We all share a responsibility for democracy

From an address by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the presiding officers of the Interparliamentary Union

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Over the next week, heads of state from more than 150 countries will meet in these halls to chart a new course for this organisation and for the world. To succeed, they must summon the will to think anew about how to advance the interests of their citizens in a global era. No group of leaders is better placed to give expression to those interests than Heads of Parliament. You represent the peoples of the world - the peoples in whose name our charter was written.

Over the next week, heads of state from more than 150 countries will meet in these halls to chart a new course for this organisation and for the world. To succeed, they must summon the will to think anew about how to advance the interests of their citizens in a global era. No group of leaders is better placed to give expression to those interests than Heads of Parliament. You represent the peoples of the world - the peoples in whose name our charter was written.

Above all, I believe you have a unique role to play in bringing global institutions such as the United Nations closer to the peoples they are meant to serve. In Seattle and elsewhere, we have witnessed the dangers of alienation and suspicion between local people and international organisations which seek to serve their interest at the global level.

Together, we at the United Nations and you, the parliamentarians, can do much to break down this wall of suspicion - by explaining the global changes to our peoples, and, above all, by ensuring that those changes redound to their benefit

Just as you have an important role to play in making international institutions more transparent and equitable, so also you can help to ensure that democratic parliaments everywhere remain genuinely accountable to the people, and do not act as mere yes-men to powerful executives.

I say this because I believe we are meeting at a critical moment in the development and spread of democracy after the end of the Cold War. Even as democratic legitimacy has been established or restored in many countries over the last two decades, it is threatened today by a new danger, which I call "fig-leaf democracy".

We have, in a number of recent instances, witnessed attempts to cloak the outright subversion of democracy in the mantle of defending it. We have heard governments claim to be acting in the best interests of the people, even when showing contempt for their choices. We must see through these claims. And we must be no less vigilant in condemning those who would overturn democracy in more subtle, yet equally destructive ways.

Constitutional rule is not always reversed suddenly in one dark night of terror. Often, it is done slowly and incrementally, institution by institution, under the guise of allegedly defending democracy. But the result is the same: the people are denied their human rights, including the right to take part in the government of their country through free and regular elections, enshrined in Article 21 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

As you know, those rights cannot be guaranteed simply by holding elections. For elections to be genuinely free, and for people to feel genuinely represented, much more is needed: institutional checks and balances, an independent judiciary, viable political parties, a free press and the freedom of each individual to express his or her ideas without fear of retribution.

Recent attempts to ratify the illegal seizure of power through flawed and unfree elections should be seen as what they are: attempts to gain international recognition for illegitimate rule by pretending to observe democratic principles. By seeing through these ploys, and by ostracising those who would claim a place in the community of democracies under false pretences, you can help fellow parliaments and parliamentarians to restore democratic government where it has been overturned, and to strengthen it where it is in peril.

It is clear from the challenges I have mentioned today that our work is far from done. You have a vital role to play as parliamentarians and leaders - not only as a bridge between the local and the global, but also as agents of the rule of law, nationally and internationally. Good governance depends on the stability and security of parliaments, and you can also do much to advance development, locally and globally, by directing your nation's resources in that direction.

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