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Speech to the "World Political Forum"

23 October 2003 - Turin

Thank you Mr. President. I would like to start where my colleagues and previous speakers have finished. First, I agree there is too much UN bashing all around. Nevertheless, as you said even for people like me who still want to be multilateralist, it is evident that the UN, the EU and other multilateral institutions have to undergo quite radical reform simply to be updated with new challenges. Tomorrow I think that Secretary-General Kofi Annan is going to announce the establishment of a high-level panel that he chose to consult around the world, be back in less that one year with some proposals for reform of the UN system on peace and security and some other agencies. In addition, I hope that so many of the highly experienced people that I see around this table will possibly be part of this high-level panel. Maybe this can be one of the tasks of the Forum. Let us try to help this high-level panel to come in a few months with proposals for reform of the UN system to make them not the perfect organization, if you wait for a perfect organisation, I think we really can go nowhere, but a better and more efficient organisation for the challenges of this century. So yes, I agree there is too much UN bashing and yes, there is a need to reform the UN system. I do not want to dwell on what you said, mentioning the UN Security Council and others. It is clear the problem is located there, even if there has been a lot of proposals of how to reform the Security Council and other agencies. The problem is that there has been a lack of political will in sufficient quantity as to make any of these proposals come about. Maybe after the shock of this year some people will finally realise that something has to be done. Which is exactly why there are those who still believe that multilateral system, whatever its weaknesses, is anyhow better than a unilateral one. On the second point, I would like to mention three things, and that is what has been said this morning that in my opinion can bring some understanding to the confusion. I will start from wordings : for instance, I do not think we in the world share the same meaning of what is ‘peace’. For my Palestinian friends ‘peace’ is peace plus land; for my Israeli friends it is peace plus security. For my Kosovar friends it is peace plus autonomy or independence; for my Chechen friends it is peace plus autonomy and independence. So I am not so sure when we simply say ‘peace’ we have the same meaning all over the world. Just recently, a few days ago in one of the Arab countries in which I live, as a European, I was confronted very angrily by a dissident of an Arab country who spent some years in jail. He said, “Look Mrs. Bonino, can you do me a favour when you march with millions for peace, can you just simply give it another name? Because your peace is our mass graves. So please, march for everything. By the way you are lucky enough to live in a country in which you can march, but just to avoid any kind of misunderstanding, give it another name. Your peace was my oppression, the mass graves in my country, the jails for 20 years for a lot of people, so call it another name. You have the perfect right to march for your beliefs, but do not call it peace – it is our oppression.” I think we have to understand them because in such a gathering as today, we have been asked to give means and ideas. I do believe that the complex world that has been described this morning has a lot of problems: poverty, water, land, etc. I think that the effort is to find a thread to pull. You cannot solve every problem at once or at the same time. The challenge is to find a means of pulling threads by which you can hope to find a better world, and for us the thread to pull is promoting freedom and democracy, which does not mean imposing: there are a lot of democrats all over the world, and it is plenty enough just to support them. There is no need to export democracy, to export it by arms or by force, it would be all really quite enough to support democratic groups that exist everywhere. Which, by the way, we do not do. Our credentials of supporting human rights and democracy in the world are, frankly speaking, very poor. In the Arab countries for instance, we treat them like a sort of oil pump. So long as the oil was at a reasonable price of 20-30 dollars [per barrel], who cares about the people? Our credibility in this field is very poor. Moreover, in some fields we have to start from scratch. However, I very much believe that the thread to pull is to promote democracy and freedom, which does not mean a Westminster style democracy in every detail. But as Kofi Annan rightly said in his last report – democracy must be considered as a human right per se, which is quite a clear-cut definition, even if it is not so clearly written in the UN Charter. You can read it in Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Article 21 says that ‘every citizen has the right to change their rulers by the force of the ballots and not the force of bullets.’ Democracy is a much more complex issue than that, but at least it is there, as well as the right to peace, education and water. I strongly believe as Amartya Sen has clearly demonstrated, there is no sustainable economic development without freedom, and if we do not really make a consistent policy on that then this can have other articulations. For instance, President Andreotti this morning was saying: “You cannot think that the world of 193 member states can be managed from New York. It is also very important to have stronger regional organizations” – regional democratic organisations. Therefore, I think we are in a moment in which democracy and freedom cannot be overlooked any more and that they should be the essence of economic globalisation. I am not so visionary as to say that the only priority should be human rights, I am much more realist than that. I know that at least for economic relations to be fruitful and sustainable they have to go with the promotion of transparency, accountability and good governance – which means democracy. I asked one of my Arab friends “why do you call it good governance and not democracy?,” and he was the one who invented the term 'good governance', “because good governance scares us less, democracy is something western. We are meaning the same thing, but we prefer to call it good governance because that is less threatening, but we are talking of the same thing” I think it is important when we talk of peace to define what we mean by peace, not everybody has the same meaning. Secondly, I strongly disagree with one of the speakers this morning that terrorism stems from poverty. It is not true, terrorist organizations and their leaders have a clear-cut power political agenda, they never mention poverty alleviation. They can claim Palestinian suffering for their own public opinion but their clear agenda is a power political orientated agenda and nothing to do with poverty. Thirdly, I disagree with a sort of conceptual model dividing states between post-modern, modern and pre-modern states. I think the real point is that the clash is between democratic, pre-democratic, and anti-democratic states. Finally, I think that one idea I know our French friends do not like so much, is the notion of the promotion of the Community of Democracies inside the UN system, or a democratic caucus. As there is the Islamic Organisation Conference and the Non-aligned Movement that has its own procedures and consistency in the UN system, I think that a democratic caucus can really foster a lot of good behaviour, with a balance of the stick and carrot, and I think that can be achieved. I would not like to be in another conference in which we start discussing the clash of civilisations and the end of history, I am exhausted with this debate. A colleague of mine said that “maybe there is a writer here who could write a new bestseller that could be named the Clash of Huntington and the End of Fukuyama.” Maybe that would be the end of some rhetoric and stereotypes, not because they meant these stereotypes but because they have become the stereotypes. I think that we need a fresh critical vision of what we are and what the ‘others’ are. In promoting democracy, the West is not so credible so we have a long way to go. However, we have to start, otherwise we will never reach our goal. The third point is that we should not believe that democracy is the luxury of developed countries, and that no other countries are fit for it. That is not true, individual human beings have a universal aspiration for freedom, accountability and individualism. I think that that is the thread to pull and I hope that this Forum will really think about this. Without that, you do not solve the water issue, you do not solve development, you do not solve protectionism of agriculture and you do not solve anything else.

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