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By Boutros Boutros-Ghali
THE WORLD we share today is one of complex contrasts and differences, of conflicts and promises, a world in which we individuals play a more important role than ever before. "While humanity shares one planet, it is a planet on which there are two worlds, the world of the rich and the world of the poor'' (Raanan Weitz, 1986). In the world of the rich, there exists an apparent unlimited abundance, the rule of law, democracy. It is a world where individuals are encouraged to have an opinion and to express it, where they can freely choose their own paths.
The world of the poor, by contrast, is characterised by its lawlessness, by the tyranny of its leaders, and by the extreme and absolute poverty of its people. It is a world in which wars and conflicts tear nations apart and the coherence of entire societies and the stability of political regimes seem to be long forgotten; a world in which the future is but tomorrow.
For those of us who are lucky enough to be born on the `right' side, it would be criminal not to take time to pause and reflect, and unforgivable to forget to question the order of things. At the heart of the international debate is the relation between development and democracy two concepts which are inherently intertwined but have all too often been treated as separate. The achievement of both is fundamental to the future of world peace.
Development and democracy contribute to the common prosperity of humanity, to the blossoming of societies where social harmony, the rule of law, the respect of human rights and dignity are indeed attainable ideals. But why do we still, despite decades of development efforts, need to "bridge the gap'' between two worlds? What are the new challenges to democracy? In this `multipolar' world of ours, where states seem sometimes overwhelmed, the efforts of non- governmental actors and civil society the actions of individuals are rising in importance. As focus swings away from the old rhetoric, the answer to the world's problems might be found in other hands.
What is democracy? Democracy is a system by which all the members of society can, at all levels, participate in the process of decision-making and exert control over its course. Respect for human rights is one of its founding pillars, and can only be achieved in the presence of the right institutions to ensure that laws are implemented and respected, that people are represented, and that their voices are heard. Obedience to a common rule, an appropriate electoral system, and the free participation of citizens in the democratic process are also essential elements to the realisation of civil liberty.
More than an institutional framework, however, democracy is a state of mind a culture favouring tolerance, respect of the other and his or her differences, pluralism of opinion, freedom of expression and dialogue. It is a set of shared values, which belong to the common patrimony of mankind. These are fundamental principles without which there would be no democracy, no sustainable project of development. In order to take on any true significance, however, they should be reflected in the relationships which oppose and unite all individuals from the social, political and economic institutions to the local actors and members of civil society.
Of course, recognising the importance of those fundamental democratic values at a global level does not mean that the specific historical, religious, or economic circumstances, which contribute to make each society unique, should be discounted or ignored. But all should have, as a central objective, the respect of human rights (as presented in the 1949 United Nation Declaration of Human Rights).
Development is essential to complement and reinforce democracy. It represents the set of economic, social, and cultural aspirations to which all societies aspire. A pluri-dimensional process, it comprises all the factors which contribute to the enrichment and personal development of the individual: from the economic and the political, to the social, cultural, environmental, and the scientific, from social justice to education. The right to development is a human right. It should involve all aspects of human life. Inequality, poverty, exclusion, religious fanaticism, racism, xenophobia, and lack of dialogue are all impediments to development which ought to be overcome if we are to work towards the establishment of a more global democratic culture. The mere fact that these are still common traits of modern societies highlights the need for participation and involvement in the democratic process. It reveals that freedom of opinion and expression are not only rights that are to be taken for granted, but rights that must be put into practice. It reminds us that our planet matters, and that it needs us. IPS
(Boutros Boutros-Ghali was Secretary General of the United Nations from 1992-1996.)
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