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close this bookThe Courier N 128 July - August 1991 - Dossier : Human Rights- Democracy-Development Country Reports: Benin, Western Samoa (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)
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View the documentHuman rights, democracy and development
View the document‘Democracy cannot be imposed from the outside’
View the documentInterview with Dr. Erskine Simmonds, Vice-President of the ACP-EEC Joint Assembly
View the documentInterview with Henry Saby, Chairman of the Development Committee of the European Parliament
View the documentAmnesty International - The international conscience for 30 years
View the documentThe African Charter on Human and People’s Rights
View the documentBuilding democracy with tribalism
View the documentDemocracy in the English speaking Caribbean
View the documentDemocracy and development
View the documentDevelopment and the African political heritage
View the documentSome thoughts on governance and democratisation
View the documentTransition to democracy is there a model?

Interview with Henry Saby, Chairman of the Development Committee of the European Parliament

‘Human dignity is a universal value’

Henri Saby’s personal conviction is that human dignity is a universal value. There is an international consensus on the links between human rights, democracy and development, although it is wise to be wary of systems that logic like democracies but mask unbearable dictatorships. The criteria for and arbiters of human rights can be deft ned and the job of external aid is to back up measures which make a positive contribution to developing political democracy and population involvement and encouraging opportunities for (...) adjustment.

World consensus on the links between human rights, democracy and development

· Mr Saby, you are Chairman of the European Parl~ament’s Committee on Development. Is there a common position on the relationship between human rights, democracy and development?

- I cannot say that there is officially a common position because we are in the middle of discussing: Manuel Marm’s report. But over the past few years, I have noticed a large majority on the concept of the close and indissociable link between human rights, democracy and development - an urgent and vital subject which has been discussed at world level, in the UN and in various other places.

So the European Parliament does not have an official position, but we will have one and we are going to be discussing it in the Development Committee and in the plenary session. I have noticed that the subject has been cause for considerable concern over the past two or three years - on the agenda in the UN and in thinktanks elsewhere. Only the day before yesterday, we ourselves on the bureau of the ACP-EEC Joint Assembly put it on the agenda of the Amsterdam meeting in September, for example. It really is a very topical issue.

‘Canada Dry’ democracies

· When people talk about democracy at the moment, they are thinking mainly of Africa - which is not to say that other ACPs are unaffected. I know that you, in your capacity as President of the Development Committee, have been on a number of few missions on the delicate subject of human rights. What have you learnt from them?

- A number of things. First of all, when we began tackling these problems seven or eight years ago, it was a dialogue of the deaf. It was not opposition perhaps, but a psychological block, a political block. The missions we have had to Africa, I have to say, have been real successes. We got results first with Mr Bersani with this human rights approach and now we are getting them with Mr Tindemans. The results are extraordinary. I cannot tell you exactly how many people have been released from or had their lives changed thanks to our joint ACP-EEC action, but it must be tens of thousands.

It’s not just the ACP-EEC Joint Assembly; it’s the whole Community machine, the Council of Ministers - we put the matter before them - and the Ambassadors, the Governments and the joint action of the Joint Assembly. Now if you like I shall explain the criteria and the various stages of action.

There is something else I should like to say. The Committee on Development covers 130 countries. I have been to South East Asia and Latin America in my capacity as President and I have come to a conclusion which is both interesting and worrying. It is interesting because I am delighted to see that there are no more dictatorships in the world today. The last ones, be they ideological or economic or monetary or military, have fallen.

But what we are seeing emerge now are just as big a cause for concern, because they are far more subtle. I call them ‘Canada Dry’ democracies - they have the name of democracy and the flavour of democracy, but nothing to do with democracy at all.

A typical example is Guatemala, where to all intents and purposes we have republican institutions and elections, although no people has in fact ever suffered so many assassinations and so much victimization. I have been on missions to El Salvador, where it was awful, and I went on missions to Chile a few years ago, before the new institutions were set up, but I have never seen anything like what I saw in Guatemala.

So we are seeing the emergence of a number of so-called democracies which in fact mask unbearable dictatorships and systematic killings. Yet - and this seems to me to be fundamental - there can be no development or economic take-off in these countries unless there is democracy and there can be no democracy without respect for human rights. So when we tackle these problems, reactions differ.

There is another way, I think, beyond the right to interference, as some people so disagreeably call it. The idea is that noone forces a sovereign state to sign an international treaty (the UN Declaration of Human Rights, for example, or the OAU Charter, the Charter against the torture of children and so on)? so, once it has signed it, it is reasonable for the international community, the conscience of the nations, to question the government in cases of clear violation. That is the principle we are recommending.

We have no model to help. We believe there is a universal scale of values about human dignity and that it therefore has nothing to do with culture or religion. It is the sum of reasoning and a political will for dignity which has emerged from all civilizations and all cultures. But today, a universal conscience of the people is emerging through the UN. It must be expressed much more strongly through this principle of recognition of international law and a universal scale of values belonging to no-one but being part of the collective memory of mankind.

This means we have both the right and the duty to question and collect information from the authorities in countries which have signed these international contracts. Infringements, and sometimes cases of serious violation, are common.

Criteria and arbiters

· Suppose there is a consensus now on human rights being more or less universal - can we have criteria and universally recognisecl arbiters to exercise what you n’t like calling the right to interference the right to check, let us say?

- I should answer that by saying that the basic criteria need adding to. I have already mentioned the universal scale of values and there is a second term democracy. What is a democracy? In other words, what is a State of law? We well know that human rights are usually violated when the State of law disappears and State terrorism starts. It’s the eternal link between a State of terrorism and the terrorism of the State. We have seen State terrorism in Chile, we have it in Guatemala and El Salvador, we have it in our countries and we have seen it elsewhere. So what means does a State of law have, what is democracy actually founded on? Some criteria crop up often, regardless of religion and culture.

A democracy is a State of law where political parties alternate in elections by secret ballot. Political pluralism is the first criterion. The second, a fundamental one to my mind, is that justice must be independent of the executive power and the military. A third criterion is that a legal environment must be created in the State of law whereby each individual can nourish and his freedom thrive in a concept of responsibility with rights and duties. Those are the three terms which give the best idea of what a State of law needs for its democratic development.

That is the second concept of the universal conscience which is beginning to emerge.

The third is equally important. Clearly, although we recognise the people’s right to self-determination and independence, decades of experience have shown us that a nation which does this will still fail if it is economically and monetarily strapped. So the third concept is the economic right of peoples and that is the crux of the matter. The economic right of the people is the right to produce and trade in the world on fair terms and it is a right which brings basic contradictions in practice.

Is it, for example, compatible with GATT, that veritable world market racket, the biggest cloak of hypocrisy I have ever seen, which has ultimately cornered the world market for one or two of the wealthiest and virtually banned all the others from joining the club? GATT too, paradoxically, blocks free economies, for the system is founded on the law of supply and demand with a regulator called the market and, once there are dominant positions, the market - the regulator - silts up.

So, here we are in a system which to all appearances is liberal, but which is in fact an economic dictatorship of the worst kind. The last parameter of this third point is an unstable international monetary system and international institutions which no longer reflect this concept of human rights, democracy and development.

As soon as the Bretton Woods institutions inveigle a country which is strapped by debt into accepting a ‘Chicago School’ programme, the situation gets even worse. The World Bank and the IMF have constantly strangled the economy - and thus democracy and human rights - in most countries.

The last is the most difficult one, for although states and international bodies are willing to accept the idea of the first and the second, they are reluctant to have anything to do with the third.

That is the fundamental thing that has to change at international level. Let me give you a practical example. The Community is making a big effort for the least developed nations. Over the past 10 years it has almost kept to the international agreement to channel 0.7 % of GDP into them. And look at what our richest partners have done during this time - the USA has given 0.15% and Japan 0.32%. We have been consistent.

But how can we get the European Community, the Council of Ministers and the 12 Member States to make a big effort with the budget? Twelve and three make fifteen, and we could get to 20 billion easily if we added bilateral aid to Community aid in making use of LomV to promote the human dimension of development cooperation issues. But at the same time, the Twelve’s representatives at the World Bank only see the Chicago School criteria. But it can’t go on.

This is a key issue, a point of friction which calls for the strongest international pressure, including a reform or a change of GATT, which is no longer in line with the realities of today or tomorrow. It is an increasing brake and it is blocking up the system itself. So, there you have two or three basic criteria which define the approach at international level. Who then should step in if stepping in has to be done? I am with those who believe that the countries and peoples of the world will never accept just one policeman, be it the USA, France, England, the USSR or anyone else. And that they will be less and less inclined to accept just one banker laying down the rules.

So this call to planetary conscience has to be made in an institution like the UN and in institutions like the European Community or in the international bodies which are there to guarantee these rights and the implicit involvement of the States when they sign these agreements.

An arbitration body?

· If I may interrupt you here... do you think that one of the various joint ACPEEC institutions might turn into an arbitration body one day?

- We must be pragmatic about this. An arbitration body means universally accepted criteria. The first criterion, the concept of individual dignity, is not a problem. Respecting oneself and respecting other people is something which will get across. The second, the means of a real State of law, is something which is going to happen in accordance with the will of the peoples. There is no imposed model. But I should say that there are references and universal values which are undeniable and less and less under aiscussion.

It is the third criterion which will be the problem, for which is the body which will tell GATT to be careful? Which body will say ‘it’s all over, you are ruining or strangling a country or making it go hungry?’ Which body will tell Bretton Woods that it’s all over and we have to have structural adjustments that take notice of the human dimension and stop going in for short-term management with the plain lucrative aim of making more?’

I think there is the UN. I think the UN has an important part to play here. It can give its opinions on appeals, not as of right, but assessing values. And there are other ways. In the contractual relations between the 12 and the 69ACPs, for example, we are fully able to say, publicly - and we have a graduated scale for this - that a particular State has violated human rights.

Diplomatic pressures heavily applied give results. We have, for example, asked the Commission to block aid to Sudan, Israel, Syria, Turkey and so on. So things have developed, because a Community which involved inter-governmental cooperation and a commercial side without conscience has, over the years, given birth to a political conscience of the people of Europe. There are means of applying pressure there.

Strictly speaking, one can have courts at various levels, according to the points at issue - ‘a world court’, the court at the Hague, the European Court of Justice, why not? There is a whole approach here, but if we can get a written process recognising the unbreakable link between human rights, democracy and development, we shall have made an extraordinary step forward.

The role of external aid

· Is there a role for external aid in promoting democracy, not just preventing abuse but actually promoting it to encourage development?

- I had to ask the Commission about this and I think we agreed on positive, practical measures. I went to represent Parliament at the elections in Benin, for example. I went to represent it at the elections in Haiti and at the proceedings at Windhoek in Namibia. Sometimes we are dealing with states which have done nothing, which have no experience and sometimes not even the money to build polling booths or print voting slips.

So I asked the Commission for aid in the democratic process as we had for Asia and Latin America, but it cannot be done because there is nothing in the Lomgreements. So we are convinced that the 1992 budget should contain a line on backing up the democratic process. We should, if necessary, be able to send a delegation to ask the Commission to help train the of ricers who will be checking on the voting, printing the slips, ensuring that the count is properly done and so on. That, I think, is a positive contribution which is absolutely vital today.

When it comes to Mr Marin’s document, I believe that all positive aid arrangements should be backed up here. Lastly, we see people making a considerable effort in extraordinarily difficult conditions and helping them is just as important as building a motorway. I am also candid enough to say that the community of peoples, in their fiscal solidarity, can no longer accept the idea of development funds being misappropriated. Excuse me for saying so, but the days of building gold mosques and gold cathedrals in countries where most people die of hunger are over. It must be advertised.

A country whose head of state has transferred development funds to a Swiss bank account or anywhere else is no longer acceptable. I cannot see me and my colleagues telling the voters, 320 million Europeans, that they are being asked for an extra bit of solidarity and partnership with the people in the developing world and then find that 40% of the funds have been misappropriated, that the system is corrupt. It can no longer be accepted.

And there, the Commission has a very important job to do on the spot, in conjunction with the diplomatic representations. We must state clearly that we are willing to do more to ensure that nations flourish and not increase the burdens which crush and imprison them’.

Democracy from the bottom up

· In all the positive work the Commission does in the field, there are the problems of democracy from the bottom - i.e. people participation. I should like to know what you think about what can he done to get the (often emergent) civil society to lee aware of itselJbefore projecting it, possibly too fast, into the somewhat sophisticated machinery of formal democracy.

- There is a popular saying which goes ‘empty stomachs have no ears’. In conditions of this sort, it is obvious that it is pretty much of a Utopia to talk about the concepts we have just discussed. So a fundamental part of the cooperation, development and international solidarity process is giving people the means of existence. Some extremely interesting things have been done here. People dying of hunger in the country must be prevented from coming to die of hunger in the town and learning the most dangerous things our civilization has ever produced, be it drugs or the exploitation of women and children.

I should like to mention an IFAD scheme here in which five women working in a village were given the opportunity to take turns at getting loans to buy seed and a few basic tools and get organised. The rate of coverage of these loans is 98%, while the figure for the rich is 46%. which is something for the bankers of this world to think about. Obviously there is no question of democracy unless women can play a decisive role in these countries. Not only do they have to provide the daily bread. They are also responsible for bringing up the children and organising the micro-society. So there will be no proper democratic process and no real respect for human values unless practical action is taken, speedily and as a matter of urgency, on the weakest link in the chain.

It is clear that the NGOs have a fundamental part to play in this process, although it must be clear that the Community’s or the world’s development policy cannot be entrusted to them. We are boosting their means and we want to go on doing so more and more, but we maintain that we have to have coordination, at all costs, at the same time, including with bilateral aid. And although it may well shock some Governments, I am clear in saying that bilateral cooperation will disappear in time if we are serious.

The Community’s development cooperation policy has logically to steal a march on this process from the recent past of former colonies, on whatever is negative and positive. At the moment, efficiency dictates that the general development policy has to come from the Community. There has to be complementarity and at least concertation upstream - which is not always the case today. There is a new approach that a special session of the European Parliament is going to attempt to define through the concept of a new world partnership.

Towards democratic adjustment

· Returning to more macro-economic problems, doyou think that it is agood idea i o promote structural adjustment? What is your position on the need for such structural adjustment and what forms it might take?

- That touches on the intellectual aberration of the ‘mondiocrats’. Going on with a structural adjustment policy along Bretton Woods lines is a monumental heresy featuring technical and scientific incompetence or patent bad faith. Who can define the contrary of reality? Take stock of structural adjustment over the past 10 years and the consequences are dramatic in most cases. It hasn’t been a success anywhere - at least as far as the people are concerned.

There are cases where the temperature was prevented from mounting any further, but there are none where it was an actual success. Why? The statistics show that the past 10 years have been a time of constant transfer of capital from poor to rich countries.

I don’t want to be difficult with my economist colleagues and friends, but it has to be admitted that economics is not a science. It is a technique. And like any techniqu:e,~it is not the user but the inventor -who defines the programme. It is reasonable to support the idea that structural adjustment has to continue along the present stringent lines.

I think the Bretton Woods structural adjustment criteria are perfect for Sweden but a dead loss for places like Zambia or Mozambique and I said so in public at the Joint Assembly in Kampala. ‘Stop the massacre’, I said. Today’s structural adjustment criteria fail to take account of the human dimension in the medium term. It is for all the world as though they were pointing a jet of water at a fire and putting jerrycans of petrol ready to burst into flames all round it. It’s a blunder.

They are always saying: ‘It’s not true. It will work. Look at South East Asia’, but I’ve spent four or five years getting to grips with this issue and let me tell you that if a tenth of the billions of dollars invested in that part of the world had gone to Africa, things would be quite different. So let us be serious about it. Let us be like the Community and turn on the pressure. With LomV, the Community is bringing pressure to bear to get Bretton Woods criteria altered along the structural adjustment lines we have laid down to revive the human realities and ensure proper chances of rationalization and development for the people in these countries.

I love intellectual formulae. I have a lot of fun with the civilization technicians, as the economists are sometimes called. They aren’t serious. Reality prwa them wrong. You find the same analysis in every sector, in every country and in the international bodies. Even the World Bank and IMF staff are clear about it, but as long as there is no chance of changing the rules of these institutions and there are many more blockages, nothing will be achieved - hence the major consequence of a new world economic order, a new and more stable international monetary system and another currency alongside the dollar. If the dollar is unwilling to cater for the human dimension, the Ecu can guarantee a different development policy from that of the Chicago School, ultimately backed up by a European Development Bank. Why not?

Migrants’ rights

· Our ACP partners are worried about what effect the Single Market of 1992 will have on human rights how it will affect the particular problem of the status of migrant takers and students and particularly the new procedures the Community is bringing in for refugees and the right of asylum. Where do you, as a Euro-MP, stand on this?

- This is very important and it is something we dealt with in the Committee - especially during a very successful seminar. I think we have to open our eyes and take our heads out of the sand. Most Community countries have immigration problems and I think there are two sides to them. I have always maintained that the answer to immigration is to boost income, because, if someone can earn a decent living at home, no one would feel he has to uproot himself or herself and go abroad.

However, there is another side- to reality and that is the people from all over the world who have already settled in our countries, which is something for the European Community. There are two approaches to this. First of all, a common legal basis for the whole definition of refugees and migrant workers - we need a minimum of legal coordination in the Community on this one if political theory is to be consistent with political will and reality.

That perhaps means defining what an immigrant is. You have political inmigrants and you have economic immigrants and you have people who want to flee the law in their countries. What the Community has to do, I think, is harmonise its legislation. An immigrant who is properly registered and has completed the universally accepted formalities has to have the same rights and duties whether he is in Patras or Amsterdam or Hamburg or Toulouse or anywhere else.

This last point has to do with the rights and duties of immigration. 1, as a Community national, am willing for immigrants to have the fullest rights the Community can endow, but on one condition - the countries of origin must reciprocate. The immigration side of the rights of peoples must recognise the individual’s right to thrive in a consensus of reciprocity. If that demand had always been there, we would have far fewer problems today. So that is roughly what I personally think about this issue and I believe a majority in Parliament agrees with me.

Interview by Dominique DAVID