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Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Democratic Multilateralism

Federico Mayor Zaragoza, Former Director-General of UNESCO (1987-1999) and president of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations, speaks at the unveiling of his official portrait as Secretary-General Kofi Annan, his successor, listens. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations, speaks at the unveiling of his official portrait as Secretary-General Kofi Annan, his successor, listens. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

Apr 20 2018 (IPS) - “If we don’t do everything possible to democratize globalization, globalization will pervert national democracies”, said the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, as President of the “International Panel on Democracy and Development” set up by UNESCO and chaired by the man who had worked so hard, at a global scale, in favour of giving voice to the peoples -as required in the first sentence of the Charter of the United Nations- to allow constant participation from citizenship as should be the rule in a genuine democracy.

He also mentioned how risky it was to exchange “trade for aid” because it led to put an end to foreign aid for the sake of integral, sustainable and human development, leaving initiative in the hands of major trade corporations.

“Globalization is not governed by democratic principles, and decisions taken are neither the result of a process of free expression of opinion… I think the essential philosophy for the proper operation of global democracy is the same as for national democracy: promoting a countervailing power, listening to everyone’s opinion, in particular the opinion of the members of the opposition and of the weakest, in order to reach agreements that make everyone feel duly represented”.

“Globalization is not governed by democratic principles, and decisions taken are neither the result of a process of free expression of opinion... I think the essential philosophy for the proper operation of global democracy is the same as for national democracy: promoting a countervailing power, listening to everyone’s opinion, in particular the opinion of the members of the opposition and of the weakest, in order to reach agreements that make everyone feel duly represented”
Boutros Boutros-Ghali, UN Secretary-General, 1992-1996

This was Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s (1922 – 2016) way of thinking, those were the ideas he clearly expressed in his Agendas for Peace, Development and Democracy, the ideas that led many rich countries -in particular United States Republican Party- to feel prejudiced against a second mandate from a Secretary-General that had so openly and convincingly expressed his opinion against globalizing neoliberalism.

His book “En Attendant la Prochaine Lune…” (1997-2002) starts with the reflections he made on 1 January 1997 about the reasons that prevented him from being nominated for a second term in such a high-level position, as was normally the case.  The relevance of this book lies in the memories that the former Secretary-General recalls about this painful period. In the first place, he mentions the moment when he was replaced by the new Secretary-General, Kofi Annan.

I had the opportunity to personally attend this event. The Secretary-General that had made the greatest contributions to the democratization of United Nations was forced to quit his job because President Clinton was a weak president, confronted to the influential Republican Party that dominated the power scenario in the United States, under the leadership of Senator Jesse Helms.

And that is why, disregarding the support of a vast majority, Boutros Boutros-Ghali gave yet another lesson of common sense and sense of timing when he accepted to be replaced by a civil servant from the United Nations who met all terms and conditions due to his recognized undertaking of the tasks that he was trusted with and to his personal and family background. He wrote: “I don’t really regret leaving behind a job, a way of living, a house, friends… but rather to have to start from scratch at 74, under a new sky, new responsibilities, in an environment that is still completely odd to me”…

On 1 January 1997 he flew to Paris on board of a Concorde with his wife Lea, a woman with an unusual personality, very much up to the standard of his well-known husband.  When they arrived to the Hotel Meurice, “as if everything was the same… the scenery that had remained unchanged was a great relief and it helped me start a new life after having left the UN behind”…

On 10 January he was greeted by President Chirac at the Élysée “with the cordiality, simplicity and true friendship that were one of his best kept secrets”.  We had both lost a battle… because he had been in the last period my strongest pillar, my floating log, when other Nations had decided to abandon me pressed by the American hurricane…

In another one of his “diaries” he had written: “I knew that he republicans and the Zionists would oppose my re-election”.  During this meeting he was “introduced” by Chirac to the position of General Secretary of “La Francophonie, an organisation whose aim was “to protect multilingualism and cultural diversity…”, and which had to be elected for the first time during the Summit Meeting of Heads of State and Government to be held in Hanoi in November 1997.  The French President suggested that starting from May he should travel around Africa and Asia to ensure the success of his candidacy.

He describes the occasion when on 4 March -during the presentation of the “Amicorum Liber” from Héctor Gros Espiell-  Karel Vassak invited him, with my persistent support, to prepare his own. Lea was very pleased with this project. Boutros seemed somehow reluctant to accept the proposal, but he finally did.  On 12 May he recalls we had lunch together and I asked him to chair the International Commission on “democracy and development”.

He explains: “Federico Mayor had previously created a Commission chaired by Javier Pérez de Cuéllar on “culture and development”, and he had entrusted Jacques Delors with the responsibility of yet another Commission on “education and development”…

On 18 May he told me who were the 22 members of the Panel, amongst them well-known international personalities such as Nadine Gardiner, from South Africa, Basma Bint Talal from Jordan, Mohammed Charfi, Tunisia, Abid Hussain, India, Attiya Inayatullah, Pakistan, Robert Badinter, France, Bruce Russet, U.S.A., Juan Antonio Carrillo Salcedo, Spain, Rosario Green, Mexico”… “This will be -he says- a new and wide-scope academic adventure .  I am fully aware of the challenge I will be faced with”.

But there is no doubt that he had a great experience in this particular area.  In fact, in December 1986, when the 51st session of the General Assembly of the United Nations was about to end, as was his term as Secretary-General, Boutros-Ghali submitted his third Agenda within one of the issues for discussion entitled “Support by the United Nations system to efforts made by Governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies” .

Amongst the six sections it includes, the most important and timely is certainly the one devoted to “Democratization at an international scale”. Once again Boutros Boutros-Ghali was running ahead of events, because he was familiar with the ins and outs of oligarchic groups supported by neoliberalism. He names the “new actors” in the international scenario that shall thereafter be taken into account: “regional organizations, NGOs, members of the Parliament, local authorities, academic and scientific circles, companies… and, in particular, mass media”.

According to him: “A culture for democracy leads to the promotion and reinforcement of a culture for peace and to development by means of an adequate governance”.

Despite being fair and universal, the United Nations cannot promote democratization movements.  But it can, however, help every country to find its own way towards democracy. Boutros was the first Secretary-General who, despite reaffirming United Nations neutrality, overtly declared himself in favour of the democratic system, a declaration that reflected a change in what had been up to then the traditional position.

“Democracy contributes to preserve peace and security, to protect justice and human rights and to promote economic and social development”.  As a matter of fact Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s perspective and action duly completes the 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The different “Summits” that were held since 1992 also highlight the need to finally give a voice to “We the peoples…”: they were allowed to speak about environment in Rio de Janeiro, 1992; about population in Cairo, 1992; about human rights in Vienna, 1993; about women in Pekin, 1995; about the habitat in Istanbul, 1995 about social development in Copenhagen, 1995…

The next meeting was the Millennium Forum that gathered together, in May 2000 at the United Nations headquarters in New York, 1350 representatives of NGOs, civil society organisations, associations representing new actors… It was, therefore, urgent to make an assessment of the meetings held during the first part of the nineties so that attention was finally paid to the specific directives that were required to allow implementation -at a national, regional and international scale- of suitable actions for the 21st century and the third millennium.

The Forum concluded with the Final Declaration from the Civil Society -”We the peoples”-and the Agenda for Action (“Strengthening the United Nations for the Twenty-First Century”) that included specific proposals such as: transforming the Security Council; reshaping the International Court of Justice… all of which have been ignored up to now, although they remain at the disposal of mankind, once we will no longer be distracted and subjugated by the gigantic media power, and we will realize that there are essential changes that must be made without delay.

 

Boutros Boutros-Ghali was appointed by acclamation by the General Assembly as the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations, for a five-year term beginning 1 January 1992. Credit: UN Photo/John Isaac

Boutros Boutros-Ghali was appointed by acclamation by the General Assembly as the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations, for a five-year term beginning 1 January 1992. Credit: UN Photo/John Isaac.

 

The titles of the extensive work written by Boutros Boutros-Ghali are an unusual and extraordinary reflect of his life as a politician and as a human being: “The Problem of the Suez Channel”, 1957; “General Theory of Alliances”, 1963; “The African Union Organization”, 1969; “The Egyptian Path to Jerusalem”, 1997; “My Life in the Glass House”, 1999; “Peace, Development, Democracy: Agendas for the Management of our Planet”, 2001; “Democratizing Globalization”, 2002…

19 November 1997 was the 20th anniversary of the wise and courageous visit of President Anwar el-Sadat to Jerusalem, “the most important event in my political and diplomatic career… 20 years have elapsed: history will recall this exceptional visit as one of the greatest moments of the 20th century.

In my contribution to his “Amicorum Disipulorumque Liber” on “The Human Right to Peace” I wrote in the prologue “Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s term occurred at the same time as a series of radical changes in international affairs”.  The “post-Cold War” had indeed nothing to do with “previous post-wars”. And yet Boutros Boutros-Ghali knew which the priorities were. And which were the main references and recommendations raised during the most relevant meetings of the United Nations.

We had the raw materials… but we lacked the ability to use them in a hostile environment headed by United States Republican Party. In my paper I told the following story: “My granddaughter asked me recently why we hadn’t kept the promises we made during the Earth Summit.  I told her that to take action one needs to feel involved, responsible, one needs to recall, to compare… She is still waiting for that to happen. Everyone, men and women are still waiting. I hope we will not deceive them. I hope the United Nations will have the support they need to put into practice the Plans to promote tolerance, dialogue, cultural exchange, peace”.

Boutros-Ghali’s friends and pupils unveiled -in his book Amicorum– an extraordinary man in extraordinary circumstances, I felt satisfied that the UNESCO, a “thinking” organisation within the United Nations family, had been at the root of this book. Some of the contributors worthwhile mentioning were the following: Jacques Delors, Mikhail Gorbachev, Juan Antonio Carrillo, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Enrique Iglesias, Robert Badinter, Shimon Peres, Ismail Serageldin…

Finally I would like to mention how vividly I still recall the proposal made by Karel Vasak, Bernard Kouchner and myself to the Secretary-General of The United Nations concerning the “humanitarian interference”, a concept that should prevent atrocities such as those committed in Cambodia and Rwanda from ever happening again with no reaction from the international community.

The UN blue helmets should only intervene in two specific cases: general violation of human rights and genocide. But the “duty to intervene” due to humanitarian reasons was overtly at odds with the sacred sovereignty of Nations -despite massacre? How many victims are hiding behind the term “sovereignty”? Could Pol Pot really claim that he had legal powers that justified his atrocious insanities?

If the United Nations were “re-democratized”, they would be in the position to rely on article 42 of the Charter that allows an armed intervention in case of massive violations of human rights or in case of “clear menace against peace and international security”.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali was overthrown… but he reappeared as leader of La Fancophonie, as President of the Council of the European Centre for Peace and Development; he, therefore, made his re-entry into the international scene, and he shall remain there forever as a beacon thanks to the audacious and truthful messages he conveyed about peace, justice, development and democracy, all of which demand the implementation of multilateralism he so much yearned for.

 

This story was originally published on 28 July 2017, reminiscing Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Roberto Savio, Founder of IPS retrieved this story and we are republishing.

 
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