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Chair’s summary of the debate
(Geneva, 20 March 2014)
Throughout its history, the IPU’s membership has grown to 164 parliaments from all over the world; its sphere of activity has broadened significantly. From its beginnings as the first example of institutionalized multilateral cooperation, the IPU has become the focal point for worldwide parliamentary dialogue – an essential forum for the world’s parliamentarians to interact, share ideas and experiences, and initiate joint action – advocating peace and cooperation among peoples, and striving for the firm establishment of representative democracy.
As the world organization of national parliaments, the IPU brings a parliamentary dimension to the work of the United Nations. It provides a unique venue for parliamentarians to discuss global issues, and bring the voice of members of parliament to UN decision-making bodies. This strong and strategic two-way partnership, which is based on dialogue and exchange, sets a solid foundation for peace and democracy the world over. This vision is embodied in the IPU Strategy for 2012‑2017, Better parliaments, stronger democracies.
In an increasingly globalized world, no individual is an island. Rapid advances in information and communication technology mean that people around the world are increasingly interconnected. Citizens are demanding more and better responses from their elected representatives. When their rights are flouted and freedoms denied, people lose their trust in governance structures and will put their lives on the line in protest. Recent popular uprisings serve to illustrate the strength of “people power”. The world over, people want responsible governments and accountable leaders, stability and peace. Parliaments must meet that challenge. To ensure success, democracy must be home-grown and adapted to national realities.
The world is no safer than it was 125 years ago: transnational organized crime, cybercrime, terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are but some of the serious threats to peace, security and fundamental rights. Peace is more than just the absence of conflict and violence; peace is the guarantee of the right of all citizens to participate in the development of society through representative democracy. The majority of operations to restore peace and security in post-conflict situations therefore share key goals: to elect a parliament that can ensure government by the people, for the people, and to build peace on a foundation of dialogue, cooperation and understanding.
Disarmament is the cornerstone of a safe world and parliamentarians have a key role to play in achieving it by assessing risks, legislating to mitigate those risks, and monitoring government compliance with domestic law and international obligations. Parliamentarians can build the legislative framework for a weapons-free world. Peace and security cannot be achieved through threats and the abuse of power; they must be carefully cultivated through dialogue, understanding, mutual respect and democracy.
Violations of fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of speech, freedom of association and the freedom to travel, are violations of democracy. Freedom is not free: it comes at the price of respect, trust and equality. Poverty, hunger and marginalization lead to dissatisfaction and unrest, and leave people vulnerable to exploitation under the guise of promises of a better life.
Trafficking in persons, labour exploitation and sexual exploitation and brutality are, unfortunately, widespread. These modern-day forms of slavery constitute a grave violation of the basic rights and freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The promotion and protection of human rights at the national level must therefore be driven by parliaments as a basic principle of democracy. Parliamentarians can legislate for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, they can monitor the executive’s compliance with international obligations, and they must speak out on behalf of the most vulnerable members of society. Parliamentarians, as the voice of the people, entrusted by the people to strive for a just and equitable society, must fulfil that responsibility.
Sadly, in some countries, the human rights of parliamentarians themselves are not respected. Their freedom of expression is denied. They are victimized, imprisoned, or even murdered for speaking out on behalf of their people. The IPU plays a crucial role, through the work of its Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, in bringing an end to these injustices. Using peaceful dialogue and negotiation the IPU obtains remarkable results, securing the release of political prisoners and redress for victims of violations.
True democracy simply cannot exist without equality and mutual respect. Women’s participation in politics is essential. Unfortunately, women remain largely underrepresented in politics in many countries. The IPU’s efforts to promote the inclusion of women in parliament have been invaluable and must continue. Similarly, the rights of indigenous peoples must be respected. Many indigenous peoples’ livelihoods are endangered. Parliamentarians must uphold their responsibility to be the voice of all people, especially underrepresented minorities. The inclusion of all groups in society – indigenous peoples, women and young people – in political processes and decision-making, is the only way to ensure true equality, enhancing security, stability and peace.
Good governance and democracy are fundamental for progress in all areas of life and parliaments have a critical role to play in promoting a better world for all. Parliamentary input is needed now more than ever, as the international community embarks on the establishment of a new internationally agreed framework for development. Parliamentarians must pick up the gauntlet and play a central role in that process. They must steer efforts to attain the sustainable development goals, as a basis for equality, protection of basic civil, political, social and economic rights, and ultimately peace and security.
The post-2015 sustainable development goals must ensure democratic governance is a key commitment. Transparency, accountability, representative democracy and respect are components of the new development agenda, which must be linked to the world’s parliaments to ensure its success for all people.
International democracy has evolved considerably since 1889, largely due to the central role played by the IPU in supporting the establishment of democratic forms of governance at the national and international levels alike. Throughout its history, the IPU has shown unwavering commitment to the promotion of peace and security, human rights and sustainable development.
In a changing world, 125 years after the IPU’s inception, the vision of its founding fathers is as valid and true as ever. Many important lessons have been learned, not least that lasting peace and security can only be achieved through inclusive and participatory processes, and embodied in a representative and elected parliament.
Parliaments are the voice of the people. Now is the time to take up the lessons learned over 125 years of IPU history and use them to drive the next generation of change. The Member Parliaments of the IPU therefore renew their commitment to peace in the world, based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law.