Before a packed room of diplomats, journalists, human rights victims, dissidents and activists and hundreds of members of the public, Christopher Walker interviewed three experts on the rise of authoritarianism. The speakers were Ukrainian MP Svitlana Zalishchuk, who was influential in the 2013 EuroMaidan Movement in her country, Joan Hoey, the editor of the Economists’s Democracy Index, and Yang Jianli, a survivor of the Tiananmen Square massacre and a leading advocate for peaceful democratic transition in China.

8th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Main Event, Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Below are some highlights from the panel discussion:

Joan Hoey, Editor, Democracy Index, Economist Intelligence Unit:

“The problem is not just over there – in Russia, in the CIS, in China, in Africa, in the Middle East. It’s here – in the heart of the leading democracies… There’s a crisis of democracy in the West, in the advanced Western democracies […] The symptoms are clear for anyone who wants to see them.”

“Post Cold War period where the problems with democracy have manifested themselves has also coincided with the increase in foreign engagement by those democracies”

“I think there is an underlying problem with this idea of exporting democracy, or democracy promotion. Democracy is not ours to command – it’s wrong in principle and bad in practice. It’s wrong in principle because democracy cannot be introduced from the outside. Democracy means nothing unless it’s government by the people. It has to be fought for and won by the people and as an internal process. To think that you can bring democracy from outside in any other way is fundamentally undemocratic.”

“We need pro-democracy movements in those countries fighting and yes, we need to stand up and highlight human rights abuses and the cause of democrats fighting around the world. But lead by example – that’s the most important thing that we can do. And make sure that democracy is thriving where we are, in the West – that it can be a beacon for those fighting for it around the world.”

Svitlana Zalishchuk, Ukrainian Parliamentarian active in 2013 EuroMaidan movement:

“Illusion-making is being installed by the creation of the information space – I’m talking of course about Russia.”

“I’ll quote the Estonian president – ‘The world seems in its worst shape since the Cold War'”

“There is a strong linkage between authoritarian leaders, their countries, and what they do in our regions.”

“When our borders were violated and Crimea was annexed – half the territory of Estonia, for example – Donbas is being occupied by people with the backing of Putin.”

“To what extent are the traditional guardians of world principles and word values capable of proving that they able to do something about it?”

“Democracy cannot be exported. But we also have to remember that we live in a global world. We are linked to each other and are all interconnected.”

“I have been prosecuted by the former president who opened a criminal case against my former organization.”

Irwin Cotler, Former Canadian Minister of Justice and MP, advocate for political prisoners:

“What we have in fact been witnessing is a resurgent authoritarianism.”

“Authoritarianism is resurgent at the same time as democracy is not only in retreat, but is being silenced.”

“There is massive domestic oppression in Khomeini’s Iran. I use that term – ‘Khomeini’s Iran’ – to distinguish it from the people of Iran who are the targets of this oppression.”

“They were disappeared – those who came to support them were gunned down. Assad’s regime began a scorched earth policy… Now we are witnessing the greatest humanitarian catastrophe since the second world war […] Everything that we were told would happen if we intervened, happened because we didn’t intervene.”

“We need to engage with the dismantling of the rule of law, of democracy and the like in the international arena. We need serious and substantive reform of our international institutions so that they adhere to the rule of law, universalism, human rights and equality.”

Yang Jianli, Chinese dissident, former political prisoner, Tiananmen Square massacre survivor and President of Initiatives for China:

“It has been 30 years with fast economic growth, but China still remains at the bottom of the economy index. Why? What happened?”

“That way of ruling China became costly – you have to exchange economic growth for loyalty.”

“Fast economic growth has been the major source of China’s legitimacy.”

Information and multimedia on the 2016 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy



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