The countries of Central and Eastern Europe that experienced their transitions to democracy 20 years ago offer important lessons for the Arab nations that are currently undergoing revolutions, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today during a visit to Bulgaria.
“As the people of North Africa look for experience, you in particular have much to offer,” Mr. Ban said in an address to a major conference in the capital, Sofia, which is looking at how Europe in 1989 can help show the way forward for the emerging democracies of 2011.
“You know the difficulties of transforming political and economic systems… establishing effective political parties… retooling State-owned industries… dismantling a police state and fighting corruption.
“You also know the mistakes – the disappointments that can cause people to doubt democracy and its benefits. You are already reaching out, I know. This is encouraging, for the emerging democracies of North Africa need your help and engagement. Your experiences offer important lessons for everyone.”
He also noted that fundamental principles of freedom, democracy and human rights are on the line in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria – where authorities have engaged in crackdowns on protesters demanding greater rights and freedoms.
“What we are seeing in Libya, and elsewhere, is more than a conflict rooted in the aspirations of a long-repressed people seeking a better future,” said the Secretary-General.
“We are also seeing the international community acting quickly, with resolve, to protect civilians facing violence from their own government,” he added, noting that the same happened in the case of Côte d’Ivoire.
Mr. Ban described what is happening in Libya, Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere as “an historic precedent… a watershed in the emerging doctrine of the responsibility to protect,” referring to the principle agreed to by world leaders in 2005 to come to the aid of civilians under attack by their own governments.
“The age of impunity is dead,” he stated. “Today, we are moving decisively towards a new age of sovereignty as responsibility… an era where those who commit crimes against humanity and violate the human rights of their people will be held accountable.
“More broadly, we can expect that, in the future, the Security Council will increasingly place civilian protection at the centre of the UN peace and security agenda,” he added.
While in Sofia, the Secretary-General held talks with President Georgi Parvanov and Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov and visited the ancient city of Plovdiv. Earlier in the day, he met members of the Global Compact Network and with UN staff based in the capital.