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October 23, 2011

Canada's Broadbent on democratic development

The Canadian Charger

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Ed Broadbent expressed disappointment in Barack Obama when he spoke at Ottawa's First Unitarian Congregation on September 27. "You don't compromise before you even take your position," he said. "He is decent and thoughtful, but he isn't the politician that Bill Clinton was." Broadbent was especially critical of Obama's failure to act firmly on the issue of Israeli settlements.

He spoke about lessons he learned as President of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, now known simply as Rights and Democracy.  Broadbent was appointed by Brian Mulroney and served through the 1990's.  In passing, he referred to the current leadership of Rights and Democracy as “thugs”. 

A lesson reinforced rather than learned was that those who saw the growth of market economies inevitably bringing democracy along with them were wrong.  “Witness Chile under Pinochet or China and Russia today.”

To take an alternative perspective, it may at least in some cases all be a matter of time frame.  While Broadbent makes the case in the short and medium term, he may not be right in the long term.  In another instance, Trotsky predicted that Stalinist despotism could not persist in the modern world, but his prediction was valid only in the long term.  Similarly, in the long term the growth of the market economy might eventually lead to democratization. 

One important lesson from his days at Rights and Democracy was that “agendas for the implementation of rights in a developing country must not be determined by outside NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) or governments.  Priorities must be set from within that country.”  Outsiders might not see the current focus by Saudi women on the right to drive cars as the most appropriate focus, but it is the preoccupation that they have chosen.

Broadbent sees the growth of democracy in developing countries as dependent on the growth of free association and the blossoming of NGO’s.  “The day that China permits freedom of association to its workers, freedom of speech to its citizens, and welcomes human rights NGO’s will the a day marking a similar route to democracy” as that taken in “South Korea, Thailand, Tanzania, Pakistan, Guatemala, and Mexico.”

What can Canada do to promote democracy and human rights?  It should proceed by “persuasion, aid, fair trade, and the development of globally enforceable international human rights law.”  A “higher priority” needs, he argued, to be given to aiding independent human rights and other NGO’s.  The Tory crackdown on Kairos is an example of exactly what should not happen.  Kairos was taking its lead from local human rights activists. 

As an example of a success story in which Rights and Democracy played a part, he touted Tanzania, which had been a one-party state.  Rights and Democracy “cooperated with its one- party government, NGO’s, other new parties, and the recently independent media to help shape a practical agenda that produced a peaceful transformation to a multi-party state.  This didn’t happen overnight.  Crucially important, stable and innovative Tanzanian government leadership strongly supported by the Canadian High Commission, plus domestic and international NGO’s, made it happen.”

Broadbent cautioned that “rapid globalization is a mixed blessing for democratic development,” leaving millions in abject poverty.  The Western nations must, he urged, be more committed to global social justice.

He reiterated the need for local decision-making: “Each nation must make its own decisions and innovations in the context of its own traditions, institutions, and particular circumstances.”

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