A traditional greeting and song by Parekua Horomia, Minister of Maori Affairs, welcomed the delegates to the meeting of the Socialist International Asia-Pacific Committee in Wellington, New Zealand, on 7-8 August. (Full list of participants)
Bob Harvey, President of the New Zealand Labour Party, NZLP, spoke at the opening and expressed the sentiment felt by many that "this century will be a Pacific century".
SI Secretary General, Luis Ayala thanked the NZLP and Prime Minister Helen Clark for hosting the Committee meeting. The presence of the International in the region could be felt through its commitment and activities, he declared, indeed social democracy was today "present and growing, winning elections, facing challenges, but above all keeping our identity and working for peace and democracy".
Prime Minister Clark noted the relevance of the meeting's themes - advancing and strengthening democratic institutions in the region, and responding to crises of democracy, in particular the South Pacific cases. She stated that although "social democracy has perhaps been slowest to take root in the Asia-Pacific of many regions" there had been inspirational examples of what can happen, for instance in East Timor.
The floor was given to the democratically elected Prime Minister of Fiji, Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji Labour Party, to speak of developments in his country. He thanked members of the Socialist International for their unequivocal support during and after the terrorist assault on parliament against the constitutional People's Coalition Government, the main component of which was the Fiji Labour Party. He declared that "what has taken place in our small island nation strikes at the very heart of international standards of justice as well as our shared philosophy and values as members of the Socialist International" and called for a concerted plan of action to restore democracy and constitutional government on the islands.
Phil Goff, Foreign Minister of New Zealand, described the action that could be taken towards those suffering threats to democracy: "The Socialist International is not only about democratic rights and socio-economic rights, it is about the solidarity that we as parties and countries can express for those of our comrades at a time when they need that assistance". Those that overthrew democratic institutions had to understand the long-term ongoing costs of their actions, he stated.
Turning to the more positive developments in East Timor, José Ramos Horta, Vice-President of the National Congress of Timorese Resistance, CNRT, thanked New Zealand, Australia and the Socialist International for their support in his nation's 25-year-struggle for independence. He declared that "our triumph is an illustration of the power of civil society, of the international solidarity movement." And the new authority was committed to enshrining freedom in many forms in society there.
Lim Kit Siang, National Chair of the Democratic Action Party, Malaysia, detailed the difficult electoral climate in Malaysia for opposition parties. He added that, "one of the challenges of social democracy and the Socialist International is how to strengthen democratic institutions; how to support in this region generally the question of building institutions, the rule of law, human rights, the freedom of the press and freedom of assembly."
Abdul Hasan Chowdhury, State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Awami League, Bangladesh, declared that while countries tried to achieve and establish democracy, it was always under threat as had been demonstrated by the recent assassination attempt on his Prime Minister. He highlighted the impact of globalisation, poverty and democracy, stressing the "tremendous progress that has been made in the least developed countries who are trying to break out of the poverty trap, as well as institutionalise people's participatory democracy."
Bapu Kaldate, Secretary General of Janata Dal (Secular), India, spoke of the nature of coalition politics in India's well-established democracy. In a country with over a billion people and 700 languages a "common fundamental approach to pluralistic society" was required, he said, and, as such, Janata Dal needed to be a secular party to reflect this and promote its socialist ideals.
Elizabeth Angsioco of the Philippines Democratic Socialist Party, PDSP, outlined the recent developments in the Philippines where presidential elections would not be held until 2006 and the opposition suffered threats of persecution.
Takako Doi, Leader of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and a Vice-President of the International, reported on the elections held in Japan in June. She also expressed her satisfaction at the encouraging dialogue between South and North Korea.
Sue West, Vice-President of the Senate, Australian Labor Party, ALP, spoke of furthering cooperation of social democratic parties and institutions in the region.
Kim Sang-Woo from President Kim Dae Jung's Millennium Democratic Party in South Korea spoke of the breakthrough in talks with North Korea and its links with the democratic transfer of power two and a half years ago.
T Baasansuren of the recently-elected Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, MPRP, commented on the new government whose priorities would be socio-economic development and social welfare: "to protect the most vulnerable in the on-going process of transition to a mixed economy".
Yos Son of the Cambodian People's Party spoke of peace and stability in his country, without which, he emphasised, there could be no democracy.
Ram Thapaliya of the Nepali Congress Party reported on the situation in Nepal and the government led by the Congress Party. Democracy continued to be "entrenched" in Nepal, he said.
The outcome of the discussions of the Committee were summarised in a statement. It reaffirmed its belief that the establishment of democracy and strengthening of democratic institutions, as well as the defence of fundamental human rights and freedoms, would fulfil "the aspirations of the people of the region for social justice and economic well-being" and remained committed to supporting the democratic rule of law "wherever it is threatened or under attack".
The statement addressed specific issues in many parts of the region, including Fiji, Malaysia, Philippines, Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the Solomon Islands. It highlighted the persistence of strife and threats in other areas, such as Kashmir, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. The statement welcomed advances in East Timor, South Korea and North Korea and Cambodia. The Committee took note of the electoral gains in New Zealand, Japan, Nepal and Mongolia.
The Committee recognised that "spreading social democratic values and ensuring that they become strongly rooted in Asia and the Pacific remain enormous challenges" but stated it remained confident in its approach as the values and ideals held were universal and were pursued with the full participation of women in all spheres. The Committee appreciated that "as part of an even larger, ever expanding, and now fully global community of social democrats, the Socialist International offers the best hope for the future of all people struggling to fulfil the promise of our complex and dynamic region".
The Socialist International Asia-Pacific Committee reaffirms that fulfilling the aspirations of the people of the region for social justice and economic well-being depends on the establishment of democracy, the strengthening of democratic institutions and the concerted defence of fundamental human rights and freedoms.
The Committee therefore remains committed to working together, in cooperation with member parties of the Socialist International everywhere, to end authoritarianism and dictatorship where they still exist in this part of the world and to provide sustained and effective support for the democratic rule of law wherever it is threatened or under attack.
In this regard, the Committee is concerned by a number of developments in the region, but particularly by the situation in Fiji, where on 19 May the People’s Coalition Government headed by Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, leader of the SI member Fiji Labour Party, was violently overthrown.
Following on the 21 May statement by the International, the Committee condemns this assault on the democratically elected, multi-ethnic government of Fiji and rejects the cynical attempt by George Speight and the other perpetrators to use indigenous rights as justification for it.
At the same time, it acknowledges and applauds the great courage and dignity with which Prime Minister Chaudhry and members of his government conducted themselves during their prolonged period of captivity at the hands of Speight and his followers, who from the outset acted with the complicity of some members of the military and security forces. And it is truly grateful that he and others of the Fiji Labour Party could be in Wellington.
The Committee, moreover, does not recognise the unelected interim government appointed by the military, for it is unconstitutional, has no legitimacy or mandate from the people of Fiji and is rejected by a broad array of Fijian civil society organisations including, not least, the Fiji Trades Union Congress.
Still, it believes that the recent detention of Speight and his supporters by the military creates the opening for a political resolution to the crisis. The Committee therefore fully endorses the proposal by the Labour-led People’s Coalition for the reinstatement of the 1997 Constitution and the formation of a multi-party, multi-ethnic Government of National Unity within the framework of that highly acclaimed charter.
To ensure that such a democratic outcome is achieved in Fiji, the Committee calls for concerted action at the bilateral, regional and global levels. Smart sanctions would include identifying all those responsible for the coup, denying them the freedom to travel outside Fiji and holding them accountable under the United Nations Hostage Convention and other relevant international laws; denial of economic and military assistance to the interim government in Fiji; and the banning of Fiji from all international sports competition.
As to regional initiatives, the Committee calls on the South Pacific Forum, the Asia, Caribbean and Pacific Group and the European Union to require clear commitments from the current authorities in Fiji for a return to democracy through the establishment of a Government of National Unity. At the international level, it calls for a coordinated engagement of the United Nations system to restore a democratic rule of law, and a redoubling of efforts by the Commonwealth, including consideration of expulsion, as long as Fiji remains undemocratic.
Finally, with regard to Fiji, the Committee calls upon the international community to respond to the humanitarian needs of those who have been internally displaced or otherwise adversely affected, utilising non-governmental organisations and whatever other methods necessary to ensure that aid reaches those who need it, in an accountable way and without the interference of the current authorities in the country.
Meanwhile, the Committee reiterates its concerns about the absence of or threats to democracy in a number of other countries in the region.
In Malaysia, it notes with alarm the unfair electoral process and abuses leading up to the general election in November 1999, and the further and relentless erosion of the fundamental rights to free expression, a just rule of law, a truly independent judiciary and the separation of powers. The Committee therefore expresses its full solidarity with the SI member Democratic Action Party as it redoubles its efforts, under very difficult circumstances, to turn the tide in favour of democratisation and greater respect for justice and political and civil rights. In addition, the Committee expresses its dismay at the new nine-year conviction of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, on top of the six-year jail sentence already imposed upon him in April 1999.
The Committee is also very concerned by recent trends in the Philippines, where authoritarian tendencies on the part of the current government have become more pronounced. The war waged by the government against Muslim rebel groups not only leads to the death and wounding of hundreds of people, it displaces tens of thousands of families and widens the divide between the Christian and Muslim populations. Violence by the police against peaceful anti-government activists are clear violations of human rights. It believes that negotiated solutions are needed and not strong-arm tactics.
The Committee finds it particularly disturbing that the government may be attempting to falsely link the SI member Philippines Democratic Socialist Party with political violence, and therefore calls upon all members of the International to remain vigilant with regard to the freedom and security of the brothers and sisters there.
In Burma, the Committee is dismayed that there continues to be a lack of progress toward a democratic opening and a harsh form of repression which deprives the people and opposition parties of all basic human rights and freedoms and specifically targets democratic leaders including Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and fellow members of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The Committee reaffirms the resolutions passed at the SI Congress held in Paris on 8-10 November 1999 and the SI Council held in Brussels on 10-11 April 2000 calling for full respect for human rights in Burma, and urges that all diplomatic and political pressures be maintained against the military government in Burma, as well as all economic sanctions.
Regarding Bangladesh, the Committee expresses its deep concern at the recent attempted assassination of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
In Pakistan, the Committee notes that political uncertainty continues to prevail and reiterates the call of the International in Brussels for the reestablishment of democracy as quickly as possible, and for free elections to be held leading to a constitutionally elected government to address the problems of Pakistani society.
Most recently, the Committee notes the improved prospects for peace in the Solomon Islands, where a year and a half of ethnic conflict culminated in June in a breakdown of constitutional rule. Still, it remains deeply concerned by the potential for renewed clashes, and calls upon the international community to continue all efforts to promote the reestablishment of a democratic rule of law to ensure the rights and security of the citizens of that troubled country. It recognises, as well, that the violent elements in the Solomon Islands seemed to gain inspiration from their counterparts in Fiji, underlining the threat of anti-democratic contagion and the need to respond to crises of democracy quickly and effectively.
The persistence of strife and threats to peace and security remains a focus of the Committee’s attention in a number of other areas as well. It continues to stress the importance of dialogue and to stand against the use of military force to resolve conflicts. In this regard, it reiterates previous calls by the International for far-reaching reductions in the production and sale of conventional weapons, the category of arms with which most wars are currently waged, in order to help prevent the outbreak of violent conflicts.
In Kashmir, the Committee is alarmed by the recent resurgence of guerrilla attacks which has cast a dark shadow over tentative moves toward peace and heightened ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan. In this regard, it reaffirms its belief that a return to constitutionally elected government in Pakistan is crucial for that country’s efforts to establish peaceful relations with all its neighbours.
In Sri Lanka, the Committee supports all endeavours, including the recent proposals by the government for constitutional reforms, to achieving peace in this war-torn, ethnically complex nation. Still, it recognises that animosity runs deep on both sides of the conflict and calls for a heightening of diplomatic and international efforts to promote a negotiated settlement.
The Committee also expresses alarm at the escalation of sectarian fighting between Muslims and Christians in the Moluccan Islands of Indonesia, and the threat that such strife presents to that country’s fledgling process of democratisation.
The challenges to democracy and human rights in the region are clearly as numerous as they are daunting and complex. These values are not only held dear by the International, it also fully believes in constant and persistent efforts to see that they are fulfilled. The recent and substantial advances in East Timor are proof of the effectiveness of international solidarity and social democratic determination, even during those times when the obstacles seem insurmountable.
As related in Wellington by Nobel Laureate José Ramos Horta, there is a renewed optimism in East Timor, political violence has greatly diminished, the economy is starting to move and the transitional administration between Fretilin and the United Nations provides a foundation for constitutionally based elections possibly as early as next year.
The Committee recognises and applauds the continuing embrace of tolerance and national reconciliation by East Timor’s democratic forces, and calls upon all members of the International, and the international community generally, to maintain their support for a democratically strong and independent East Timor.
The Committee also expresses its great satisfaction at the recent historic steps toward rapprochement taken by South Korea and North Korea and North Korea’s induction into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum, or ARF. It applauds the skill and perseverance of the government of President Kim Dae-Jung and congratulates the leaders of the two Koreas on this initiative and historic breakthrough.
Acknowledging the fragile state of negotiations, the Committee calls on member parties and governments of the Socialist International to encourage North Korea’s further inclusion into the international community by actively promoting participation in various international organisations.
The Committee also reaffirms its support, expressed at the SI Council in Brussels, for the reestablishment of peace and stability in Cambodia.
At the meeting of the Committee in Kuala Lumpur a year ago, the commitment to make the new century one for social democracy in Asia and the Pacific, to ensure the attainment of democracy, social justice and peace for people throughout the region was reaffirmed. The Committee is therefore pleased to note the advances of a number of the member parties in the region.
First and foremost it applauds the return to government late last year of the host in Wellington, the New Zealand Labour Party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Helen Clark.
It also notes with satisfaction the significant electoral gains recently made in Japan by the Social Democratic Party, whose leader, Takako Doi, is a Vice-President of the International.
It is pleased to note, as well, the recent and overwhelming electoral victory by the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, which joins the Nepali Congress Party as a governing party in that part of the region.
At the same time, the Committee fully recognises that spreading these values and ensuring that they become strongly rooted in Asia and the Pacific remain enormous challenges.
It nonetheless remains confident in its approach not only because the values and ideals held are universal, but also because the International, like no other political movement, pursues them with the full participation of women in the social, cultural, economic and political spheres and by addressing specific issues, needs and concerns of women. The Committee recognises that the problems we confront often impact most negatively on women because of their traditional societal roles.
As part of its efforts to strengthen social democracy in the region the Committee is also committed to enhancing cooperation and solidarity between social democratic parties and free trade unions. In this regard, it greatly appreciates the expression of shared values in Wellington by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions - Asian and Pacific Regional Organisation, ICFTU-APRO.
Finally, the Committee recognises and deeply appreciates that as part of an even larger, ever expanding, and now fully global community of social democrats, the Socialist International offers the best hope for the future of all people struggling to fulfil the promise of our complex and dynamic region.
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Prime Minister of New Zealand (NZLP)
Secretary General of the SI
Australian Labor Party, ALP
Fiji Labour Party
Socialist Party, PS
Janata Dal (Secular)
Democrats of the Left, DS
Social Democratic Party, SDP
Takako Doi (Vice-President of the SI)
Democratic Action Party, DAP
Lim Kit Siang
Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, MPRP
Nepali Congress Party
New Zealand Labour Party, NZLP
Philippines Democratic Socialist Party, PDSP
Swedish Social Democratic Party, SAP
Parliamentary Group of the PES
Socialist International Women, SIW
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions -
Asian and Pacific Regional Organisation,
Fiji Trades Union Congress
Abdul Hasan Chowdhury
Cambodian People's Party, PPC
José Ramos Horta
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Millennium Democratic Party
If you are looking for an earlier meeting, please consult the LIBRARY section.