38th REGULAR SESSION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Geneva, 20th June 2018
It is a distinct honor to speak here at the Palais des Nations, on behalf of the Global Committee for the Rule of Law “Marco Pannella”. Our sincere appreciation goes to H.E. Ambassador Maurizio Serra and Ambassador Massimo Bellelli for their support, to Dr Gianni Magazzeni and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and all the participants contributing to today’s meeting.
When two years ago, in another event chaired by the Permanent Representatives of Italy and Ireland, we came here with Matteo Angioli, Elisabetta Zamparutti and Laura Harth to tell why Marco Pannella had thought so important to launch a new initiative at multilateral level aimed at strengthening the Rule of Law in its most fundamental pillars, especially the Right to know, our considerations began with sad notes about the global trends in the implementation of the RoL and liberal democracy worldwide. Freedom House reports show how persistent those trends are. Let me quote some of the main points contained in the last Report.
– Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets – including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law – came under attack around the world.
– Seventy-one countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties, with only 35 registering gains. This marked the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.
– The United States retreated from its traditional role as both a champion and an exemplar of democracy amid an accelerating decline in American political rights and civil liberties.
– Over the period since the 12-year global slide began in 2006, 113 countries have seen a net decline, and only 62 have experienced a net improvement.
Freedom in one country depends on freedom for all. Democracies generally remain the world’s wealthiest societies, the most open to new ideas and opportunities, the least corrupt, and the most protective of individual liberties. When people around the globe are asked about their preferred political conditions, they embrace democracy’s ideals: honest elections, free speech, accountable government, and effective legal constraints on the police, military, and other institutions of authority. However, it is increasingly difficult to create and sustain these conditions in one country while ignoring them in another. The autocratic regimes clearly recognize that to maintain power at home, they must squelch open debate, pursue dissidents, and compromise rules-based institutions beyond their borders. The citizens and leaders of democracies must now recognize that the reverse is also true: to maintain their own freedoms, they must defend the rights of their counterparts in all countries. The reality of globalization is that our fates are interlinked.
The Global Committee for the Rule of Law “Marco Pannella” (GCRL) was founded by Marco Pannella, leader of the Nonviolent Radical Party Transnational Transparty (NRPTT), in March 2016. Marco devoted his life to the strengthening of the Rule of Law and that is why the GCRL is named after him.
The aim of the GCRL is to tackle the erosion of the Rule of Law which is affecting many countries across the world; to promote human rights and the “Right to Know” worldwide; among civil societies and at Institutional level, first of all at the United Nations.
Thanks to the commendable efforts of all its members, the extraordinary support of an internationally renown Honorary Committee, and the work of its Scientific Committee, the GCRL has made his voice heard loud and clear, and has campaigned during these two first years of existence on an impressive number of issues concerning general principles, on one side, and special situations or individual cases on the other. Overall the GCRL has been active and campaigning through more than 100 initiatives.
Very high in the Global Committee’s Agenda have been, for instance:
A) Massive violations of democratic freedoms and human rights in a number of Countries:
* The situation in the Middle East and the role of Iran, with the Conference was held in Rome last May 23, at the initiative of the GCRL. The Conference focused on the promotion in Iran of human rights, fundamental freedoms, international justice, non proliferation of WMD, regional and global stability. Also highlighted was the necessity for the European Union to review Iranian policies and better respond to the challenges posed by Teheran, given the complete absence of a clear European condemnation of Teheran’s repression of its own people, Iranian involvement in terror activities, ill advised official encouragements by EU Governments to do business with Iran. On the very same issues the GCRL has promoted and attended sessions and side events of the European Parliament and the UN Council of Human rights in Brussels and Geneva, as well as the Italian Parliament.
* The many dramatic implications of the Syrian war for the most fundamental principles of humanity, Justice and accountability, Rule of Law among nations has been a constant common denominator for the Global Committee all along its two years of activity. We did launch appeals to end bombing of Aleppo, and Eastern Goutha; we actively supported initiatives aimed at bringing to Justice President Assad and all those who in Syria, Iran or Russia could be held responsible for crimes of war and crimes against humanity, as repeatedly hinted by the UNSG and by the UNHRHC. At expert level the GCRL did contribute to the Meeting on Syrian Constitution held in Geneva, July 10-13, 2017, in the framework of UNSC Res. 2254 for a political outcome to the Syrian civil war. The GCRL underlined that UNGA resolutions on the RoL and the deliberations of the Venice Commission must apply to a new Syrian Constitution. The GCRL recalled in particular the important principles established with the 2012 and the Declaration of the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law at the National and International Levels.
* On Cambodia, the GCRL took a number of initiative against a controversial and dangerous election which does not constitute a real election, as underlined by the United Nations Special Rapporteur Dr. Rhona Smith in her declaration of April 30, 2018: “No election can be genuine if the main opposition party is barred from taking part”. Another problem is the complete lack of transparency of Chinese investments which favours corruption among both Chinese investors and Cambodian government officials. These investments generally consist of “win-win-lose” arrangements, with the Cambodian people being the silent loser. Foreign investments are expected to create jobs in the host country, which is not the case for Chinese investments in Cambodia because the needed workers are brought from China, where a portion of the money from the “investments” therefore returns. Moreover, transfer of technologies – another benefit normally associated with foreign direct investment – does not exist.
* On Venezuela, we did contribute to initiatives aimed at denouncing massive violations of democratic freedom and human rights by the Maduro regime. Also during the last few months the GCRL has attended demonstrations and press conferences organized by leading groups of the opposition, such as #SOSVenezuela, asking the Italian and EU Parliaments to actively engage the regime, to request the immediate liberation of political prisoners, to stop violent repression of demonstrations, to open humanitarian corridors for international assistance to the Venezuelan people. The GCRL has been advocating a firm international plan of action both at national and EU level to bring back to Venezuela the most essential elements of the RoL which have been severely compromised by Maduro’s regime.
B) The “raison d’etre” of the GCRL- the implementation of the Rule of Law through the Right to Know – has inspired since its inception the plan of action of the GCRL.
* “Three years ago, it was only Marco Pannella and a bunch of radicals. Today a larger number of people believe in this campaign” said Laura Harth in conference held at the University of Milan. The denial of the “right to know is the common element to all the major crises from 2000 to today: Iraq, Syria, Crimea, Brexit and Catalonia”. Paolo Reale Secretary General of the Siracusa Institute and a disciple of the late professor Cherif Bassiouni, one of the main architects of the International Criminal Court, recalled the definition of the Right to Know as “the citizen’s civil and political right to be actively informed of all aspects regarding the administration of all public goods during the entire political process, in order to allow for the full and democratic participation in public debate regarding such goods and hold public goods administrators accountable according to the standards of human rights and the Rule of Law”.
* On 7 June 2017, a round-table discussion entitled “For the recognition of the Right to Know” took place in Paris at the Senate of the French Republic. The event was organized by Senator André Gattolin and the GCRL. Hon. Norman Baker, former MP and former Home Minister of the United Kingdom, spoke about the findings of the Chilcot Inquiry, while the Venerable Thubthen Wangchen, monk and member of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, stressed that knowledge is an element that His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Tibetan culture constantly uphold and promote.
* Many other have been the initiatives promoted by the GCRL to emphasize its core mission. On 5 June 2017, on World Environment Day, at the headquarters of the Italian Society for the International Organization (SIOI) in Rome, the GCRL co-organized the conference: “Global Warming: the Right to Know and the responsibilities of the international community”.
* The GCRL did welcome the statement by Alfred de Zayas, the United Nations Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order: “Because the right to know is crucial to every democracy, whistleblowers should be protected, not persecuted.” De Zayas added: “Whistleblowers are human rights defenders whose contribution to democracy and the rule of law cannot be overestimated. They serve democracy and human rights by revealing information that all persons are entitled to receive. A culture of secrecy is frequently also a culture of impunity. Because the right to know proclaimed in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is absolutely crucial to every democracy, whistleblowers should be protected, not persecuted.”
It was March 2007 when Umar Khanbiev, former Health Minister in the Government Maskhadov of Chechnya, asked for political asylum in Italy during a press conference at the Chamber of Deputies, held with radical leader Marco Pannella. It was not Russia nor the new Chechen government to be at the center of Khambiev’s concerns, but “the Soviet illiberal system” which, according to Umar Khambiev, Putin wanted to rebuild. Ten years have passed and little seems to have changed. If, in recent years, Chechnya has been the subject of very serious charges by Human Right Watch for the use of torture by its authorities towards opposition and minorities, other worrying news come now from the Caucasus.
In conclusion, as Daniel Dudney and John Ikenberry wrote in the last Foreign Affairs number: “In many respects, today’s liberal democratic malaise is a by product of the liberal world order’s success”. The benefits of globalization were distributed disproportionately to élites. Oligarchic power bloomed, capitalism morphed into winner – take – all casino capitalism. Some new democracies turned out to lack traditions and habits necessary to sustain democratic institutions, creating opening for opportunistic demagogues. Just as the causes of this malaise are clear, so is its solution: a return to the fundamentals of liberal democracy. To reduce inequalities and the immense gap of wealth between the top 1% of the population and the rest of 99% – gap that had no precedent even during the Great Recession – policies based on progressive taxation, education, investment in infrastructures are needed. Implementation of the Rule of Law through the Right to Know will require an equally important effort, for a return to the fundamentals of liberal democracy.