Santiago is the next step

George Soros
17 March 2005

The Club de Madrid’s International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security addressed the right subject at the right time in the right place. I think it is a very appropriate and worthy response to the massacre in Madrid on 11 March 2004. It has generated a lot of interest and attracted a lot of people. We had really heated discussions, sixteen groups of experts from around the world, and a consensus emerged – what I would call the Madrid Consensus – about how to address the problem of terrorism.

Also by George Soros in openDemocracy:

“America after 9/11: victims turning perpetrators” (May 2004)

Three aspects of this consensus are vital. First, although terrorism has many forms and causes and each case has to be judged on its own, there is a common element: terrorists are taking innocent lives in advocating their political goals. That is a violation of human rights, because the first human right is the right to life. It’s a crime against humanity and we must not forget it, whatever special circumstances there may be.

Second, in combating terrorism we must beware of falling into the trap of transgressing human rights and creating innocent victims, because that would merely reinforce the original impulse and make us violators of human rights.

Third, spreading democracy can help undermine popular support for terrorists by giving people the chance to express their grievances in a different way.

I think this is a sound basis for future action.

Let’s be frank. The way the United States has waged “war on terror” under President Bush violates the second point, because war, by nature, creates innocent victims and, in addition, the war on terror is different from “normal” wars. In other ways, such as the use of torture, the United States government has been breaching international law.

In Madrid, we came up with a different and more constructive way of looking at the threat of terror. I hope it can serve as the basis of common agreement between the United States and its allies who are committed to fighting terrorism in accordance with the law. I say this because President Bush in his second term has made the spreading of democracy a central objective of his administration. This is something we should take up and build on; it would be a very constructive outcome of Madrid.

So how should we move forward toward reframing the war on terror so that we avoid the counterproductive excesses of the current US approach? How can we best redouble our efforts to build a common approach to sustain and build open democratic societies, which the terrorists seek to attack?

The Community of Democracies is one opportunity. It is a major initiative - an association of over 100 governments which have chosen the democratic path and agreed to work together to promote democracy. The Warsaw Declaration, signed in 2000 by these countries, declares that it is in the vital security interest of all democratic countries to foster democracies in other countries.

The subsequent terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in a way justified and reinforced this principle. Because it revealed that developments inside Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia had created a serious security threat to the United States. There is a connection between democracy and terrorism in that the lack of democracy can be a tremendous security threat to all of us.

The Warsaw Declaration, like most declarations, was just a piece of paper; very little attention was paid to it. Now, at a time when paradoxically democracy is spreading to new corners of the globe while at the same time, both international terrorism and the response to it is making democracy ever more fragile, it is the time to put substance into the Warsaw Declaration.

There is a precedent for this approach. In 1975, governments signed the Helsinki Declaration, also “just” a piece of paper. The Soviet Union signed it and agreed to Basket Three, which outlined human rights, because they thought that no one would really pay any attention to it. But because of the actions of Andrei Sakharov and others, it became the basis of a very powerful and successful human rights movement. The same can happen with the Warsaw Declaration if civil society mobilises to push for its principles and make them real.

The Community of Democracies has begun, in a modest but constructive way, to operate in support of efforts to strengthen democracy around the world. It has an intergovernmental element – led in turn by Poland, South Korea and now Chile – and a civil society element. It will meet in Santiago, Chile on 28-30 April 2005.

I applaud the Club de Madrid for calling in the Madrid Agenda for a renewed effort to promote and strengthen democratic institutions including through the Community of Democracies process. Civil society has a critical role to play in infusing that process with content and action. We must not let the great energy mobilised and generated by this conference evaporate. We must maintain and build upon it.

The Santiago meeting of the Community of Democracies should be the next step.

We also need to work together to support the formation of the Democracy Caucus at the United Nations, in its linked mission to strengthen the UN’s ability to promote greater respect for human rights and the principles of an open society.

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