Inter-Governmental Regional Conference on Democracy, Human rights and the Role of the International Criminal Court

Address by Undersecretary Mantica, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Italy - Sana'a, 10 – 12 January 2004

Any society based on democracy and human rights enjoys one enormous advantage: it makes it possible to address the root causes of the problem of human coexistence, not only between people but also between States.
(SANA’A, 10-12 JANUARY 2004)
Mr Chairman,
Distinguished representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I should like, first and foremost, to thank the Government of Yemen and “ No Peace Without Justice” both in my personal capacity and on behalf of the Italian Government, for having organised this important conference.
It was in 1990, the year of the reunification of Yemen, that the Yemeni Government embarked on a courageous and farsighted process to democratise its institutions. As evidenced from the high turnout on 27 April 2003 for the third Parliamentary election in ten years, this process is enjoying increasing support from the Yemeni people, and deserves our concrete and active support.
The Italian EU Presidency worked successfully last year to institutionalise political dialogue between the European Union and Yemen on the main issues of terrorism, regional security and human rights
By organising this Intergovernmental Regional Conference, Sana’a has confirmed its determination to play an international role consistently with the process of reform it is pursuing at home – a highly balanced role in the pursuit of peace and progress in the region, and democratisation resulting from dialogue within and between states.
I am deeply impressed by the sensitivity shown by the Yemeni Government with the institution of a Ministry of Human Rights in 200, headed by a woman, assisted by a National Human Rights Committee chaired by the Prime Minister. The Ministry’s efforts have already begun to produce important results, and it has submitted the first national report to the United Nations as required by the Convention Against Torture.
Any society based on democracy and human rights enjoys one enormous advantage: it makes it possible to address the root causes of the problem of human coexistence, not only between people but also between States. For the exercise of human rights leads to democracy in both the formal sense of the term (the enjoyment of civil and political rights) and in terms of its substance (the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights). This is no small matter.
It is therefore hardly surprising that the defence of democracy and the promotion of human rights are fully enshrined in the fundamental principles that Italy has traditionally applied in her international activities, adopting an approach that enjoys the unanimous endorsement of public opinion, Parliament and the political parties, and the non – governmental organisations and movements of civil society.
On the issue of human rights, Italy has always taken the inspiration from the fundamental and simple principle of their universality, as rights that cannot be questioned or conditioned on the grounds of some “ cultural exception” that results in the destruction or the curbing of people’s fundamental freedoms.
The problem of protecting and safeguarding human rights cannot be addressed separately from that of promoting the rule of law and participatory democracy. Progress in the field of fundamental rights is now deeply engrained in foreign relations, and has acquired an international and multilateral dimension, which can no longer be ignored. Freedom of expression, combating racism, the rights of the child, women’s rights, the abolition of the death penalty, preventing impunity through the new instrument of the International Criminal Court, as well as other fundamental rights can no longer be left purely to the domestic legislations of individual states. They are increasingly becoming part and parcel of the huge set of rules enshrined in the commitments undertaken internationally by individual countries, confirming that the former idea that the State is the sole guarantor of the rights of its own citizens must now be seen as superseded.
It is in this light that the International Criminal Court, as a jurisdiction complementing that of individual States, bridges a legislative vacuum in the present international system governing human rights. The court, which Italy and the European Union strongly support, is making a major response to one of the most keenly felt problems at the international level: the impunity often enjoyed by individuals responsible for the most atrocious crimes committed against whole populations. I therefore consider the title of this Conference and the debate to be held in the Thematic Session on the International Criminal Court extremely timely and topical.
The concept of “human rights” itself is now changing to encompass issues and conduct that until a few years were considered exclusively in economic or political terms. I am referring I particular to so – called economic, social and cultural rights, for which there is an increasingly more vociferous demand, particularly by the developing countries, as fundamental rights of the individual person, without which there can be no economic progress and no genuine democratic development.
The history of the past few decades has put paid once for all to the idea that respect for human rights and economic development are irreconcilable. On the contrary, it is only when the citizens are able to participate on an equal footing in national governance that they are better able to achieve economic development and build up societies grounded on justice, non-discrimination and prosperity.
I therefore consider it important to accompany the cooperation and solidarity, which the more advanced countries are being asked to provide in different areas of the “South”, with measures to create conditions under which the civil and democratic dimension can also develop. I have no illusions about the difficulties that the so-called “ conditionality clauses” on human rights and democracy introduced into cooperation agreements are sometimes likely to cause in these relations. But I believe that all of us must strive to ensure that the principle of “ shared partnership” can be applied, taking the form of a shared responsibility on the part of all the partners and of the mutual respect that must underlie international relations.
I should like to recall that democracy and the protection of human rights are also promoted by adopting policies to foster dialogue between different cultures. This is a basic principle, which has always been the in inspiration of Italy’s actions, and I believe that it needs to be supported and re-launched today as never before. It is because of this awareness that Italy considered it useful and important to convene an international conference in Milan, in March 2004, with high-level participation, on “ Human Rights: Bridging the Cultural Divide”, specifically to debate this important issue.
Peace and security must necessarily be underpinned by consolidating democracy and human rights. Democracy must also reach countries where it had never before existed, or where it has been adversely affected by war or dictatorship. It is equally essential to help consolidate the democratic institutions in all the countries in transition that only recently turned to democracy.
It follows from this that countries which share the same values of freedom and democracy can and must cooperate to guarantee international peace and security. In this regards, various types of cooperation can play a major part, beginning with regional cooperation between countries that aspire to become democratic and which share similar cultural traditions. One example of this is the European Union, whose construction is expressly based on democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms.
I should also like to place it on record that the action of the Italian Presidency of the European Union which recently ended, was based firmly on the principles that I have just described, with major results in such areas as: children and armed conflicts, combating torture, and agreeing on a draft for the United Nations Convention on Human Rights for the disabled. I should like to take this opportunity to endorse the statement made in the inaugural session by the Irish Presidency of the Union.
Italy has been, and continues to be, a leading player in numerous regional initiatives to promote and strengthen democracy. So far, its commitment in this regard has been mainly in initiatives within mainland Europe. But my country is also ready to transfer its experience in this field to other areas: the Sana’a Conference could be a starting point for implementing forms of regional cooperation in the Middle East to strengthen democratic institutions and safeguard human rights, in a spirit of cooperation which cannot fail also to produce fallout in terms of the economy and trade.
At the global level, Italy believes that a fresh impetus should be given to the “Community of Democracies”, which was instituted in Warsaw in 2000. As Minister Frattini said to his colleagues at the Convening Group meeting in New York last September, the “ Community” must become even more active and effective so that it can truly become an influential player on the international stage and in the multilateral for a. Italy will continue to pursue proposals to ensure the consolidation of the re-launching of the “ Community of Democracies”.
In no case however, does Italy intend to impose models from outside, or create insuperable barriers between the democratic countries and the others: any such idea would be unconceivable for us! We intend to respect the cultural, social and political heritage of every country, and to develop dialogue between cultures and civilisations. What we have to share must be our common conviction that the human person is sacrosanct in every respect, recalling that where human rights are lacking and where there are no democratic mechanisms for the political contest, resorting to violence becomes inevitable. We must draw on the lessons of the past; never forgetting that without democracy there can be no peace, and that without respect for human rights there can be no democracy.
This lesson must be learnt to be able to address some of the scourges of the contemporary world, such as corruption and abuse of power, conflicts- which are increasingly becoming domestic in character, breaking out in places where democratic institutions have not yet been put in place – and above all to be able to combat the most serious phenomenon we are facing today: terrorism. Where rights are being trodden underfoot and States are “collapsing”, terrorism can easily be fuelled. Governments not only have the right, but also the duty, to combat terrorism in order to protect their own institutions and their citizens, and to prosecute the guilty. But let us never forget one factor that remains vital both to Italy and to the European Union as a whole: a country based on the rule of law must combat terrorism without curtailing fundamental democratic freedoms.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.