Documents on Democracy

Issue Date Summer 1990
Volume 1
Issue 3
Page Numbers 138-41
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The U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus held a special session in early June commemorating the first anniversary of China’s brutal crackdown on prodemocracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. The featured speaker at the session was Chai Ling, a leader of the Beijing University Independent Student Union and a principal coordinator of the student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. After leading survivors of the massacre to safety on the morning of 4 June 1989, Chai Ling and her husband Feng Congde went into hiding, They eluded Chinese security forces for the next ten months and then escaped to the West. The following are excerpts from Chai Ling’s statement at a press conference prior to her appearance before the Human Rights Caucus:

One year ago yesterday, the killing began in Tiananmen Square. The Massacre ended the peaceful demonstration that had lasted for over fifty days. For fifty days, we peacefully presented to our government our hopes and dreams for China. The government responded with martial law, tear gas, bullets, and tanks.

The major theme of the democracy movement last year was peace. The highest principle of peace is sacrifice. The people in China, indeed all over the world, were inspired by our belief in peace, and our willingness to make sacrifices for peace . . . .

One year ago, when the tanks came into Tiananmen Square, the students were simply sitting there, facing the tanks peacefully. Outside the Square, thousands of people blocked the tanks with their bodies. Their weapons were not guns, but human dignity. But that is the most powerful weapon that people can have. That night, it took four to five hours for the tanks to move one hundred meters forward . . . .

Today we see all over China passive resistance against the government. Since people no longer believe in the government, it has lost its legitimacy. This resistance is very strong among workers and [End Page 138] peasants. In the ten months of hiding, it was the ordinary Chinese people who helped me, sheltered me, fed me, and helped me to escape.

In my journey, I discovered a great number of people were listening to [Voice of America and British Broadcasting Corporation radio programs]. The people of China know the truth. They see the government without its skin. They see the evil, and feel the fear of the Chinese Communist Party leadership.

After the massacre in Tiananmen Square, the government of China can never be the same. During last year’s democracy movement, the majority of government officials were sympathetic and supportive of the students and peaceful demonstrators. Now some of them are helping us to escape. These officials are just like us, eager for freedom and democracy.

And the society of China can never be the same. Today the underground resistance organizations are still alive. They are careful and waiting, but alive and determined . . . .

Today as I stand in freedom, under the protection of democratic governments, I plead to the people of the world that you must not forget those who gave up their lives for freedom and democracy. Please listen to the cries of China’s prisons and the voices of students, workers, and peasants who are still deprived of basic human rights . . . .

And I say to the governments of the world, do not look at the Chinese people with “old eyes,” for the people of China have been emboldened in their quest for freedom. The struggle for justice is deeply felt by the Chinese people. It is not imported from abroad. It is deeply rooted in our own culture and history. It is our political leaders who now resist this idea.


In late February 1990, a group of political activists, including Yondo Black, a prominent member of the Cameroon Bar Association (CBA), were placed in detention by the government for attempting to organize an opposition political party. At a special session of the CBA on 27 March 1990, the association’s president, Bernard A. Muna, delivered an address on behalf of the detainees, excerpts from which follow:

Whether we like it or not, there are questions raised by this incident that concern the Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon, the International Charter of Human Rights, the African Charter of Human Rights, and the rights of the people.

Let us suppose that the nine detainees did indeed hold secret meetings, distribute tracts criticizing the government, etc., etc. The question to be asked is why did they have to hold their meetings in [End Page 139] secret and criticize the government through anonymous tracts when the rights to hold meetings and to create associations are guaranteed by our Constitution . . . ?

The answer to the question is simple: it is because for the last 25 years in Cameroon, citizens who have dared to exercise these rights have been arrested, tortured, and detained. In the name of unity, in Cameroon and in nearly all other African countries, the rights enshrined in constitutions and human rights charters have been denied to her sons and daughters . . . .

Hundreds of thousands of Africa’s children are in exile or are refugees. Some are locked up in political prisons or they are at civil war. They are in exile because they cannot express themselves freely in their own country. They are locked up in prison because they have dared to point out the shortcomings of the party in power. They are refugees in other countries because they are no longer at home in their own land. They are at civil war because they have been denied ordinary human rights in their own land . . . .

I have no doubt that human rights existed in precolonial Africa . . . . The life of the community was paramount in the existence of a tribal society, yet many African societies were highly organized, with many safeguards to check the power of the chief and to protect the rights of individuals . . . .

At the onset of independence, the colonial powers hurriedly created modern structures of government on the model of . . . the Western democracies. Central governments emerged with strong executive power never before known to any tribal ruler or council. A central legislature emerged with extensive powers never before known to any tribal assembly.

Thus it was important that these very powerful structures be surrounded with guarantees to prevent the abuse of power. Constitutions were consequently drawn which guarantee political rights and human rights. Freedom of speech and the press was guaranteed. There was separation of powers between the legislature and the executive. An independent judiciary was also instituted.

Shortly after independence, most African countries started to dismantle these guarantees and some simply ignored them. What was worse is that these new . . . African governments did not even bother to put into place any guarantees resembling what existed in precolonial traditional Africa. The result is what we see today in Africa. Africa, having accepted the Western style of government, must accept the structures that go with it to guarantee respect for human rights, These include an independent judiciary and a multiparty system.

The Republic of Cameroon is not one big tribe nor is it one great clan. Cameroon is a young nation put together during colonial rule, enjoying a powerful central government modelled on the Western [End Page 140] democracies. It is unthinkable that armed with such a powerful central government and legislature . . . she should refuse to her sons and daughters the rights and guarantees that citizens with similar governments enjoy . . . .


On 11 April 1990, representatives of the 35 nations of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE)—which includes the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union, and all the nations of Europe except Albania—concluded a three-week session on economic issues. It was the first time that such issues had been taken up in the Helsinki process, as the CSCE is also known. The new orientation of many of the member states was evident as the conference explicitly recognized the link between pluralistic, multiparty democracy and an efficient, market-driven economy. Excerpts from the session’s final document follow:

The participating States,

Recognizing the relationship between political pluralism and market economies, and being committed to the principles concerning:

  • Multiparty democracy based on free, periodic and genuine elections;
  • The rule of law and equal protection under the law for all, based on respect for human rights and effective, accessible and just legal systems;
  • Economic activity that accordingly upholds human dignity and is free from forced labor, discrimination against workers on grounds of race, sex, language, political opinion or religion, or denial of the rights of workers freely to establish or join independent trade unions, Will endeavor to achieve or maintain the following: . . .
  • International and domestic policies aimed at expanding the free flow of trade, capital, investment and repatriation of profits in convertible currencies;
  • Free and competitive economies where prices are based on supply and demand;
  • Policies that promote social justice and improve living and working conditions . . . .
  • Full recognition and protection of all types of property including private property, and the right of citizens to own and use them, as well as intellectual property rights;
  • The right to prompt, just and effective compensation in the event private property is taken for public use . . . . [End Page 141]