Ref. :  000035291
Date :  2012-10-08
Language :  English
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Why the need for a Universal Declaration of Democracy?

Many consider democracy as a problem. And yet the intellectual and moral revolution required by this world "in crisis" consists on the contrary in considering democracy as a solution, i.e. as the only response both general and adapted to the present time's evils.

Since the approbation of the Charter of the United Nations in June 1945 and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December 1948, the world has indeed achieved a certain amount of "progresses". There has not been any "World War" for the last seventy years whereas only twenty years separated the First from the Second World War. Progress made in technology, science and information has reached - and sometimes gone beyond - the frontiers imagined by end-of-the-19th century and beginning-of-the-20th century science-fiction writers. Humanity has so far succeeded in containing cyclic epidemics, if not new pandemic…

However, for more than a decade now, has risen a largely shared feeling that - again - we find ourselves “on the brink of the abyss”(1) ! This feeling finds ground on evidence that is relentlessly multiplying in front of our powerless eyes. How can we continue to accept such a contradiction and what could be the most sustainable response to it?

Conceived by Federico Mayor(2) and Karel Vašák(3), and submitted for approbation at the World Forum for Democracy organised by the Council of Europe (8-12 October 2012), the text For a Universal Declaration of Democracy is a key element of the response to the critical situation we are facing at all latitudes, starting with the euro-Mediterranean world, but also far beyond. The need for (more) democracy (political, economical, social, cultural, international), the reassertion of its inalienable democratic founding principles are indeed at the core of the new impetus to be given to the European construction.

The yearning for democracy that was expressed with strength in the Machrek and
Maghreb also is at the origin of the historic mutations those regions have been undergoing
for the last two years. This essential claim, comparable to the claim for drinkable water, quality air and alimentation, can be found in all regions of the world, and it seems there is not one single member state of the community of nations that has been exempted from it.

For no one, no nation, no group of interest and no religion can pretend, here and now:
to refuse democracy ad vitam and continue to tread on its principles – principles that have
been elaborated almost two thousand five hundred years ago by Greek philosophers, tragedians and politicians.

In such a context simultaneously marked by apparent progress milestones and a continuous degradation of the life conditions of the poorest and the weakest, the Charter of the United Nations and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be complemented and, at the same time, their democratic essence reasserted. Indeed, for both historical and political reasons, they have been missing an essential component that has been put away for too long. This component lies in the following fact: the practical and sustainable implementation of the Charter of the United Nations and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights cannot be met outside a genuinely democratic framework whether at international, national, regional or local scales.

And actually, for the last six decades, each and every time they have been separated from a democratic context or perspective the Charter and the Declaration revealed to be deprived of actual usefulness. This is exactly what was ignored or avoided and that led to the tragedies and major deadlocks the contemporary world has been facing since the year 2001. This leads to the necessity of solemnly reaffirming - and in such a way that they cannot be distinguished: both the pre-eminence of the Human Rights and of their full exercise AND the necessity for this exercise itself to take place within a democratic framework. This is one of the most important dimensions of the Universal Declaration of Democracy that should be soon submitted to the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Democracy is less than ever "a luxury" (as cynical minds like to think it is), nor is it a "problem" but only for those it embarrasses! On the contrary, democracy is the key we are missing in order to solve the disorder of the present world and its "crisis" - a crisis that, much more than being economic, is first of all moral, ontological and existential.

Democracy in not an end in itself, nor an aesthetic objective, a hopeless dream... Democracy is only a means: enabling us to better live together, to favour peace, to make Humanity progress genuinely, to restore equity where inequalities prevail, to free energies, ideas and bodies from the astronomical mass of bans and prohibitions built by all non-democratic regimes and governments.

Democracy is to them loathsome because it puts in danger oligarchies and oligarchs, despots and mandarins of all kinds, self-proclaimed religious and community leaders. Those are the powers that caricature both the idea and the implementation of democracy, because they know that nothing threatens them more directly than democracy.

In this period of “increasing dangers”(4), democracy is the bond that is absolutely crucial to a world that is terribly lacking for "bond": social, moral, political and cultural bonds... This bond had been weakened in many spaces and places where it was still present in the second half of the century; and it has not yet grown in the major part of nations and regions, from Asia to Africa, from the Middle East to the Americas, from Oceania to Europe.

From those different standpoints, the project of a Universal Declaration of Democracy should be expected as the inaugural gesture paving the way for another world order(5) fairer and more peaceful. But such a new order may occur only if the community of nations and the international civil society decide, in one single and common step, that it must be and will be democratic first of all.

François de Bernard(6)

(transl. by Julia Guimier)


1 Echoing cruelly when remembering the ironic warning made by the French poet Sully Prudhomme (who was awarded the Literature Nobel Prize in 1901): « Nous sommes au bord du gouffre, avançons donc avec résolution. » (We are on the brink of the abyss, let us then move forward with great resolve).

2 Federico Mayor was Minister of Education and Science (Spain), Director General of the Unesco (1987-1999). Since 2000, he has been the head of the Foundation for Culture of Peace (Madrid and Barcelona).

3 University professor, Karel Vašák was appointed as the first General Secretary of the International Institute of Human Rights (Strasbourg) in 1969. He then was an adviser to the Unesco.

4 This “rise of dangers” (montée des périls) is by many common features similar to the situation of the 1930s.

5 « Democracy shall be regarded as an international principle to be observed by international organizations and States in their international relations. International democracy does not only imply an equal and equitable representation for all States, it also covers the social, economic and cultural rights and duties of States » (excerpt from the draft Universal Declaration of Democracy, article 25.1)

6 François de Bernard is president of the GERM (Group for Study and Research on Globalisations). A philosopher and consultant, he authored several books, amongst others the essay untitled L’Emblème démocratique (Paris, 1998).

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