Statement of Ms. Najma Heptulla

Berlin, 7 September 1999


Mr. President
Honourable Speakers of Parliaments
Ladies and Gentlemen


It is an honour for me to be with you here today and, on behalf of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, to address this august gathering of Presidents of the Parliaments of the Member States of the Council of Europe and the G8 countries and members of the Bundestag.

We are here today to mark the 50th anniversary of the constituent meetings of the German Bundestag and of the Bundesrat. During the life of these two institutions, Europe, and indeed the whole world, has gone through a formidable transformation. Fifty years ago, the world was emerging from a devastating war. Millions of people had died; countries had been laid to waste; national economies were in ruins and people everywhere were starving. A tremendous reconstruction effort was just barely beginning.

Today we live in a very different place. The world is prosperous, although the riches are far from evenly shared. The world is also interdependent. Countries, their people and economies are linked to each other like never before in the history of mankind. We live in a world of instantaneous communication where changes occurring in one part of the globe are immediately known to and affect other parts. Our world is no longer one where people and countries live in isolation from each other. Our world is a global village.

As we stand on the threshold of the third millennium, one major challenge facing the world community is maintaining and reinforcing international co-operation. There can be no alternative to co-operating with each other. No nation, however big or small, can live in isolation from its neighbours and the wider world community. During these last 50 years, the community of nations has come a long way in tackling common problems. But let me also suggest, as recent events in different parts of the globe demonstrate, that States still have a long way to go to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems.

Looking back over the last fifty years as a Presiding Officer of the Upper Chamber of the Parliament of my country - India - and as the Acting President of the IPU Council, let me highlight one specific change of particular importance - the move towards democracy. It is especially fitting that I do so here in Berlin, the city that over these last fifty years became identified with our common struggle for freedom. Almost ten years ago to the day, the wall that divided Berlin finally fell. That event, more than any other, has come to symbolise democracy. It showed clearly that no political system can be sustained in the long run if it is not one that allows for the people’s participation in public life.

As many of your know, the Inter-Parliamentary Union has adopted a Universal Declaration on Democracy. The Declaration affirms that democracy is now a universally recognised ideal. It is a goal which is based on common values shared by peoples throughout the world irrespective of cultural, political, social and economic differences. It is a basic right of citizenship to be exercised under conditions of freedom, equality, dignity, transparency and responsibility.

Democracy is both an ideal to be pursued and a mode of government to be applied according to modalities which reflect the diversity of experiences and cultural particularities without derogating from internationally recognised principles, norms and standards. It is thus a constantly perfected and always perfectible state or condition. We therefore always need to preserve and improve on our democracies.

Let me take this opportunity to recall a few ways in which the IPU promotes democracy. Democracy presupposes achieving a genuine partnership between men and women in the conduct of the affairs of society. If we are to reach a democratic state, men and women must work in equality and complementing each other, drawing mutual enrichment from their differences.

We seek to promote this in a variety of ways in the IPU; through studies, debates, and action-oriented activities. I would like to take this opportunity to invite all of you to join the IPU in one such manifestation - a Forum we are organising together with UNESCO in Paris during the first days of December this year on the theme: Perspectives on Democracy: How Women Make a Difference. This forum will be the last major parliamentary event of this century. We aim to get an overview of the position of women and influence of women on the political scene and identify what changes they have brought about. The overall aim is to provide a further foundation for establishing democracy in the next century.

Democracy is inseparable from the rights set forth in the international human rights instruments. These rights must therefore be applied effectively and their proper exercise must be matched with individual and collective responsibilities. Democracy is founded on the primacy of the law and the exercise of human rights. In a democratic State, no one is above the law and all are equal before the law.

The IPU has, as you all know, a long-established human rights programme. As a cornerstone of this programme, the IPU seeks to defend the human rights of members of parliament through a Committee it set up for this purpose over twenty years ago. I think I can proudly say that over the years, the IPU, through the work of this Committee, has made a significant contribution to respect for human rights on all continents.

Earlier this year, the IPU concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. We are now in the process of developing together a programme of action whereby the IPU will promote parliamentary support for human rights protection.

Democracy is founded on the right of everyone to take part in the management of public affairs; it therefore requires the existence of representative institutions at all levels and, in particular, a Parliament in which all components of society are represented and which has the requisite powers and means to express the will of the people by legislating and overseeing government action.

It is therefore not surprising that the IPU also promotes the establishment and strengthening of national parliaments. This has long been an IPU objective but has in recent years become one of the most important of its programme activities. Today, the IPU carries out a wide variety of technical assistance projects, a great many of them with the support of your parliaments. May I take this opportunity to thank you, on behalf of the IPU, for that support. Let me also express the hope that we can continue to build upon this partnership between your parliaments and the IPU in this particularly important field.

I would like to end my presentation by returning to what I believe is one of the most fundamental challenges facing us in the years to come: achieving international co-operation based on respect and equality. The IPU believes that democracy and the rule of law must transcend our national boundaries and become a reality in international relations as well. To achieve this purpose, we must also „democratise“ the international organisations, starting with the United Nations.

The United Nations Charter starts off with the words „We, the peoples of the United Nations“. The time has come to give reality to this lofty statement. For that to happen, the United Nations must move beyond being merely an organisation of governments. It needs to be given a parliamentary dimension. The peoples of the world - through the members of parliament they have elected to represent them, their interests and aspirations - must have a more direct say at the United Nations.

In the IPU, we believe that it is in the interest of the United Nations to provide itself with a parliamentary dimension. After all, the implementation of much of what the UN does requires parliamentary action at the national level. Such action can take the form of ratification of international instruments, harmonisation and adoption of legislation relating to such instruments, allocation of financial resources through the national State budget, not to mention raising the level of popular understanding and support for UN action.

It is also imperative for parliaments to work more closely with the UN. Today, no problem is confined exclusively to the territory of individual nations. Every problem has causes and effects that transcend frontiers; frontiers that become themselves more unreal with each passing day. As a result, parliaments must participate more directly in co-operation on all international issues if they are to be able to fulfil effectively the mandate they have been given at the national level.

As you know, the Inter-Parliamentary Union proposed to the United Nations last year that it organise a Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers at UN Headquarters on the eve of the Millennium Assembly. This proposal was welcomed by the UN General Assembly and we are now working to prepare for this event. A Preparatory Committee has been set up composed of Speakers from some twenty countries around the world, and I am pleased to see that several of them are with us here today.

This Committee had a first meeting in Vienna earlier this year, at the kind invitation of Speaker Heinz Fischer from Austria, and set up a Working Group which met in Arles at the invitation of the French Parliament which is also a founding Member of the IPU. Immediately after today’s meeting, we will travel to Morocco for a second meeting of the Committee.

At this stage, the Committee is preparing a draft Declaration for the Conference next year. The Declaration - which is of course a political statement - seeks to achieve three purposes: to reaffirm our belief in international co-operation to solve our common problems; to identify some of the priority areas for action in the next century; and to make a strong commitment by our respective parliaments to provide a parliamentary dimension to the United Nations both individually and collectively through the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

I would like to conclude my statement by appealing to each and everyone of you for your help in mobilising support for IPU’s strategy and, more precisely, for the Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers which will take place in the United Nations General Assembly Hall from 30 August to 1 September 2000. Through that Conference and working together to follow up on its result during the years ahead, I am convinced that we can make an enormous contribution to the establishment of a more democratic world order for the next millennium.


Thank you.