ULAANBAATAR, 29 April 2013 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) – Foreign Ministers, parliamentarians, global media representatives, democracy and human rights activists from over 100 countries gathered in Ulaanbaator, for the VII Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies from 27-29 April 2013, hosted by Mongolia, the Community’s current President. Opened by Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj, government participants included UN Under-Secretary-general Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, US Deputy Secretaty of State William Burns, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, Vice President of Costa Rica Alfio Piva Mesen, Vice President of Nigeria Namadi Sambo and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, as well as with two special guests, Nobel Peace Prize laureates Tawakkol Karman from the Yemen and Aung San Suu Kyi from Burma/Myanmar. The Ministerial Meeting was preceded by four two-day forums of Civil Society, Parliamentarians, Women, Youth and Corporate democracy.
The presence of Aung San Suu Kyi, who had addressed a video message to the Community of Democracies at its creation in Warsaw in 2000 whilst she was under house arrest, was especially symbolic of the democratic changes taking place in Asia today, and reflected the Mongolian Presidency’s emphasis on supporting democracy in the Asia-Pacific region.
Maria Lessner, former Swedish Ambassador for Democracy and current Secretary General of the Community of Democracies, stressed this aspect in her opening speech: “Democracy is on the rise in Asia. Democracy is winning, not with a big bang, but in the traditionally Asian way, step by step”. In particular, the Conference announced the establishment of an Asian network of democratic countries, and a civil society counterpart, the Asian Democracy Network (ADN) to mark the legacy of Mongolia’s Presidency of the Community of Democracies. This network will bring together civil society movements in countries all over Asia, from democratic countries as well as transitional or non-free regimes, linking them with region-based think tanks to develop a knowledge-based understanding of democracy issues. It will also seek to engage with established Asian democracies to support democratic progress in the region.
Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and Que Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam, and member of the nongovernmental International Steering Committee of the Community of Democracies welcomed the creation of the Asian Democracy Network: “The creation of this unique network is extremely important. For Vietnamese, it is particularly timely. Tomorrow, 30th April, we mark the 38th Anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, when Vietnam was united under communist rule. For almost four decades, the Vietnamese people have been calling for democracy and basic human rights, and many have sacrificed their freedom in this struggle. Today, 32 bloggers and online journalists as well as scores of peaceful democracy activists, many of them very young, are serving prison sentences of up to 16 years simply for expressing their democratic ideals. Vietnam continues this crackdown despite its international commitments. I believe that the Asia Democracy Network can contribute significantly in supporting and strengthening the emergence of a democratic process in Vietnam, and I will do my utmost, as a member of this network, to contribute to this effort”.
Participating in the Civil Society Pillar of the Ministerial Meeting, Vo Van Ai alerted the Community of Democracies (CD) to the escalation of violations of freedom of expression in Vietnam, both online and off-line, as well as repression against religious bodies such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, and the detention of UBCV leader Thich Quang Do. He called on the CD to set up Working Groups on Media Freedom and Freedom of Religion or Belief.
Amongst the Civil Society Recommendations submitted to the Ministerial Meeting, the International Steering Committee “specifically, urge[d] all CD governments to publicly condemn the increased pressure on civil society organizations, particularly those in Russia, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Iran, Vietnam, Venezuela, China, Bahrain, Zimbabwe and Egypt, where NGOs are harassed by governments who accuse them of acting as “foreign agents” and for “undermining national sovereignty.” CD governments should condemn those who stigmatize and persecute NGOs for their legitimate human rights and democracy work on the grounds that they receive funds from or work with international partners”.
During the Ministerial Meeting, several government representatives called for democratic progress in Vietnam. The President of the CD’s Parliamentary Forum for Democracy Emanuelis Zingeris from Lithuania, commended Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership role in Burma which had “opened the door” to dialogue with the democratic community. “It is extremely important, and I hope Vietnam will follow this example”.
Mongolian Foreign Minister Luvusanvadan Bold, expressed Mongolia’s willingness to support democratization in Vietnam: “23 years ago, Mongolia was a communist country. Now we have moved from totalitarian rule to democracy. We can share with the Vietnamese people these democratic values that we have re-invented in Mongolia. Democracy is about people, about empowering people. It’s about giving people the rights they should enjoy. I think the process in Vietnam is advancing step by step, and I hope they will accept to share these common values, and become a democracy one day soon”.
The Community of Democracies is a global intergovernmental organization founded in Warsaw in 2000 that works to strengthen democracy worldwide. It has a government component made up of government representatives and a nongovernmental component of civil society representatives, with an International Steering Committee of civil society representatives from five continents. worldwide. Since 2004, CD governments have also created a Democracy Caucus at the United Nations, and a UN Democracy Fund to support civil society movements working for democratic change.