friendly contest, there are no losers. As a matter of fact we should all consider ourselves winners. We are all winners because, irrespective of the results, we succeeded in making this one of the most violence-free electoral processes in Sierra Leone since independence. So to you, my former contestants, be assured that there is a place for each and every one of you in the service of your country. I say this because the privilege of serving the people is not limited to a seat in Parliament, or occupancy of State House and the Lodge. You know as I do that there are other seats, offices, and positions available in all sectors of our country from where we can each make a contribution to improving the lives of our fellow compatriots. There are also important and positive roles that each individual can play in helping us achieve that objective.

Those who care, and I have no doubt that we all do, need not to be reminded that we have a lot of work to do in this country, and that no [End Page 183] single political party, no single government can do it alone. I would therefore like to appeal to you, whatever your party affiliation, whatever your party symbol, and whatever your ideology, to join me in building a new coalition for national development. . . .

Fellow Sierra Leoneans, we all acknowledge that corruption has over a long period been eating deep into the fabric of our society. This is why I requested the help of the Government of the United Kingdom to establish the Anti-Corruption Commission. . . . This fight against corruption will continue to be one of my major preoccupations, and I will expect you to join me in this fight. . . .

As a member of the international community, the people of Sierra Leone have already demonstrated their resilience under extremely difficult circumstances. For over ten years they struggled to rid themselves of the terror and scourge of a brutal rebellion. They stood firm against the tyranny of military juntas and military/rebel regimes. They fought valiantly for the restoration of democracy. In this regard I am sure that the people of Sierra Leone have earned the admiration of the international community. They have convinced the world that Sierra Leone is worth all the support and cooperation the international community can muster to facilitate political stability, security, and sustainable development in this country.

Finally, to my fellow Sierra Leoneans, let me remind ourselves that elections, important as they are, are not an end in themselves. Now that we have reaffirmed, through the ballot box, the principle that sovereignty belongs to the people, from whom Government derives all its power, authority, and legitimacy, we should all rededicate ourselves to serve the interest of the nation above self.


On May 7, the Democracy Coalition Project, an initiative sponsored by the Open Society Institute, released a “Call to Action to Build Open Democratic Societies,” signed by 19 prominent democracy advocates from around the world, including Madeleine Albright, Bronisław Geremek, and Jose Ramos-Horta. The complete text of the document appears below:

As members of the global community of democracy activists, we call upon like-minded citizens around the world to join together to advance the cause of human freedom. The tragic events of September 11, 2001, and its aftermath underscore the urgency of working collaboratively to strengthen democracy. Building open societies that practice tolerance, respect for human rights, the rule of law and governmental accountability and transparency is essential to any effective strategy to address the root causes of extremism. [End Page 184]

Democracy by its very nature depends on the commitment and courage of individuals and organizations outside government, at times acting against great odds and with few resources. The people who take risks and invest their time to contribute to a vibrant democratic culture in their societies deserve support from their peers in other countries and from the international community, in the form of advice and technical assistance, expressions of solidarity, and the resources needed to do their important work. We call on all activists and governments to provide such support and to condemn efforts to interfere with it. We likewise urge dedicated men and women to take advantage of new opportunities to propel the global democracy movement forward by forging national, regional and international coalitions to press governments to deepen democratic reform at home and abroad.

In June 2000, more than 100 governments made a commitment to bolster democratic governance by endorsing the Warsaw Declaration at the Community of Democracies ministerial conference. They pledged to cooperate to fortify democratic institutions, practices and values where they have already taken root. The Declaration creates a unique opportunity to address on a national and global basis the aspirations of people determined to live in open democratic societies. But the task requires mobilizing democracy supporters to bring pressure to bear on governments and international organizations, including international financial institutions, to make them more accountable and integral parts of the bulwark of democracy and development.

While the spread of democracy and human rights remains one of the most powerful forces shaping world politics in the new millennium, many democratic systems suffer from weak institutions and extreme poverty and face an array of formidable challenges that render them fragile. A vibrant civil society is a central pillar of a dynamic and durable democracy and is the key to realizing the potential of the Community of Democracies. This is especially true at a time when terrorist attacks and responses to them are destabilizing democratic institutions and curtailing citizens’ rights.

Representing countries of every region and many different historical experiences and levels of development, we affirm the universality of democracy’s purpose, principles and promise, while recognizing a diversity of democratic forms and processes. We also affirm the need for cross-national learning. All democratic countries, whether mature or nascent, are imperfect, continually evolving as they grapple with numerous challenges in building free and prosperous societies. They have much to learn from one another.

More than two decades ago the Helsinki Accords helped give rise to groups of courageous citizens demanding that their governments respect human rights. In confronting authoritarian regimes, they exposed the [End Page 185] suppression of human freedom and stripped away any claims to govern legitimately. In the end, they helped topple an entire political system and launched the most recent democratic revolution.

It is that same hope and spirit that animates us in calling upon freedom-loving democrats around the world to organize national democracy coalitions around locally defined common agendas for democratic renewal. Together, these coalitions can play a pivotal role on the international stage as democratic governments address the twin challenge of deepening democratic reform and meeting the demand for a decent standard of living. Join us in this historic endeavor.


The Varela Project, named after a nineteenth-century pro-independence Catholic priest, is a petition that has been circulated by Cuban dissidents to take advantage of the fact that the Cuban Constitution allows a petition with more than 10,000 signatures to be put to the Cuban people in a referendum. The project organizers have recently passed that threshold, and are planning to present the document to the Cuban National Assembly. Excerpts from the petition follow:

The Constitution of the Republic of Cuba guarantees all citizens the right to propose changes to the legal order, and it also offers the means whereby the people, through a popular referendum, can decide in a sovereign and democratic manner about the amendments to be made and their contents. . . .

This form of civic action is the best connection between the popular will and the political and legal structures of a democratic society. The functioning of this connection is a sign of the capacity for peaceful and gradual evolution of society, of its capacity to transform itself and to advance progressively in harmonious and integral development, raising the quality of life. . . .

Signing this request does not indicate, in any way, support for or ties to any association or grouping, nor does it create any obligation to the people who wrote and proposed it. When a Cuban signs this request for a popular consultation, he is making use of the rights that the present Constitution gives him and is contributing freely and in solidarity to the improvement of our society, seeking a solution to the problems that plague our people, and preparing a better future for our children, here in our own country. . . .

THE RIGHTS TO FREE EXPRESSION AND FREE ASSOCIATION: These rights and all Human Rights existed before anyone formulated them or wrote them down; you and all your fellow men have these rights because you are people, because you are human. Laws do not create these rights, but they must guarantee them. Practicing these rights of [End Page 186] association and expression shapes the worthy and responsible participation of the citizen in society. . . .

AMNESTY: The existence of political prisoners in our country results from . . . abuses of authority, arbitrary acts, and violations of the law by officials. Many have been detained for practicing basic Human Rights, which the present laws do not recognize. This step is not a revision, it is a renovation of the entire society, which is aware of this necessity. . . . Even if we Cubans cannot agree about the past, we must agree about the future, so that it will be a future of peace, brotherhood, and freedom, for the good of our children.

THE RIGHT OF CUBANS TO CREATE ENTERPRISES: The approval of this petition would bring greater participation of citizens in the task of providing goods and services to the population, freeing the capacity of people to work toward elevating the standard of living and quality of life, the independence of people and families, and contributing toward the development of the nation. . . .

A NEW ELECTORAL LAW: In order to understand this proposal it is necessary to pay attention to two key elements of the electoral process: 1. The nomination of candidates. . . . 2. The elections. . . .

The candidates for the Municipal Assembly, the candidates for the Provincial Assembly, and the candidates for the National Assembly should be nominated—that is to say, proposed and chosen—directly by the voters of the corresponding district by means of their signatures of support, without intermediaries and only in this manner.

There should also be several candidates for each Provincial Assembly Delegate position and each National Assembly Deputy position, so that the voters of each district would have the option of choosing the one of their preference—a possibility that the present law does not offer.

East Timor

Prior to marking its official independence on May 20, East Timor held its first presidential election on April 14. (For more information on the election, see “Election Watch” on p. 180.) The winning candidate was former resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, whose April 17 remarks accepting the presidency are excerpted below:

Once again, our people have exercised their right to vote. On 30 August 1999 we voted for our freedom from foreign oppression, and on 30 August 2001 we voted for the second time, to elect the Constituent Assembly, in order to prepare and approve the fundamental laws that will guide our lives as a nation-state. The first Constitution for our young democratic and independent nation was approved by the Constituent Assembly in a formal session. Based on this Constitution our people once again went to the polls to elect their first president. [End Page 187]

It is with enormous gratitude and humility that I receive the trust that the people have put in me. I am aware of the expectations, not only of those who voted for me, but also of all the others who have upheld their right to vote by registering their choice. The simple fact that so many have gone to the polling stations is proof enough that our people have demonstrated the necessary maturity and understanding of their rights and responsibilities within a pluralist system of democracy. . . .

I am also grateful to all those who contributed to make this democratic exercise a considerable administrative and political success. My congratulations to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) for the work in planning, administering and implementing the electoral process. To all Timorese who have participated in the structures of IEC a special word of congratulations and of thanks. You have demonstrated a remarkable capacity in the administration of an independent electoral process, an important pillar for the future of democracy in our country. . . .

As always, it is not possible to have a transparent, just, and democratic election without the active participation of international observers. Once again we saw here the presence of a large number of international observers. . . . The participation of national observers reinforces even more strongly the transparency of the electoral process. . . .

As happens in all democratic elections, our people spoke through the ballot box. The voting pattern reflects not only the trust in myself and in my program, but also reflects some concerns. In the Aileu District, for example, the majority of the electorate preferred to choose my friend and candidate in this same presidential election, Xavier do Amaral. I have taken note of this message. I accept, as if they were my own, the hopes and expectations which the electorate in Aileu have vested in the candidate Xavier do Amaral.

As an historic figure of our nation and also a companion of the resistance struggle era, with whom I shared, and still share, the same conviction about the necessity for tolerance, moderation, and mutual respect, my brother Xavier do Amaral will continue to be my ally during the presidential period. I congratulate him for his efforts and success during the implementation of the campaign program. And I also congratulate all those who voted for him, as well as all the electors of Aileu for making their choice. This is how democracy works, and it is through this that democratic pluralism evolves.

By the decision of the majority of our people, I am the elected president, and I become a president for the whole nation, not only of those who voted for me.

The next five years will constitute a great challenge, a serious challenge, not only for our government but also for all of civil society and all the democratic institutions of our country. It will be also a challenge for me, as President. And of course, it is also a challenge for all our people.