World democrats mark International Day for Democracy

September 23, 2011
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

Last week marked the International Day of Democracy on 15 September. The World Movement for Democracy (WMD) issued a statement (see below) to commemorate the occasion.

The statement called for “more inclusive political participation and more democratic policy making to help ensure that democracies address the needs of their citizens.” It also noted the UN’s adoption of a resolution on the “Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association.” 

The Singapore Democrats have actively participated in the WMD’s biennial General Assemblies, the last of which was held in Jakarta, Indonesia. WMD officials stopped by in Singapore after the conference to speak at a forum.

Dr Chee Soon Juan was prevented from attending the meeting in Istanbul, Turkey in 2004 and was prosecuted for attempting to leave the country without a permit. 

Statement by the World Movement for Democracy

In recognition of International Day of Democracy on September 15, the World Movement for Democracy, its Steering Committee, and its regional and functional networks – among them, the African Democracy Forum, the International Women’s Democracy Network, the Latin America and Caribbean Network for Democracy, the World Forum for Democratization in Asia, and the World Youth Movement for Democracy – recognize the steadily expanding and deepening efforts to advance democratic norms and build sustainable institutions, while emphasizing the critical necessity for democracies, both older and newer, to meet the needs of their peoples.

During the past year, we have witnessed the international community taking significant steps to help protect and enhance the space in which civil society organizations carry out their work. Not long after International Day of Democracy one year ago, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the “Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association,” establishing a Special Rapporteur.

In June of this year, the Organization of American States adopted a resolution on “Promotion of the Rights to Freedom of Assembly and of Association in the Americas.” In Africa, the number of countries ratifying the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance increased to 11, just 4 countries shy of adoption.

And more than a dozen countries recently established multilateral funds to support at-risk civil society activists who face multiplying efforts around the world to limit or even eliminate their activities.  

We also recognize and honor the many individuals in the Arab region who have overcome their fear of tyrannical governments and have empowered each other and mobilized movements for democratic change. Of course, we also welcome the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma from her years of house arrest.

Despite these positive developments, however, we remain highly concerned about several global trends. Many democratic countries confront persistently high levels of poverty; the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” continues to widen; marginalized groups remain marginalized, including indigenous populations, migrant workers, youth, ethnic and religious groups, and sexual minorities, among others. Women continue to face grave challenges rooted in both tradition and contemporary history as they struggle to create democratic societies that respect pluralism and ensure equal political participation.

At the same time, and perhaps most ominously, just as we witnessed a wave of restrictive legal and other measures targeting civil society following the “color revolutions” of a decade ago, we now see a similar wave as many governments respond to the “Arab Spring” not by implementing democratic reforms, but by ratcheting up oppressive measures to keep democracy and human rights movements in check in their own countries.

Young demonstrators were tortured in Northern Sudan in January; in February, human rights defenders in Cote d’Ivoire and Democratic Republic of the Congo were reportedly threatened by both State authorities and non-State actors; in June, Bahrainian human rights activists were sentenced to life in prison for being involved in peaceful protests; a leading human rights activist in Belarus was arrested in July for providing legal, medical, and humanitarian assistance to victims of political violence; just last month, NGO offices were demolished in Azerbaijan as part of the Government’s “urban renewal project”; and a massive crackdown on rights advocates, lawyers, and critical voices on the Internet reached new heights in China throughout the past year.

These are but examples of the means of repression to which authoritarian governments resort to perpetuate their hold on power—especially when they witness successful uprisings elsewhere.

To respond to these trends – the failure to address poverty, economic inequality, and social marginalization, on the one hand, and new, perhaps more sophisticated and even orchestrated, efforts to shrink the space for civil society activism in many countries, on the other – the World Movement for Democracy commits itself to encourage more inclusive political participation and more democratic policy making to help ensure that democracies address the needs of their citizens; to defend civil society against persistent attack; to encourage greater youth participation in democratic politics; and, as always, to support democracy and human rights movements by facilitating networking, deepening global and regional solidarity, and providing space for the sharing of knowledge, information, and strategies.