Inter-Governmental Regional Conference to come out with Sana’a Declaration Arab governments to declare commitment to democracy [Archives:2004/701/Front Page]

January 8 2004

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
The Sana'a Inter-Governmental Regional Conference on Democracy, Human Rights and the role of the International Criminal Court will kick off Saturday with a great participation from all Arab countries and other foreign governments and international organizations.
The conference which is to be held in partnership with the European Union, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, UK, and No Peace without Justice Organization and UNDP, will be attended by over 480 personalities including 37 ministers from different countries. All Arab countries will be represented in the event as well as some neighboring Asian and African countries. Dr. Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, told Yemen Times that the outcome of the conference is Sana'a Declaration which will define the adherence of participating members to the questions of human rights, democracy and protection of minorities. He confirmed that participants will, of course, debate the implications of the fight on terrorism on human rights. He pointed out that there will be no working papers to be presented in the event; rather there will be open speeches, dialogues and debates between the participants over three days.

Open Debate
Mr. Mohammed al-Tayib, member of consultative council and coordinator of the conference on the Yemen side said that the event is a “response to the recent changes and developments in the Arab region and is a dialogue of principles between Arabs and the West.” He pointed out that it is for the first time decision makers, NGOs, Research centers, thinkers tc will sit at one table and discuss the future of democracy and the Arab Human Development Report which figured out the situation of backwardness in the Arab region. They will conduct in-depth dialogues, sharing experiences and reviewing the experiences achieved in democracy and human rights issues and the role of the International Criminal court. He refused the idea that the event is a response to pressure on the Arab political regimes to democratize and adhere to the rule of law. However, he said that the changes that have taken place in the region, mainly in Iraq have convinced people to start debating democracy which, according to him, has become on the top of the West agenda. “People in the West look at the Arabs as backward in this respect. The West has also to listen to us and to our views,” he said. He said the idea started before the coalition forces went to Iraq and ousted Saddam Hussein but it was clearly shaped up after the fall of Saddam's regime.

Thematic sessions
The event will be divided to some thematic sessions; the first one will cover the start of operations of the ICC and its repercussions for the protection of human rights and the promotion of democratic values inherent in the Rule of Law as well as the ICC and the Arab World. The second thematic session will focus on the discussion of the interdependence of democracy and human rights, highlighting the Arab Human Development Reports. The third one will discuss the role of civil society organisations in the promotion of democracy, human rights and the ICC in addition to the civil society and the Arab World.

Sana'a Declaration
Yemen Times has obtained a copy of the preliminary draft of the Sana'a declaration which stipulates that the participating regional government delegations declare that they have reached a broad consensus on certain principles related to democracy, human rights, application of the rule of law, promotion of free and independent media, democratic governance, civil society as well as the establishment of the International Criminal Court. The declaration says that “democracy and human rights, which are compatible with all faiths and cultures, are interdependent and inseparable; human rights standards must underpin any meaningful conception of democracy in order to strengthen its foundations and its ability to promote and protect human rights.”
It also emphasizes that “the rights, interest and voices of minorities, indigenous people, women, disempowered, vulnerable and disadvantaged groups must be safeguarded,” and that “democracy goes beyond formal institutions and should be measured by the degree to which its principles, norms, standards and values are actually implemented and the extent to which they advance the realization of human rights.”
The participating regional government delegations will also commit to building strong institutions of democratic governance based on the rule of law and including an accountable executive, an elected legislature and an independent judiciary as well as encouraging a permanent forum to continue dialogue and discussion, exchanging of views among democratic countries. Another principle includes “building, protecting and consolidating democracy requires overcoming potential threats to the form and substance of democracy, including the concentration and abuse of power, ineffective and unaccountable civil service, poverty, inadequate education, corruption, foreign occupation, crime under international law, inequality, discrimination, repression of minorities and the exclusion of women.” They will also commit themselves to an effective application of the rule of law and fair administration of justice to reach good functioning of democracy and application of human rights law in judicial decisions. It emphasizes the important role of free and independent media can play in democracies through contributing to the dissemination of human rights information, promoting tolerance and contributing to government accountability as well as the role of a responsible and vibrant civil society in democratic governance and adherence to the principles of human rights. It says that “the establishment of the International Criminal Court is an important means for promoting respect for international humanitarian law and human rights, thus strengthening of the rule of law as well as facilitating the prevention of armed conflicts, the preservation of peace and the strengthening of international security and, to that end, increased participation by countries in the region is to be encouraged, so that regional legal systems and traditions might be better represented in all aspects of the ICC.”
They will also commit themselves to: “the promotion and protection of all human rights, including people's fundamental rights to express their views and adhere to their religious beliefs and ethnic identity,” ” empower the role of women and promote their rights, with a view to achieving equality between men and women,” “the establishment of an independent and fair judiciary, an elected legislature and an accountable executive, as well as an electoral system that is transparent and accessible to all persons,” “ensure equality before the law and equal protection under the law, in particular through the adoption and enforcement of laws ensuring the liberty and security of all persons and fair trial guarantees.”
Other commitments include assisting countries with limited resources to promote democracy, eliminating impunity and prevent reemergence by acting pursuant to national legislation and through the ICC to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute individuals, irrespective of their stands, who are suspected of having committed the most serious crimes under the international law, enhancing the role of the ICC as an important and innovative means for promoting respect for international humanitarian law and human rights.