Two events in Washington, D.C., commemorated the tenth anniversary of the May 1990 parliamentary elections in Burma, which were won overwhelmingly by the National League for Democracy (NLD) but not honored by the military government. The National Endowment for Democracy sponsored both a panel discussion hosted by the Czech embassy on May 15 and a luncheon on Capitol Hill the following day addressed by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Both events featured the showing of a videotaped message by NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which is excerpted below:
The elections of 1990 are an important landmark in the modern history of Burma. After three decades—almost three decades—of military dictatorship, finally the people of Burma were going to be able to vote for a government of their choice. The elections of 1990 were free and fair. It was one of the freest and fairest that had taken place in this region at that time. But unfortunately, the results of the elections were not honored.
It seemed that the military regime had not expected the people to vote for the National League for Democracy. Or certainly, not to vote so overwhelmingly for the National League for Democracy. We were very proud and happy with the results of the elections of 1990, not because our party won more than 80 percent of the seats, but because the elections proved that the people of Burma were politically mature. . . .
If the people of Burma had not voted for us in 1990, the world would not have known that this country wanted democracy. And by refusing to honor the results of the election, the military regime also made it clear to the world that they did not want democracy.
For the last ten years, we have been struggling for the right of the people to elect their own government, for the results of the elections of 1990 to be recognized. During these ten years, there have been many casualties. Many of those who were elected by the people were [End Page 182] imprisoned, forced to resign from their membership of Parliament—although that is not legal, because until Parliament itself has met, no Member of Parliament can resign. Some were forced to go abroad to pursue their democratic activities. Many are still working for democracy but under very difficult circumstances. We have not given up our struggle, and we are not going to give up our struggle. . . .
We are particularly grateful to our friends and allies all over the world for supporting us in our endeavor to have the results of the 1990 elections recognized at this time, when the military regime are trying hard to pretend that the results of the elections are no longer valid. The results of these elections will remain valid until such time as the Members of Parliament elected by the people have had a chance to get together and decide what the next step is going to be.
It is for this that we have been working, and it is for this that the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament was founded in 1998. The Committee Representing the People’s Parliament, together with the National League for Democracy and other political parties, including a number of political parties representing different ethnic nationalities of Burma, will continue to work together to bring democracy to Burma, democracy that will bring human progress to our country, that will ensure the people a secure life, a life of liberty, and a life of development, based on human values.
At the 56th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Czech vice-minister of foreign affairs Martin Palou‰ introduced a draft resolution on Cuba. Excerpts from his remarks follow:
Our initiative is based on the recognition of, and respect for, the elementary standards of the international human rights instruments, which have to be valid for all members of the international community and which underlie all activities of this Commission. The principle we want to defend is simple: Since we believe that human rights are indivisible and of a universal nature, we must be ready to defend them not only when our own fate and well-being are at stake, but also when others are being deprived of them—in whatever part of the world.
Our initiative is not only a step taken on the governmental level. It stems from the spirit of civil society. It reflects the attitudes both of the Cuban dissidents inside the country and of the numerous non-governmental organizations concerned by the situation in Cuba, namely Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Pax Christi, Amnesty International and a long list of others. These NGOs have been drawing attention to the unacceptable situation of human rights in Cuba for a [End Page 183] long time and they are in full agreement with the present resolution, asking explicitly the members of this Commission for their support.
On April 18, the draft resolution passed by 21 to 18, with 14 abstentions. Excerpts from the resolution appear below:
The Commission on Human Rights . . .
Expressing its concern at the continued violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba, such as freedom of expression, association and assembly and the rights associated with the administration of justice, despite the expectations raised by some positive steps taken by the Government of Cuba in the past few years,
1. Calls upon the Government of Cuba once again to ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and to provide the appropriate framework to guarantee the rule of law through democratic institutions and the independence of the judicial system;
2. Calls upon the Government of Cuba to honour the commitment to democracy and respect for human rights it made at the Sixth Ibero-American Summit in Santiago in 1996, a commitment reiterated at the Ninth Ibero-American Summit in Havana in 1999 . . .
7. Reiterates its concern about the continued repression of members of the political opposition and about the detention of dissidents, including the members of the Grupo de Trabajo de la Disidencia Interna, and calls upon the Government of Cuba to release all the persons detained or imprisoned for peacefully expressing their political, religious and social views and for exercising their rights to full and equal participation in public affairs;
8. Calls upon the Government of Cuba to open a dialogue with the political opposition, as already requested by several groups;
9. Invites the Government of Cuba to afford the country full and open contact with other countries, in order to ensure the enjoyment of all human rights for all Cuban people by utilizing international cooperation, by allowing a freer flow of people and ideas and by drawing on the experience and support of other nations.
On March 18, Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party was elected president of Taiwan, ending over a half-century of rule by the Nationalist Party (KMT). Excerpts from Chen’s inaugural address on May 20 appear below:
We are here today, not just to celebrate an inauguration, but to witness the hard-won democratic values, and to witness the beginning of a new era. On the eve of the 21st Century, the people of Taiwan have completed [End Page 184] a historic alternation of political parties in power. This is not only the first of its kind in the history of the Republic of China, but also an epochal landmark for Chinese communities around the world. Taiwan has not only set a new model for the Asian experience of democracy, but has also added a moving example to the third wave of democracy the world over. . . .
With our sacred votes, we have proven to the world that freedom and democracy are indisputable universal values, and that peace is humanity’s highest goal. . . .
I personally understand that the significance of the alternation of political parties and the peaceful transition of power lies not in that it is a change of personnel or political parties. Nor that it is a dynastic change. Rather, it is the return of state and government power to the people through a democratic procedure. The people are the true masters of the country, which no individual or political party can possess. From the head of state to the rank-and-file civil servant—the government exists for all the people and serves all the people. . . .
A democratic society with fair competition, tolerance and trust is the strongest impetus for a nation’s development. Placing national interests above those of political parties, we should solidify the will of the people and seek consensus among the ruling and opposition parties, to promote the country’s development and reforms. . . .
The topmost initiatives of my promise to “rule by the clean and upright” are to eliminate “black gold”—the involvement of organized crime in politics—and to eradicate vote-buying. For a long time, the Taiwanese people have been deeply repelled by money politics and the interference of organized crime. A grassroots vote-buying culture has also robbed the people of their right to elect the wise and the able. These have tainted the development of Taiwan’s democracy.
Today, I am willing to promise hereby that the new government will eliminate vote-buying and crack down on “black gold” politics. . . .
Besides, we are also willing to promise a more active contribution in safeguarding international human rights. The Republic of China cannot and will not remain outside global human rights trends. . . .
The new government will request the Legislative Yuan to pass and ratify the International Bill of Rights as a domestic law of Taiwan, so that it will formally become the “Taiwan Bill of Rights.” We hope to set up an independent national human rights commission in Taiwan, thereby realizing an action long advocated by the United Nations. We will also invite two outstanding non-governmental organizations, the International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International, to assist us in our measures to protect human rights and make the Republic of China into a new indicator for human rights in the 21st Century. . . .
Dear compatriots, we hope so much to share the moving scene of this moment with all Chinese-speaking people around the world. The wide [End Page 185] Ketagelan Boulevard before us was bristling with security guards only a few years ago. The building behind me used to be the Governor General’s Mansion during the colonial era. Today, we gather here to extol the glory and joy of democracy with songs of the earth and the voice of the people. With a little reflection, our compatriots should be able to appreciate the deep and far-reaching meaning of this moment:
Authoritarianism and force can only bring surrender for one time, while democracy and freedom are values that will endure forever.
On March 26, Vladimir Putin was elected to the presidency of Russia. Excerpts from his inaugural address on May 7 follow:
Today is truly a historic day. I wish to focus attention on this once more. In actual fact, for the first time in the entire history of our state, for the first time in Russian history, supreme power in the country is handed over in the most democratic and in the most simple way: through the will of the people—legally and peacefully. . . .
We have proved that Russia is becoming a truly democratic modern state. The peaceful succession of power is the crucial element of the political stability which we have dreamt of, to which we have aspired and which we have sought. . . .
The establishment of a democratic state is a process which is yet far from completed. However, a great deal has already been done.
We must safeguard what has been achieved, maintain and develop democracy, ensure that the authorities elected by the people work in their interests, defend Russian citizens everywhere, including both inside and outside our country, and serve the society. . . .
We must know our history, know it as it really is, draw lessons from it and always remember those who created the Russian state, championed its dignity and made it a great, powerful and mighty state.
We shall preserve that memory, and we shall preserve that tradition through the ages. We shall hand down to our descendants all that is best in our history—all that is best. . . .
We want our Russia to be a free, prosperous, rich, strong and civilized country, a country of which its citizens are proud and which is respected in the world. . . .
On May 21, Elena Bonner sent a statement to an event honoring the birthday of her late husband Andrei Sakharov. Excerpts follow:
Well, the people’s electorate has chosen war [in Chechnya] along with Putin, or Putin along with war (I don’t know what comes first and what second). Together with Putin the people forgot the old lesson, as old as [End Page 186] the Ten Commandments, a lesson forged in our own and others’ experiences: the lesson that the well-being and advancement of a country and of an individual cannot possibly spring from war. And these voters believed . . . the myth that in voting for a new president we voted for a strong power. . . . The electorate is ready to overlook that the President, by starting the war, became a hostage of the generals. And it is not he—the Supreme Commander—who decides whether there will be peace in Russia; it is the generals. And they march across Red Square in one column, the World War II veterans and the soldiers of this dirty war. Neither group of soldiers is guilty, but they are implicated (to use the professional lexicon of the President). Is the President also hostage to “the Family”? That has yet to be revealed, but note, the President has nominated, and the Duma confirmed, Kasyanov and Ustinov. The President is also a hostage of the FSB. The center of Moscow is now decorated with hundreds of men armed with machine guns, their faces as well as their consciences hidden in black masks. Another government comes to mind that was famous for its black shirts. Now, a different style of dress is in fashion.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), a recently formed opposition party, is contesting parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe scheduled for June 24-25. Excerpts from the MDC’s “Program for Change” appear below:
Zimbabwe is at a crossroads. Across the country we face the deepest economic and social crisis since independence in 1980. People cannot afford basic needs like food, school fees, rent or health care, and public services are crumbling. People are demoralized by the lack of leadership from and corruption in the highest levels of government, by oppressive and self-interested responses from those in power and by the lack of progress towards solving people’s problems. . . .
The MDC stands for the supremacy of the people and the nation over partisan or individual interests.
The MDC stands for social democratic, human centred, equitable development policies, pursued in an environment of political pluralism, participatory democracy and accountable and transparent governance. The MDC aims to build a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society. . . .
The MDC will promote and safeguard a political environment in which people can exercise their right to vote without fear or apathy, where they will receive the information they need to make informed choices on their elected leaders, and where they will be able to hold those leaders accountable to them.