For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No: UNIS/SG/2641
Release Date: 31 August 2000
Parliamentary Voices Must Be Heard If Global Democracy Is to Thrive,
Says Secretary-General to Meeting of Heads of National Parliaments

 NEW YORK, 30 August (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Conference of Presiding Officers of National Parliaments, organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), in New York on 30 August:

 I am delighted to welcome you to New York at this historic moment for the United Nations.  Your meeting of Heads of Parliament represents a unique chance for the voices of the world’s peoples to be heard in the clearest, most direct manner.  Over the next week, Heads of State from more than 150 countries will meet in these halls to chart a new course for this Organization 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 your Charter was written.

-- You have a unique understanding of your citizens’ needs and wishes, and of what they expect from United Nations in the new millennium. 

-- You have experience of organizing constructive dialogue between different parties -- between those in power and those in opposition.  So you know how important it is to show tolerance to your opponents, and to safeguard the rights of minorities as well as majorities.

-- And you also know how important it is, sometimes, to rise above party differences and unite for some great national purpose.

For all these reasons, if democracy is to thrive at the global level, and the peoples of the world are to rise above their differences and unite to pursue the common interest of all humankind, your voice must be heard.

 The fact is that we need the parliamentary vision of international relations more than ever before.  In the age of globalization, the ancient challenges of poverty and conflict can no longer be met simply by governments working together.  Whole societies are affected by international relations, and are playing their part in it.  They need to be represented in many different ways.

As Heads of Parliament, you occupy a special place.  As representatives of the people you are the principal repository of democratic legitimacy.  Using your legislative powers and your democratic mandate, you can serve as genuine “tribunes of the people” across traditional frontiers. 

Collectively, you represent the variety of cultural traditions and political experiences that are an essential characteristic of democracy as a global process.  As leaders of your societies who are truly responsive to your constituents, you understand that, in a global era, you have to rise above parochial concerns.  Indeed, it is increasingly clear that the answers to many local problems lie at the global level.  From the Internet to the genetic code to e-business, a new world has brought new challenges that cannot be addressed merely at the national level.  And the new impetus given to the process of democratization during the 1990s -– to which the United Nations has contributed through its electoral assistance work -– has given parliaments a near-universal role.

 Your range of responsibilities has expanded accordingly.  As legislators, you are the primary authors of our global language of international law.  One of the central objectives of the United Nations is to bring about the implementation of treaties and of customary international law; in short, to promote the rule of law in international relations.  As international law develops to regulate more and more fields of daily life and business, it plays an even greater part in the legal system of every nation. 

I am delighted that many of your Heads of States and Government have accepted my invitation to rededicate themselves to the international rule of law during the Millennium Summit, by signing international treaties and conventions of which I, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, am the depositary.  But it will be for you and your colleagues to ratify those treaties.  By doing so, you will help to build the foundations of the rule of law on a global scale.

Above all, my friends, 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 the international organizations 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.  To succeed in this critical effort, we need a United Nations that is effective and responsive.  I am all the more grateful, therefore, for the strong support for the reform of our Organization expressed by your Declaration.

Just as you have an important role to play in making international institutions more transparent and equitable, so also you can help 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 of Human Rights.

As you know better than anyone, those rights cannot be guaranteed simply by holding elections.  For elections to be genuinely free, and for people to feel genuinely represented in government, 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 for what they are:  attempts to gain international recognition for illegitimate rule by pretending to observe democratic principles.  By seeing through these ploys, and by ostracizing those who would claim a place in the community of democracies on 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 task is far from done.  You have a vital role to play as parliamentarians and as 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.

I have over the last three years sought to strengthen the United Nation’s bonds with the IPU, because I believe we need to draw renewed inspiration from the peoples we are meant to serve.  I am grateful for your cooperation in this endeavour, and look forward to making the United Nations even more responsive to your needs as representatives of the global public.  I wish you a successful conference.

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