11 June 2007

Freedom Is Not Free

"We are willing to pay a heavy price for our freedom. The only thing we ask the free world to pay is attention."

Friday morning I noted how President Bush had forged ahead on a path of global investment in HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis in Africa — taking a lead that the rest of the world's richest nations felt obliged to follow. While travelling in Europe, the oft-criticised American leader was also welcomed by a group of dissidents from all around the world—from Israel and Palestine, through Iran and Sudan, to Russia and China—who had gathered for the Prague Democracy and Security Conference. The above quote came from one of the organisers of Lebanon's "cedar revolution," the demonstrations that followed the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.

President Bush repeated his vision that "Freedom can be resisted, and freedom can be delayed, but freedom cannot be denied." Sadly, experience seems to indicate that freedom is by no means inevitable and often is in fact denied—and is even undermined by both totalitarian regimes and elected governments alike, as was recently noted in international criticism of Britain's legislative over-reaction to the global threat of terrorism.

Nevertheless, moving on, the President also told the conference, "Free nations must do what it takes to prevail." Which begs the question, what will it take for freedom to prevail? By way of response, the conference concluded with Vaclav Havel, Natan Sharansky, and Jose Maria Aznar issuing The Prague Document, in which they call upon governments and peoples throughout the free world to help those trying to build free societies elsewhere by doing the following:

  1. To demand the immediate release of all non violent political prisoners in their respective countries.
  2. Instructing diplomatic emissaries to non-democratic countries to actively and openly seek out meetings with political prisoners and dissidents committed to building free societies through non-violence.
  3. Raising public awareness, through institutions in their own countries and through international bodies, of human rights abuses under non-democratic regimes.
  4. Raising the question of human rights in all meetings with officials of non-democratic regimes.
  5. Seeking national and international initiatives, in the spirit of the Helsinki Accords, that link bilateral and international relations to the question of human rights.
  6. Exerting pressure, through peaceful diplomatic, political and economic means, on governments and groups abusing human rights to discontinue their practices.
  7. Providing incentives, through diplomatic, political and economic means, to governments and groups willing to improve the human rights record in their countries and to embark on the road to democracy.
  8. Isolating and ostracizing governments and groups that suppress their peaceful domestic opponents by force, violence or intimidation.
  9. Isolating and ostracizing governments and groups that threaten other countries and peoples with genocide or annihilation.
  10. Promoting best human rights and governance practices that have been found effective and beneficial in other countries, in particular in new and recent democracies.
Not a bad start to answering our question about how we should stand for our values in the world and develop an ethical foreign policy!