Documents on Democracy

Issue Date July 1993
Volume 4
Issue 3
Page Numbers 134-39
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At a banquet in Washington, D.C., on 27 April 1993, the National Endowment for Democracy presented its biennial Democracy Award to leading democratic activists from three continents: Han Dongfang, the founder of the Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation, who was jailed by the Chinese government for 22 months following the June 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre; Gitobu Imanyara, a Kenyan human rights lawyer and editor of the Nairobi Law Monthly and the Nairobi Weekly; and Vesna Pešić, a longtime human rights activist from Serbia, where she is the director of the Center for Anti-War Action in Belgrade. Excerpts of their acceptance speeches appear below:

Han: I am honored to receive this award and do so on behalf of my colleagues who have struggled for democracy in China with me, and who are still fighting for democratic rights under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions . . . .

Democracy can be realized in China only through concrete actions, without which democracy would lose its luster and significance. Talk about democracy is not sufficient, nor will democracy result from the application of some abstract theory. Indeed, we know that it is only because numerous people have struggled for democracy and freedom, supported by their friends from other nations, that totalitarian governments have collapsed one by one throughout the world.

Today, China is the world’s largest remaining dictatorship. How the struggle for democracy fares in China will certainly be a pivotal influence on the overall effort to promote freedom elsewhere.

At the present time in China, the government, which owns most of the assets of the country, is in the process of restructuring the country’s command economy. This adjustment process is generating tremendous political and economic pressure on workers and peasants. It is a process in which they desperately seek input but have almost none. If China is to have a market economy in which employers have profits as their [End Page 134] motive, then workers and peasants must have the right to form unions and associations of their own choosing. If such organizations are formed and can achieve real participation in state politics and the economy, then they will be able to exert a decisive influence on China’s advance toward democracy.

Tonight, I would like to share some encouraging news: after a long period of discussion, organizers of China’s free labor movement have decided that they will seek to advance democratization through open means using the legal guarantees now available to them in China. . . . Although such involvement engenders great personal risk, they feel it is the only course of action available to them which will advance democratization at a practical level.

The cause of democracy in China cannot succeed without support from the global democratic community. However, such support must be directed to those real forces emerging in China which seek such change.

Imanyara: This is a unique occasion. Three people drawn from three different continents that account for a significant portion of humanity are brought together in a special ceremony to celebrate democracy: from China, from Europe, from Africa. The names in this special context bring to mind places: Sharpeville, Tiananmen Square, Srebrenica—each representing in its own irrational and tortured logic the never-ending struggle for human dignity and freedom.

I stand to accept the award as a messenger of the African people. For us in Africa, this award is an eloquent affirmation that we have allies in our struggle to plant and nurture a culture of democratic values and civil society. We thank the American people, who have through the National Endowment for Democracy recognized that the African continent is in the process of an irreversible march to human dignity and democratic emancipation.

More than 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela told us that there is no easy road to freedom. For close to 30 years he languished in jail as the moral leader of the African struggle for justice. Twenty years ago, President Jomo Kenyatta told us that the African continent is awake and will never go to sleep again. Now Nelson Mandela is out of prison and Jomo Kenyatta is long dead.

We have experienced the obstacles Nelson Mandela was referring to, and we have seen our founding fathers lead us to autocratic slumber. And the flame of freedom has changed hands and the torchbearers of Africa’s second liberation are a new generation of leaders. I see this award as theirs and I accept it on their behalf. . . .

We get angry when we see the might and economic power of the United States of America support and prop up African despots. America bears a heavy responsibility toward mankind in this last decade of the millennium. President John F. Kennedy referred to this special [End Page 135] relationship as the burden and the glory. We call upon you, the American people, to help us help you carry the burden of freedom and the glory of knowing that we can all thank God for enjoying democracy in freedom.

Pešić: In honoring me with this award, the National Endowment for Democracy is recognizing all the activists and friends of the Anti-War Center and their war to end the war and abuses of civil and human rights. These efforts, carried out in the most difficult of circumstances, often under harsh criticism for being so-called traitors, prove that even now many people are committed to keeping alive the ideals of peace and democracy.

What distinguishes us from other opposition groups and parties is our double agenda—for democracy and against nationalism. Many people talk about democracy, but you cannot implement democratic values and institutions within the framework of aggressive nationalism and war. You cannot be silent about the horrors of bloodshed and ethnic cleansing and the destruction of cities and villages and places of worship and claim that you are a democrat. You cannot call yourself a democrat if you are only seeking democracy for your ethnic community. We raise our voices against such thinking and against those who inflame national feelings and fears in their own struggles for power.

I would like to take this occasion to convey three messages to U.S. policy makers and to the public at large. First, I want to stress the existence of those who do not support the policies of national hatred and war. . . . These people—Muslims, Croats, and Serbs—reject the notion that they cannot live together. They resist the nationalist propaganda. There are independent women’s groups speaking out against the war and caring for women who have been raped and abused. There are independent associations of intellectuals who are trying to raise the voice of reason; journalists challenging the official accounts of the war; and people from all over ex-Yugoslavia working together in the struggle for real peace and democracy. These people need to be recognized and supported. . . .

Second, we feel that the international community can and must do more for all those trapped by the power games and violence in the war in the former Yugoslavia. . . .

Third, we need support for our commitment to the idea of individual rights. We must be able to move away from the notion and practice of collective responsibility and guilt and develop foundations for individual responsibility, which is a basis for democratic citizenship. Not all members of a national or ethnic group are guilty of war crimes, but the individuals who can be named must be made accountable. . . . This can be a starting point in ending the historical cycle of collective revenge and introducing the rule of law into our societies. [End Page 136]

During this occasion of the world conference on democracy, I can still hear the echo of our warlords, with their claims that we cannot live together. Do not believe them. With so many people gathered here from so many regions, races, and religions, we ourselves prove that multiethnic communities and cross-cultural communities are possible and present the only just future.

I firmly believe that in defending values of individual rights and mutual tolerance we are the real patriots of our nations.


The New Civic Forum, an Egyptian nongovernmental organization founded by 60 academics, businesspeople, journalists, bankers, members of the liberal professions, and women’s rights activists, recently held its founding meeting in Cairo. Excerpts from the inaugural address delivered by the organization’s president Dr. Said El-Naggar, professor of economics at Cairo University and a former World Bank official, appear below:

As a liberal organization, the New Civic Forum (NCF) supports the program of liberalization, privatization, and deregulation currently underway in Egypt. However, economic freedom and market forces are not enough to bring about sustainable development. The NCF places great emphasis on equity in development, protection of the environment, democracy and human rights, participation of women, and the principle of nondiscrimination on the basis of religion, race, or sex. This has come to be known as development with a human face. . . .

One of the most remarkable recent trends is the recognition of the link between democracy and development. It used to be thought that development and democracy were two separate things, and that the former could take place without the latter. It was even argued that authoritarianism is required in order to overcome rigidities, taboos, and traditions inimical to economic progress.

Democratic values and fundamental human rights are now seen as essential for sustainable development. It is not by accident that the most democratic countries—in the sense of liberal democracy—are also those which have attained the highest level of development, the most striking scientific and technological progress, and the most advanced systems of social welfare. Nor is it by accident that the most tyrannical and the most totalitarian systems of government have proved to be resounding failures in terms of both development and welfare of their citizens. It is not difficult to see the link between development and liberal democracy. Democracy means a government of laws, not of persons, an independent judiciary, free press, transparency in the conduct of government business, [End Page 137] accountability, participation in decision making and, last but not least, protection of individual freedoms. All these principles and values are indispensable for stability, creativity, risk-taking and a pervasive sense of equity, which constitute the underpinning, if not the lifeblood, of sustainable development.

United Nations

On 17 December 1991, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly passed Resolution 46/137 (“Enhancing the Effectiveness of the Principle of Periodic and Genuine Elections”), which broadened the UN’s commitment and strengthened its capability to respond to requests from member states for electoral assistance (see the article by Carl Gershman on pp. 5-16 above). Excerpts from Resolution 46/137 appear below:

The General Assembly . . .

Reaffirming the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides that everyone has the right to take part in the government of his or her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives, that everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his or her country, that the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government, and that this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures. . . .

Recognizing that there is no single political system or electoral method that is equally suited to all nations and their people and that the efforts of the international community to enhance the effectiveness of the principle of periodic and genuine elections should not call into question each State’s sovereign right, in accordance with the will of its people, freely to choose and develop its political, social, economic, and cultural systems, whether or not they conform to the preferences of other States…

Affirming that electoral verification by the United Nations should remain an exceptional activity of the Organization to be undertaken in well-defined circumstances, inter alia, primarily in situations with a clear international dimension. . . .

Stresses its conviction that periodic and genuine elections are a necessary and indispensable element of sustained efforts to protect the rights and interests of the governed and that, as a matter of practical experience, the fight of everyone to take part in the government of his or her country is a crucial factor in the effective enjoyment by all of a wide range of other human rights and fundamental freedoms, embracing political, economic, social, and cultural rights;

Declares that determining the will of the people requires an electoral [End Page 138] process that provides an equal opportunity for all citizens to become candidates and put forward their political views, individually and in cooperation with others, as provided in national constitutions and laws;

. . . Affirms the value of the electoral assistance that the United Nations has provided at the request of some Member States, in the context of full respect for their sovereignty. . . .

Endorses the Secretary General’s view that he should designate a senior official in the Offices of the Secretary General to act as a focal point . . . to ensure consistency in the handling of requests of Member States organizing elections, who would assist the Secretary General to coordinate and consider requests for electoral verification and to channel requests for electoral assistance to the appropriate office or program. . . .


From 10 September to 4 October 1991, representatives of the member states of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) gathered in Moscow for a Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE (see the article by Neil Kritz on pp. 17-28 above). Excerpts from the Moscow communique follow:

The participating states emphasize that issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law are of international concern, as respect for these rights and freedoms constitutes one of the foundations of the international order. They categorically and irrevocably declare that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension of the CSCE are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating states and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the state concerned. . .

The participating states . . .

  1. condemn unreservedly forces which seek to take power from a representative government of a participating state against the will of the people as expressed in free and fair elections and contrary to the justly established constitutional order;
  2. will support vigorously, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, in case of overthrow or attempted overthrow of a legitimately elected government of a participating state by undemocratic means, the legitimate organs of that state upholding human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, recognizing their common commitment to countering any attempt to curb these basic values;
  3. recognize the need to make further peaceful efforts concerning human rights, democracy, and the rule of law within the context of security and cooperation in Europe, individually and collectively, to make democratic advances irreversible. . . . [End Page 139]