Documents on Democracy

Issue Date October 2019
Volume 30
Issue 4
Page Numbers 179-184
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On April 11, longtime Sudanese autocrat Omar al-Bashir was ousted following months of nationwide protests against his military-backed regime. The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) took a leading role in organizing and supporting the protests, joining with other groups to form the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC). (For more on the uprising in Sudan, see the article by Mai Hassan and Ahmed Kodouda on pp. 89–103 above.) The SPA’s statement on the August 17 power-sharing agreement signed by military and civilian leaders is excerpted below. (For a full version of this text, see 

On this joyous day, it is painful that some of the revolutionaries who had taken part in the protests in December and in the glorious sit-in at the military headquarters are missing from amongst us today. They were the ones who strove laboriously, and with profound faith, to see through the revolution to its very end after the overthrow of the regime. . . .

The former regime and its president deserve to have their names written in the darkest chapters of history. Let the warrant issued by the ICC for the arrest of the former president bear witness that the defunct regime had left not a single crime that it had not committed.

All these crimes against our people make the matter of judicial accountability one of the most important duties of this government. . . . We affirm the commitment of the FFC to conducting a transparent, just and objective national investigation into the massacre of the military headquarters sit-in. We assure you that we will work with urgency to ensure that any individual who has committed a crime against the Sudanese people since 30 June 1989 shall not escape justice. . . .

The devastation caused by the former regime has affected all aspects of life, including an adequate standard of living, food for children, clean water, healthcare and education. The former regime also, and very deliberately, destroyed the social fabric of communities by dividing and [End Page 179] discriminating between citizens on tribal, ethnic, regional, religious and racial grounds—a heinous process that the Sudanese people had never before experienced. . . . The regime also, again very deliberately, degraded the women of Sudan. The regime oppressed women through repressive laws, and through the creation of courts of “law,” prosecution tribunals and police divisions whose sole purpose collectively was to humiliate women. . . .

To the [formerly ruling] National Congress Party and its allies: Say it: justice has prevailed and the reign of injustice has come to an end. You abused your power and authority. You killed, arrested, tortured and displaced the people of this country. Many of you remained silent in the face of these crimes and turned a blind eye to the injustices. During your unjust rule, our country suffered civil wars and internal conflicts. People starved and were displaced across borders, their dignity was compromised and our lives became unbearable.

During your time in power, corruption spread at an unprecedented magnitude and rate. Under your regime, the wealth of this country was scattered and distributed into the pockets of a few of you. During your era, all that our youth dreamt of was to emigrate and leave their homeland behind, and death became the wish of many. . . .

We will not do what you did, and vengeance shall not be our approach. Instead, we shall pursue accountability and just punishment. For those who did not commit serious crimes or have not committed visible and personal crimes, we invite them to join the campaign to build this nation. . . . Ultimately, you too are from this country, and your right to citizenship has not been withdrawn. Nonetheless, you must choose how you wish to make amends for what you have done, for silence in the face of injustice is complicity.


On May 20, during his inaugural address before the Ukrainian parliament, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky called for snap parliamentary elections, which were held on July 21. Below are excerpts from Zelensky’s August 29 address to the newly elected parliament. (For a full version of this text, see 

I am very pleased that we have a parliament willing to work for real. Not to engage in populism, not to disrupt important decisions with thousands of meaningless amendments, but to implement real reforms long awaited by both citizens of Ukraine and the entire civilized world. . . .

Dear people’s deputies! . . . The level of trust in the new parliament is enormous; thus, the level of responsibility and expectations is even greater. There are numerous challenges and tasks ahead. The introduction of democracy, the long-awaited abolition of parliamentary immunity and the law on impeachment. An efficient reform of the law enforcement bodies [End Page 180] and judiciary. The continuation of decentralization and European integration reforms. . . . And most importantly—strengthening national security and defense, ending the war in Donbas, and the return of Crimea, which was annexed by the Russian Federation.

Society expects all that, and we have to do it. It is already clear that this parliament will go down in history. The question is—how, exactly? You have every chance of getting into the textbooks as the parliament that has done the incredible, that has implemented everything that hadn’t been done in the previous 28 years. As the parliament where there were no fights, absenteeism, “piano voting.” Just constructive and daily hard work for the benefit of the Ukrainian people.

Otherwise you will go down in history as the parliament which lasted for only one year. In fact, this is your probation period. Believe me, I already know that dissolving the Verkhovna Rada is not so scary. However, I sincerely hope this will not happen. Let’s do it together!


On May 23, Maria Ressa, executive editor and cofounder of the Philippine online publication Rappler, was awarded the Columbia Journalism Award for her courageous coverage of disinformation and of President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on the free press in the Philippines. (For more on the Philippines, see the article by Björn Dressel and Cristina Regina Bonoan on pp. 134–48 above.) Ressa’s speech accepting the award at the Columbia School of Journalism is excerpted below. (For a full version of this text, see 

On February 13, a day before Valentine’s Day, plainclothes agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (our FBI) came to our office to arrest me. . . . In that five-week period, I was arrested twice and detained once on a bailable charge. Kept overnight to intimidate and harass me. On Valentine’s Day, my government allowed me to post bail. In fourteen months, the Philippine government filed eleven investigations and cases against me and Rappler. . . .

The battle for Truth . . . this is at the heart of protecting our democracies. We have always known that information is power, and these times prove that. Propaganda has always been around, but technology has enabled mass manipulation at a scale we have never imagined. At its heart is the creative destruction of our information ecosystem. Exponential attacks online are a new weapon unleashed against journalists and activists around the world. It is personal. It is psychological. It is meant to pound you into silence. . . .

A lie told a million times is the truth. Without facts, there is no truth. Without the truth, there is no trust. We have data from the Philippines showing how journalists and news groups have been insidiously and systematically attacked on social media—tearing down credibility, [End Page 181] splintering our communities. In the Philippines, these bottom-up attacks jump to coopted newspapers, infiltrating traditional media. Then top down from the government. In situations like this, the voice with the loudest megaphone wins: Duterte, Putin, Trump.

At the heart of this creative destruction are American social media technology platforms, who have taken away the gatekeeping powers of journalists but neglected its responsibilities. They are now the world’s largest distributor of news, allowing lies to spread faster than facts. Laced with anger and hate, these fuel the worst of human nature, imploding democracies around the world. It’s death by a thousand cuts. Like an accelerant to a fire, they help elect populists and authoritarian style leaders.

In the case of the Philippines, it helps maintain the popularity of our president trumpeted exponentially on Facebook, astroturfing and creating a bandwagon effect that had an impact on our midterm elections last week. For the first time since 1938, not one opposition senator is joining the Senate. . . .

When I chose my home and returned to the Philippines at the end of 2004, I headed the largest news group in our country. This courage of convictions is what I needed because I wanted to change culture. It was about standing up to vested interests of power—from the owners to politicians to corporations and lobby groups. . . .

Which brings me to today. In many ways, my entire career prepared me for today’s battles. When people ask me where I find courage, I’m puzzled because I’m not doing anything differently from what I’ve always done. Yes, we have a lot more problems. A lot more attacks, and yes, being arrested is a new experience—one I could have done without . . . because journalism is not a crime. . . . This is the time when standards and ethics matter. This is the time that determines who you really are.

Hong Kong

On July 8, popular Hong Kong musician and prodemocracy activist Denise Ho addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on behalf of UN Watch and the Human Rights Foundation. Ho’s speech was twice interrupted with points of order from the delegation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), complaining about her affront to the principle of “One China.” Her statement appears below. (For a full version of this text, see 

Mr. President, my name is Denise Ho, singer and democracy activist from Hong Kong. The Vienna Declaration guarantees democracy and human rights. Yet in Hong Kong today, these are under serious attack. Last month, two million people walked in peaceful protest, fighting an extradition bill that would remove the firewall protecting Hong Kong from interference of the Chinese government. Police shot rubber bullets and one-hundred and fifty tear gas bombs against unarmed protesters—[Interrupted by PRC delegate]. [End Page 182]

Dozens were arrested. Four people committed suicide as an ultimate cry of despair. This anger of Hong Kongers follows years of deceitful promises. Since the handover, we saw our autonomy slowly eroded. Disqualification of six lawmakers, kidnappings of booksellers and activists jailed, are proof of China’s tightening grip. Real universal suffrage is still nonexistent, with a chief executive officer appointed and controlled by Beijing. China is preventing our democracy at all costs.

Mr. President, the Sino-British Joint Declaration is a binding treaty registered with the UN. Yet, after only 22 years, China is denying its obligations. The “One Country, Two Systems” is nearing its death. Protests are still ongoing—[Interrupted by PRC delegate].

Will the United Nations convene an urgent session to protect the people of Hong Kong? Given its abuses, will the UN remove China from this human rights council?

South Africa

On May 8, Cyril Ramaphosa was elected president of South Africa. (For more on the South African election, see the article by Rod Alence and Anne Pitcher on pp. 5–19 above.) Excerpts from Ramaphosa’s May 25 inauguration speech are presented below. (For a full version of this text, see 

Twenty-five years have passed since that glorious morning on which Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was sworn in as the first president of a democratic South Africa. In the passage of that time, our land has known both seasons of plenty and times of scarcity. Our people have felt the warm embrace of liberty. They have rejoiced at the affirmation of their essential and equal humanity. They have found shelter and sustenance. They have found opportunity and purpose. As the shackles of oppression have fallen away, they have felt their horizons widen and their lives improve in myriad ways.

But they have also known moments of doubt. They have felt the cold shadow of a past so cruel and iniquitous that it has at times threatened to eclipse the very achievement of their hard-won freedom. Despite our most earnest efforts, many South Africans still go to bed hungry, many succumb to diseases that can be treated, many live lives of intolerable deprivation. Too many of our people do not work, especially the youth. In recent times, our people have watched as some of those in whom they had invested their trust have surrendered to the temptation of power and riches. They have seen some of the very institutions of our democracy eroded and resources squandered. The challenges that we face are real. But they are not insurmountable. . . .

Our Constitution—the basic law of our land—continues to guide our way even at the darkest hour. As a nation we therefore can no longer abide the grave disparities of wealth and opportunity that have defined our past and which threaten to imperil our future. It is our shared will—and our shared [End Page 183] responsibility—to build a society that knows neither privilege nor disadvantage. . . .

Let us forge a compact for an efficient, capable and ethical state, a state that is free from corruption; for companies that generate social value and propel human development; for elected officials and public servants who faithfully serve no other cause than that of the public. . . .

Let us end the dominion that men claim over women, the denial of opportunity, the abuse and the violence, the neglect, and the disregard of each person’s equal rights. Let us build a truly nonracial society, one that belongs to all South Africans, and in which all South Africans belong. Let us build a society that protects and values those who are vulnerable and who for too long have been rendered marginal. A society where disability is no impediment, where there is tolerance, where no person is judged on their sexual orientation, where no person suffers prejudice because of the color of their skin, the language of their birth or their country of origin.


In July, election officials in Moscow barred several opposition candidates from running for seats on the Moscow city council, spurring weeks of rallies with tens of thousands of protesters. On September 5, Konstantin Kotov, a software engineer, was sentenced to four years in prison for his participation in multiple protests. Ahead of his sentencing, Kotov gave a closing statement, which appears below. (For a full version of this text, see 

I would like to start with words of thanks to my defenders—especially Masha, she fought for me from the first day—friends, relatives, strangers who sent packages. I believe that they are trying not me, but the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. There are no independent parties, there are no honest elections, there remains only one outlet—to go to the street and shout one’s demands. But even this is not allowed. Approval is not given for public actions, peaceful protests are called mass disorders, hundreds and thousands of people are tried administratively, some are placed under arrest. And some, including me, are tried under a criminal statute—because I tried several times to voice my protest.

I believe that by these actions, the regime is digging its own grave. If legal forms of protest are prohibited, sooner or later on the streets of the city we will see not peaceful actions, but an uprising of people who were driven to it. I do not want this. None of those who went out with me to the peaceful demonstrations want this. Therefore it is necessary to struggle to the last for our and your rights. And not to forget those who are imprisoned for this struggle. Support is important—write letters, come to the courts and, most important, do not be silent. Russia will surely be free. For this it is only necessary not to be afraid. [End Page 184]