The struggle for rights and freedoms: strengthening representative democracy and gaining new democracies around the world

XXIV Congress of the Socialist International, Cape Town, 30 August-1 September 2012

A. Democracy and freedom: the foundations of the progressive movement

The Socialist International has always been committed to the fight for democracy in the world, a fight based on the values of freedom and equality. As progressives, we strive to achieve equal rights for all, regardless of sex, race, ethnic group, nationality or any other identity.

However, these rights are seriously in question in many regions of the world today. More than 1.5 billion people – almost a quarter of the world’s population – suffer every day under the weight of state-sanctioned repression. In many of these countries the lack of freedom is further compounded by crippling poverty, much of which is due to the concentration of national wealth in the hands of an elite few. Globally, the division between wealth and poverty is sharper than ever before.

It is only possible to speak of democracy if people have a free choice between political alternatives within the framework of free and fair elections; if there is a possibility for a change of government by peaceful means based on the free will of the people; if individual and minority rights are guaranteed; and, if there is an independent judicial system based on the rule of law impartially applied to all citizens.

All these principles have been outlined and highlighted in our Declaration of Principles adopted by the XVIII Congress in 1989 and represent the core values of our organization. It is our responsibility as progressives to be at the forefront of the struggles for democratic governance.

As the events of the past two years have demonstrated, people around the world yearn for more freedom, for more equality, for more democracy. The Socialist International, which from the first day supported these movements, is determined to continue to be engaged on the side of all those political and civil society forces fighting for their legitimate rights.

The Socialist International considers that legitimising the will of the people is the crucial and determinant priority in ensuring the sustainability of the new democracies. Those who persist in retaining power illegitimately have to give way to the call for democracy; those who are engaged in organising the transitions have to respond to the expectations of the people for the democratic changes to be instituted without unnecessary delay, and the support and solidarity of the international community for those new emerging political systems must be a priority.


B. Democracy in the world today

North Africa and the Middle East

In 2011 the tide of democracy rose in North Africa and the Middle East, as thousands poured out onto the streets to demand their inalienable democratic rights. The Arab Spring demonstrated the power of solidarity as peoples throughout the Arab World marched together to demand that which is rightfully theirs, even doing so when faced with the threat of brutal reprisal.

Since the outset of these movements, the Socialist International placed itself at the side of those in the Arab world who fight for our common objectives and principles of social justice, human rights, freedom of speech and expression, and representative democracy and our commitment to this cause remains undiminished.

In Tunisia, it is vital to support those political stakeholders working to create a more peaceful and tolerant state for all Tunisian people, among them the Democratic Forum for Labour and Freedoms (FDTL). In particular, it is of paramount importance that the new constitution reflects and acknowledges the equal rights and inclusion of people of all genders, religions and ethnicities, as well as minorities.

The historic steps taken towards democracy in Yemen would not have been possible without the strength and perseverance of the Yemeni people and Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), of which the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) is a leading member. The national dialogue undertaken by the new authorities in search of consensual solutions to the problems faced by the country is crucial to ensure the realisation of hopes and aspirations for a democratic future. The challenges faced in Yemen are made evident by the recent assassination attempt against the secretary general of the YSP, and appropriate sanctions must be taken against those who obstruct the political path.

In Egypt, socialists and social democrats were instrumental in the revolutionary movement which brought about the democratic transition. The Egyptian Bloc has brought together parties and movements striving to build a more liberal and tolerant Egyptian society, an important challenge for the country today in which they have the full support of the Socialist International.

In Morocco, elections have taken place under the new constitutional framework, which grants more power to elected representatives. The USFP, an experienced and recognised social democratic force which chose to be in opposition, will be taking the opportunities provided by the new constitution to hold the government to account.

Though a democratic future is starting to take shape in many countries of the region, including Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, these developments have yet to reach the oppressed peoples of some other Arab states.

The continued brutalisation of the Syrian people is an affront to humanity, and the Assad regime which bears responsibility for the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrian civilians has lost all legitimacy. The cry for freedom and democracy in Syria is stronger than ever and we have, and will continue to stand in solidarity with the citizens of Syria struggling for freedom and democracy, and support the efforts of the UN and the Arab League to find a viable end to the conflict.

We also support those in Bahrain whom were unjustly and cruelly treated in the regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy forces last year. The continued detention of Ebrahim Sharif, secretary general of the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), and other political prisoners is totally unacceptable, and they should be released immediately.

The SI underlines its conviction that the ongoing changes across the Arab world make the need for progress on Middle East peace, based on the internationally agreed upon terms of reference, all the more urgent. Heeding the aspirations of the people in the region must include the fulfilment of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including its right to statehood, as a crucial element for lasting peace, stability and prosperity in the region.

Across the Arab world, women have featured prominently in the struggle for freedom and democracy, and continue to play a prominent role in the democratic transitions. The Socialist International supports these and all women that strive to secure their freedom and equality, calling on political and social leaders in the region to pursue a future where women are afforded the same opportunities, rights and freedoms as men.



Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa social democrats and progressives have been at the forefront of the strengthening of democratic principles and institutions. Our movement is symbolised by the struggle for freedom and democracy, and our member parties continue to work for the opening up of more opportunities for the citizens of the continent.

In March 2011, Mahamadou Issoufou of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism was elected President of Niger in an electoral process deemed free and fair by international observers. The election marked a successful return to civilian rule after the country was plunged into crisis following the attempts of the former President Tandja to undemocratically hold on to power at the end of its term in December 2009 and the coup in February 2010. The positive steps taken by his regime have given the citizens of Niger cause for renewed hope and optimism to accompany the country’s return to democracy.

In November 2010 Alpha Condé of the Assembly of the Guinean People was elected President of Guinea in the first free and fair elections to date in that country, immediately embarking on the crucial tasks of reform of the armed forces and tackling the situation of public finances. Despite violent attacks against them, President Condé and his party remain committed to a democratic future for Guinea and its citizens. The Socialist International strongly encourages and supports Guinea in the holding of free, transparent and credible legislative elections before the end of 2012.

Recently in Senegal, change took place through a democratic process, and a new president and governing coalition have taken office in a continuation of the democratic heritage of that country, a legacy of previous socialist governments. The 2012 election, won by a diverse coalition including the Senegalese Socialist Party, was conducted peacefully and in line with democratic standards, and brought about Senegal’s second change of government, following that of 2000.

Positive steps toward a more democratic future have been taken in Zambia, where there was a successful transition of power from the incumbent Rupiah Banda to Michael Sata, following the latter’s victory in a presidential election held in September 2011.

Unfortunately, there are still anti-democratic forces elsewhere in the region that continue to subvert democracy, deny freedoms, and commit deplorable human rights abuses.

The coup d’état in Guinea-Bissau, as the country prepared for the second round of presidential elections in April 2012, was a subversion of the constitutional order and an attack on our shared values and principles. It is crucial for the international community and regional organisations to act decisively in favour of a prompt return to the normal functioning of democratic institutions of the country. Our member party, the PAIGC, has been a central actor in the democratic life of the nation and has our full solidarity in its ongoing struggle.

Democratic order must be restored following the coup d’état in Mali on 22 March 2012 and occupation of the north, leading to a de facto partition of the country. The Socialist International expresses its full support to its member parties in Mali, and to those who are working for the restoration of its constitutional order and territorial integrity, and the liberation of occupied zones of the country. We support the efforts of the interim President Dioncounda Traoré and his government in its crucial task of restoring democracy and organising free and transparent elections, and call upon the international community and regional organisations to act with the Malian authorities in this regard.

Mauritania is suffering a serious constitutional crisis under the current regime, whereby democratic principles are flouted by the blatant violation of laws and constitutional provisions currently in force. The regime refuses to organise the municipal and legislative elections due more than a year ago, plunging Mauritania into a political impasse where the state fails to respond to the needs of its citizens. Similarly, all so-called democratic institutions are rendered meaningless by the sole control of the country by the regime. The SI again denounces this abnormal situation which denies Mauritanian citizens their right to freedom and democracy, and calls for the respect of these fundamental values.

The lack of political and social freedom in Equatorial Guinea remains of grave concern to us. The Socialist International expresses serious concern about the way in which elections are organised and the manner in which political opponents are treated. We continue to support the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), whose members have been victims of the political repression in Equatorial Guinea, and other pro-democratic forces opposed to the repressive regime.

In Cameroon, the SI has made repeated calls for true democracy prior to, during and in the aftermath of presidential elections in October 2011. Regrettably, the current electoral code is far from able to guarantee free, fair and transparent elections and the electoral commission (ELECAM) is not independent, with key demands of the opposition in this regard unfulfilled. Furthermore, the judiciary that should have the power to settle disputes is controlled by the executive.

In Zimbabwe the SI supports the efforts of President Zuma and SADC in restoring legitimacy after the presidential election of 2008. The SI urges the full implementation of the global political agreement between the parties followed by a peaceful, credible, free and fair election which respects the will of the people.

The Socialist International is concerned by the rise in religious fundamentalism and growing insecurity, notably in sub-Saharan Africa. The Socialist International calls for a deepening of freedoms in the region, particularly religious freedom, the absence of which is often the cause of pogroms and conflict in the continent and will continue to closely monitor developments therein.



In Belarus, the incarceration of Mikalai Statkevich, presidential candidate in the 2010 Belarusian presidential election, continues. Since the 2010 elections Belarus has further entrenched its status as a dictatorial, authoritarian regime. International pressure should be further applied with the aim of securing the unconditional release of Mikalai Statkevich and all other political prisoners in Belarus, and putting an end to the daily repression of opposition politicians and activists.

In Ukraine, recent actions taken by the president and authorities have severely curtailed democratic freedoms. This gradual descent into authoritarianism must be brought to an end. The Socialist International supports pro-democratic forces in Ukraine and has called for the release of political prisoners, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, in advance of the October parliamentary elections.

We have also called upon the incumbent regime in Georgia to bring an end to the constraints on political activity and create fair and competitive conditions ahead of the October parliamentary election, which will prepare the ground for the transfer of power at presidential elections in 2013.

We share the concerns of many in Russia over increasing state-sanctioned threats to democratic principles and institutions. The International stands in solidarity with those, both in Russia and elsewhere, that are for a society underpinned by democratic principles of freedom and equality. We will continue with the help of our Russian member party, A Just Russia, to monitor events in the country.

The International supports the strengthening of democratic institutions and values through the announced constitutional reform in Romania, where the new government led by Victor Ponta has also initiated policies of stimulating growth and repairing the damage done by austerity and crisis.

In Turkey, elected members of parliament are being obstructed from performing their duties by arbitrary court decisions. This is contrary to the stipulations of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, bringing into question the independence of the judiciary which is a fundamental condition of democracy. The situation is a violation of human rights; along with the prolonged detention of journalists, students and public servants amongst others in Turkey, it is a cause for concern.



We can only draw inspiration from the dignified struggle for democracy of Aung San Suu Kyi, an honorary president of the Socialist International. The Socialist International remains resolute in its support for the people of Burma, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) in their quest for freedom and democracy. We applaud recent democratic reforms in Burma, but believe more should be done, and call for the process of democratisation to be continued and extended to all citizens.

Democratic progress in the central Asian states has been very limited, as authoritarianism has continued in the post-Soviet era. The Socialist International continues to support and work with its members in Kazakhstan, the Nationwide Social Democratic Party, who are engaged in the struggle for democracy, in the face of politically-motivated obstacles and barriers create by the ruling regime.

As South East Asia grapples with terrorism, it is necessary to strengthen democratic movements, political parties and elected governments in the region, realising that democracy is the antithesis of terrorism. Respect for human rights, a priority for our movement should continue to be promoted and reinforced.


Latin America and the Caribbean

The summary removal from office of President Lugo of Paraguay in June 2012 was of grave concern to our organisation. This so-called ‘parliamentary coup’ denied a fair process and due defence to the ousted president, with these deficiencies undermining the legitimacy of the entire process, which was in contradiction with the very nature of a democratic presidential system. The Congress reiterates the support and solidarity of the International to all those in Paraguay who are seeking to guarantee respect for democracy in that country.

Political forces in Haiti must work to strengthen the climate of political stability in the country by organising credible elections in line with the dates foreseen by the constitution. The SI reaffirms its support for the Fusion party (PFSDH) and progressive organisations working in favour of democracy and human rights for all Haitians, who also have our full solidarity following the devastating impact of Hurricane Isaac. In this regard, the SI calls on the international community to respond to Haiti’s urgent need for aid.

With regard to this year’s presidential elections in Venezuela, the SI calls upon the authorities to guarantee the transparency, equity, security and protection of the electoral process, permitting international observation during the voting and the count. The SI will send an observer mission to monitor these elections, in line with our solidarity with and support for SI member parties and all the democratic forces in Venezuela.


C. The Socialist International and democracy

Our longstanding commitment to the values of democracy and human rights across the world have distinguished the global social democratic movement, which is proud to contain within its ranks parties that have brought democracy to their countries and who continue to struggle today for these fundamental ideals. These member parties have been instrumental in creating the conditions for democracy in countries in all continents of the world. Our goal must be for every citizen of the planet to have the same opportunity to live under democratic conditions, to exercise their fundamental freedoms and liberties, bringing an end to oppression and authoritarianism, corruption and the illegitimate exercising of power.