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

Share

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.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there