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"Globalisation, human rights and democracy after 11 September"

Miami, Friday 23 February 2002

"Nothing, on the international scene, will be the same as before." This is what so many of us said, not without reason, after the events of 11 September. Yet in the last few weeks two events given wide coverage in the media, the parallel Forums in New York and Porto Alegre, have brought back to the public attention an issue which until 11 September had been the dominant theme of the new millennium: the debate surrounding globalisation and its positive and negative effects. So is everything the same as it was before? Not at all, I would say: in fact everything is a bit worse than before. Let me try to explain what I mean Throughout the history of mankind there have always been winds of globalisation, driven by man’s desire to cross geographical, economic and cultural barriers: and like all winds they can be dangerous. But if we learn to know them, we will be able to master them and to use them to our advantage. It is true that the wave of globalisation we are witnessing today, fed by the prodigious technological progress of the last few decades, is particularly violent, and is changing not only the mechanism of our economies but sometimes also the very structure of some contemporary societies. And it is also true that the continuous acceleration of these processes threatens to exclude a growing proportion of the world’s population from their benefits. This justifies much of the anxiety and diffidence that people feel, but not, in any way, the position of those who set out to fight "against globalisation". This position seems to me to be a political error, as well as waste of energy and intelligence. I am among those who believe that the world actually needs "more globalisation", but that this globalisation - in order to offer even more opportunities than at present and not to become a matter of ‘the survival of the fittest’ - needs to be governed better and to be more balanced: in other words it must allow free exchange that is genuinely global (no longer conditioned by "imperialist" protectionism), and must manage to go beyond trade alone and extend to people, reinforcing their basic civil and political rights. How, then, can we best exploit globalisation? It would already be a step in the right direction if we could focus on several recurrent hypocrisies. 1. I will begin with the anti-globalisation movement, not because it is the most important factor in the equation, but because it is due to this changing galaxy of groups and organizations that the issue we are talking about has been brought - sometimes in a confused or demagogic manner, and often through gratuitous violence – to the attention of political leaders, governments, and the media. As far as I am concerned, although I am convinced that politics must pay more attention to the issue of globalisation, although over the years I have promoted and taken part in countless non-violent initiatives and demonstrations, although I have often taken to the streets and sometimes even ended up in prison, and although I have much to say on the issue of globalisation, I have never taken part in a no-global demonstration. Not due to snobbism or prudence. But simply because I could never belong to any of the various components of this traveling company that we encounter in the four corners of the earth: - there is no way I could march arm in arm with José Bové, who mistakes the McDonald’s sign for the Bastille and says that he is defending the interests of the disinherited peasants of the earth when he is actually the ambassador for French agricultural protectionism, the avant-garde of European agricultural protectionism; - I wouldn’t feel happy marching alongside the Catholic groups who rebel, quite rightly, against the scandal of widespread poverty, pronouncing anathemas against the multinationals and the worship of profit, while at the same time they continue to claim along with the Vatican that for Africa contraceptives are a more serious and immediate danger than the Aids pandemic; - nor would I be happy marching alongside the "hard-line environmentalists” who say they want to save the world from self-destruction but then want to prevent science from feeding the hungry by experimenting with genetically modified organisms, and from curing the sick by experimenting with the cloning for therapeutic purposes of stem cells. Until the enemies of globalisation have overcome these and other contradictions, it will be difficult, at least for me, to enter into a useful dialogue with them. And I am not just talking about the fringes of the no-global movement that practice violence, running the risk of setting up a link between the problems of the world and the scourge of terrorism. 2. We now come to the North of the world, to the members of the G8, that is, or to the wider "club" of industrialized countries known as the OECD. While there is not a single political leader in these countries who does not feel the duty – whenever there is an opportunity - to give lessons in "market economics" to the countries of the South, so that they can "help the North to help them", it is extremely difficult to find a single political leader in America, Europe or Australia who is willing to risk his own popularity (or even his own career) by inviting the government of his country to dismantle the protectionist barriers that prevent the economies of the developing countries from "helping themselves". Meanwhile the European Union continues to subsidize every head of cattle raised within its confines with the "one dollar a day" on which millions of human beings have to try to survive. While the House of Representatives in Washington has just proposed a 175 billion dollar subsidy package for agriculture (on top of the possibility of further "special funds"). Things are no better if we turn to the issue of immigration. What government in the North of the world does not subscribe to the principle of the "free circulation of people (and of ideas)"? But in the real world things are very different. In the countries of the European Union, whose economic development requires a continuous influx of immigrants, very few politicians are willing to uphold the ineluctability of this change - at once economic, demographic and social - in the face of the reservations (or even the refusal) that our societies express on the issue of immigration. While a great many politicians, often preaching against globalisation, court public support by making the multiethnic, multicultural future of the countries of Europe more difficult and uncertain and cultivating the fear and selfishness that immigration produces. 3. There is, finally, a widespread illusion shared by the leaders in the North and the South which pretends to believe that economic development produces in itself a virtuous circle that leads to freedom and democracy. If this were true - and how often have we heard it said? - what reason could there be for complicating international relations by demanding that they be bound to the respect of the values and principles contained in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man? But it is not true. And I believe, like the Indian economist and Nobel prize-winner Amartya Sen, that the exercise of the fundamental human liberties, far from being an optional extra, is an essential component of development. Another effective weapon against poverty is individual economic freedom, a subject on which there are courageous new theories around which the international community should perhaps discuss: I am referring to the experts who propose a juridical and economic review of the idea of property, with the aim of giving the “undocumentable” goods that constitute the so-called “dead capital” of the informal economy, on which hundreds of millions of people live, the status of valuable and exchangeable assets. The truth is that no "economic miracle" can be sustained for long if the society concerned is not blessed with democratic institutions that guarantee the Rule of Law and the liberty and dignity of individuals. It is difficult, however, to find governments, in the North as in the South, willing to work in this direction. It is more convenient for everyone to appeal to realism and not to "ask for too much": which allows the governments of the rich countries not to call into question certain economic policies, above all protectionism; and which also allows many regimes in the South not to put their legitimacy to the test of democracy. Do you remember Genoa? On one hand the non-industrialized countries clamored, quite legitimately, to be allowed to take part in the decision-making process of the G8, but at the same time, in the name of the untouchability of national sovereignty, they rejected all calls to include the theme of democracy and civil rights on the agenda. Why, then, did I say at the beginning that everything that has happened after 11 September makes this debate on "fair globalisation" more difficult? Because in my opinion the direction which the United States and their main allies have given to the global war against terrorism – favoring the military and security-based response over and above any possible political response and building an intercontinental alliance based on the dangerous principle that "my enemy’s enemy is my friend" – risks taking us back to the darkest days of rampant Realpolitik. We have all been disconcerted to see the calculations showing that the 15% increase in the American defense budget decided by the Bush administration will give the Pentagon 378 billion dollars to spend in 2003. This means that the total amount of aid offered by donor countries for the reconstruction of Afghanistan - around 279 million dollars - corresponds to around 7 hours of "US defense". While the budget of the Department of State, including aid, will remain at 25.4 million dollars. It is all very well to fight terrorism. But with what resources do we intend to fight poverty and exclusion, increasingly often the main reason - whether it be real or merely a cover - of extremism and terrorism? In short, while it was still possible before 11 September to hope to give a more ethical framework to international relations, I fear that we will now have to struggle to make sure that the West does not nurture “tomorrow’s monsters”, the bearers of poverty and injustice, among today’s allies. Yesterday’s dictators, to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the West, simply had to say they were anti-Communist: now, I fear, all even the most evil regimes have to do to be absolved of all their sins is to say that they are against terrorism. Are we sure that it is really necessary to create new Saddam Husseins, Pinochets, and Mobutus to defeat terrorism? Terrorism prefigures totalitarianism Personally speaking, I came long before 11 September to the conclusion that terrorism is not so much the child of the poverty, oppression and despair of vast numbers of people as of the fanaticism of those few who take the road of violence and abuse of power, the traditional instruments of totalitarianism. It has been rightly observed, on this subject, that the worst political crimes of the last century were not committed by the oppressed against the oppressor, but by men blinded by fanaticism against men enlightened by reason and accused, as a result, of "betrayal": a Hindu fanatic assassinated the Mahatma Gandhi, a commando of "Muslim Brothers" murdered the Muslim Sadat, a young Israeli extremist killed the Jew Itzak Rabin. And there is no need to underline what price the whole of mankind has paid and continues to pay for the damage caused by these fanatics who - in order to stop or hijack history - claim to be acting in the name of God, or even play the role of God. Without realizing that using religion to foment violence contradicts the true aspiration of all known religions. The religion of human rights I hope I will not offend anyone if I say that my liberal culture - which respects "revelations" of divine origin but does not identify with any of them - attributes the value and nobility of a lay religion to the principles and the values that inspired the "Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man", the text undersigned by all the Member States of the UN, which lays down universal criteria and rules that must be respected in order to guarantee the full respect of the dignity of every human being. I am not alone in believing that the “Declaration” advocates a model of self-respecting humanity that is only able to take root where the Rule of Law exists and where there are institutions based on the ideals of democracy. Those who believe this also believe that a new division has formed over the last fifty years, along the same lines as the two tragic conflicts in the last century between those who aspired to democracy and attempted to construct it and those who pursued the totalitarian projects of Nazism and Communism. Two world wars – the Second World War and the Cold War – have already been fought and won by the democratic world to prevent the victory of these two forms of totalitarianism which, as someone once said, “did not deserve peace”. Terrorism, too, “does not deserve peace” when it reveals its ambition to challenge the democratic world and strike a blow to its heart. I do not know whether the military intervention of the democratic world is an episode that is virtually closed or whether it is just the beginning of a new form of war. I do believe, on the other hand, that a new creeping “cold war” – with the affirmation of the values of democracy in the contemporary world at stake - was already in progress before 11 September. And that no-one, or almost no-one, had the courage to admit it. What we need is a World Organization of Democracies It is in view of this vision of things that the party I belong to, the Transnational Radical Party, created in the 1980s to globalize justice and the rights of the individual throughout the world, is seriously studying the hypothesis that the international community should create a new organism that would uphold the universal values of democracy, promote their diffusion and punish those who hinder them or fight against them. We have chosen to call this new instrument of international justice the World Organization of Democracies because we envisage it as following the model - a model that we believe works - of the World Trade Organization. For if the WTO was born to uphold the idea that the free exchange of goods is a universal right, to define and defend the rules of free trade and to punish those who violate these rules, why should we not have a WOD that upholds the universal value of democracy, defines its principles and the minimum requirements for their application, and above all punishes States that do not respect these principles? I discovered recently, admittedly rather late, that this idea of ours is not entirely original, that we cannot claim copyright, so to speak. So much the better. I am referring to the initiative - unfortunately given very little media coverage - known as the “Community of Democracies”, when 7 countries from 4 continents (Chile, South Korea, India, Mali, Poland, the Czech Republic and the United States of America) convened an intergovernmental conference in Warsaw in June 2000 to discuss “the promotion of democracy in the world”. The Warsaw conference (subsequently also sponsored by Portugal, South Africa and Mexico) was attended by representatives from as many as 107 governments, many of which would be difficult to define as democratic. The result was the adoption of a final declaration that recognizes “the close interconnection between peace, development, human rights and democracy" and commits the signatory governments to the respect of fundamental democratic principles such as the holding of free elections and the guarantee of civil and personal rights for all citizens. All of which is fine. The hopes of those who dreamed of seeing the new-born Community of Democracies set up a process to turn this informal group of States into the first nucleus of a new international organization whose functions, rules and organs would be laid down by an international treaty, were, however, frustrated. For the “Warsaw Declaration” contains a clause that commits the signatory governments to work together to consolidate democracy “with full respect for the principle of the sovereignty of States and of non-interference in the internal affairs of each State”: in other words, it reinforces the juridical shield which in many people’s opinion, and by the admission of the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan himself, makes the international community completely powerless in the face of national governments of dubious legitimacy responsible for atrocities great and small. The battle will be re-opened on the occasion of the Second Conference of the Community of Democracies, to be held next October in Seoul, which leaves some room for optimism. In view of this appointment a wide coalition has already formed of NGOs and respected personalities with a common aim: the defense of human rights and democracy, and a stated objective: to ensure that the experience of the Community of Democracies leads to the opening of a juridical and diplomatic forum to design a new “institutional pillar” which, like the future International Criminal Court, will provide the United Nations with a further practical instrument to extend and consolidate international justice. Separating politics from religion There is one issue which I care about deeply, because it has been the common thread of my thirty years in politics, and which is once again of great relevance in this particular phase of history, when it is absolutely necessary to defend the universality of human rights. I am talking about the secularization of politics, of the absolute need, as I see it, to separate religious faith - all religious faiths - from the daily exercise of politics. History should have taught us by now. Those who attempt to legitimize their ambitions for power, or the power they have already won, by placing religion at the service of politics - from the architects of the Catholic Inquisition right up to the Taliban regime - inevitably bring about disasters. Disasters whose emblem, according to the Portuguese writer and Nobel prize-winner José Saramago, lies in the most aberrant of sacrileges: killing in the name of God. There is a risk of this kind of aberration when the political body that identifies with a religious faith appeals to religion to legitimize itself and turn itself into the State. Which is a contradiction in terms. For while the choice to follow a religious faith, which is an inalienable right of the individual, is a personal matter that concerns the sphere of the individual, a “State religion” inevitably tends to subject those who believe, those who do not, and those who profess a different faith to its rules (which become laws of the State). In short, State religion is the antechamber of injustice, discrimination, and intolerance. As well as the embryo of totalitarianism. Only a secular State can govern great changes It seems to me that the secular nature of the State is also the necessary premise to be able to govern the great changes that occur periodically in the history of mankind. I come from Europe, a continent whose long history has been deeply influenced by Christianity, but which in the space of a few decades has found itself with a large Muslim population, over 30 million people, and is now preparing - some would say resigning itself - to a more “American” future: multiethnic, multicultural, and multireligious. It would not, however, have been possible to set these great changes into motion, let alone to manage and consolidate them now, if the countries of Europe had not been secular States, capable that is of meeting all the needs of society rather than forcing society into a straitjacket. Another great change in the contemporary world is the emancipation of women. A battle which is still not over, not even in Europe, in the course of which the religious (and above all Catholic) establishment has fought desperately against change, often forming alliances with political parties with a confessional vocation. I am thinking of the memorable battles waged in my own country, Italy, to legalize divorce and abortion: battles waged for the dignity of women, but also to solve very real and deeply-felt social problems. Historic opportunities to show that there are problems which can be solved at personal level by means of religious faith and precepts (because believers will abstain from sin, and therefore from divorce and abortion), but which can only be solved for society as a whole, that is for believers and non-believers alike, by the laws of a secular State. I must add, to be fair, that all three of the monotheistic religions born around the Mediterranean basin - founded and governed by men alone - are marked by a fair degree of misogyny, of the age-old need felt by men to dominate women. The truth is that only a State that considers all its citizens to be equal, whatever their faith, can reject the equation dear to confessional States that "he who commits a sin commits a crime". And I believe that the laws issued by a modern State should in no way "govern consciences" and enter the personal sphere of the individual, as happens with religious precepts. The task of laws made by men is to establish the rights and duties of all citizens and to guarantee the exercise of their fundamental rights, beginning with the freedom of conscience and of religious confession.

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