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22 March 1996

Press Release


19960322 Following is the text of the statement, translated form the French, delivered today by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali upon receiving a doctorate honoris causa from the University of Bordeaux:

First of all, I should like to thank you most heartily for the honour that you have bestowed on me today with this prestigious degree. I am delighted to be back in this academic community to which I am bound by such close ties.

I therefore express my profound gratitude to the administration of the University of Bordeaux for having deemed it appropriate to confer this distinction on me.

I accepted your invitation eagerly since, by coming here, I am repaying a long-standing and deep intellectual debt.

When I was studying international law at the University of Paris, I had the great honour of having Professor Georges Scelle as a teacher. He told us many times of the great intellectual debt he owed to Léon Duguit, and in particular, how profoundly the sociological doctrine of law and the State had influenced his thinking. It has been the same for me. Thus, I am indirectly a product of the great Bordeaux School. And, in my current position, I have become aware to what extent Léon Duguit's "law of solidarity" remains, now more than ever, the best way of understanding the deep-seated purpose of the international order.

In this same spirit, I should like to draw your attention to what increasingly seems to me to be a fundamental trend in the evolution of international law, and that is what I shall call "the democratic imperative".

I am convinced that in our time, a real international law of democracy is taking shape.

Of course, this new law is taking shape only pragmatically and empirically so far, often in very scattered procedures and techniques. None the less, it has already become a body of rules with a certain cohesion and coherence.

Unquestionably, the emergence of this law has been encouraged by the ending of the cold war and by the new consensus among States concerning the idea of democracy. But the international law of democracy also responds to the exigencies of the global society in which we must now live and to the arrival of new actors on the international scene.

Since my election as head of the United Nations, I have constantly striven to promote and improve the international law of democracy. It will be up to future theoreticians, however, to clarify this branch of the law and delimit the boundaries of its legal organization.

My purpose here today, therefore, is merely to provide a brief outline of this developing law and give you an idea of my own thinking with regard to the future.

This is also a way for me to pay tribute to another famous native of Bordeaux, for whom you have named your University. For Montesquieu has taught us better than anyone about how the diversity of laws and customs can be organized into intellectual categories.

As a way of acknowledging his genius and of thanking you for welcoming me to your University, I should like to explain to you briefly today how the democratic imperative is filtering into all levels of modern international society, and how, gradually, it is becoming part not only of the legal order of States, but also of the United Nations system, and even the global society as a whole.

For the past few years, the United Nations has been implementing a real diplomacy for democracy within States.

This diplomacy, first of all, is most clearly evident in the Organization's peace-keeping operations. The more recent operations are without doubt one of the most decisive contributions to the confirmation of an international law of democracy.

Most of the mandates entrusted to the "Blue Helmets" today provide for not only the intervention itself and the peace-keeping operation, but also some very diverse and complex missions, including the protection of human rights, national reconciliation and even the establishment or restoration of democracy.

This trend could be seen, following the end of the cold war, in Angola, Mozambique, El Salvador and Cambodia. Now, the democratic imperative has totally penetrated the area of peace-keeping.

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Moreover, the United Nations now offers States real electoral assistance at their request. And more and more States are requesting such assistance, in their efforts to establish or restore democracy. Since 1992, the United Nations has thus been asked to carry out more than 60 electoral assistance operations. And now the General Assembly has created an Electoral Assistance Unit in the Department of Political Affairs, at my recommendation, to consider the validity of requests and to offer to States the kind of assistance that is best suited to the realities of their society.

In this spirit, the United Nations has sought, among other things, to promote political pluralism within States, in particular by helping to change armed opposition movements into real, institutionalized political parties. El Salvador, Mozambique and Angola are cases in point.

From the same perspective, the United Nations has been asked, besides simply providing electoral assistance, to organize elections on all continents, to supervise and certify them and to declare the results or coordinate the work of international observers.

For these same reasons, the United Nations seeks to promote the civic education and training of citizens. For a number of unfortunate experiences, particularly in Angola and Haiti, have shown that the holding of elections is not enough. Respect for the ballot must be perceived as a categorical imperative. The international law of democracy must therefore take responsibility for professional training, civic education and the teaching of democracy and human rights. Such assistance should also ensure access to information and to free and independent news media.

Lastly, I should like to refer to the complementary work of the United Nations in various countries in reinforcing or even establishing the rule of law. In some countries long ravaged by war, this at times involves re-creating a system of laws and regulations and restoring the national administrative apparatus, and here again, I am thinking in particular of the work accomplished in Cambodia. States also need help in providing themselves with a modern judiciary and a police force that respects civil liberties. The United Nations has successfully acted in this regard in El Salvador, and is endeavouring to do so in Haiti.

By implementing this common effort for democratization, we are not trying -- and of this we are all convinced -- to encourage States to act in some imitative way, nor are we asking them to borrow political forms that originate elsewhere.

On the contrary, I should like to state once more in the most categorical terms: democracy does not belong to anyone. It may be assimilated by all cultures. It may take diverse forms in order to adapt more

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easily to the diverse conditions in which the world's peoples live. Democracy is not a model to be copied from certain States but an objective to be attained by all peoples. And, like human rights, democracy is universal.

This universality of the democratic imperative should also inspire us today to find better ways of promoting democracy within the United Nations system.

A few years ago, no one had even raised the question of making the United Nations system more democratic. Today, that question is on everyone's agenda.

This trend can be explained by the fact that many Member States have recently embraced democracy, and the General Assembly has become imbued with the demand for democracy.

In this spirit, States are on the whole in favour of expanding the Security Council in order to make it more representative.

Most heads of State who met in New York on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary had referred to this matter. I believe that this trend is quite indicative of the desire for democracy that has penetrated even the most political bodies of the United Nations.

This same desire is largely responsible for the Organization's current decentralization policy.

In the economic field, the United Nations has delegated a considerable part of its activities to its regional commissions.

Similarly, in the field of peace-keeping, the world Organization is strengthening its cooperation with regional organizations.

In El Salvador, throughout the peace process, the United Nations worked together with Colombia, Mexico, Spain and Venezuela within an informal group of "Friends of the Secretary-General".

In Georgia, the United Nations is acting in concert with the Commonwealth of Independent States. In Azerbaijan, it supports the efforts of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In Burundi, it is cooperating closely with the Organization of African Unity. In Liberia, it has joined the peace-keeping operation organized by the Community of West African States. In Haiti, it cooperated with the Organization of American States and with a multinational force.

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With respect to the management of the thorny Yugoslav question, the United Nations is now acting in concert with such regional organizations as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the OSCE.

In my opinion, this far-reaching decentralization of international activities has a number of major advantages: it alleviates the work of the Security Council and gives responsibility to interested States in the region, thereby promoting the democratization of international relations.

I do not wish to end this brief reflection on the international law of democracy without mentioning another dimension, which is still largely undeveloped, and to which legal scholars should give their utmost attention: the role that democratic values can play in the emerging global society.

States are today well aware that the major problems facing mankind are essentially transnational problems.

This has been the thrust of the major economic and social conferences which, in Rio de Janeiro, Vienna, Cairo, Paris, Copenhagen or Beijing -- and soon in Istanbul -- have been held these past few years under United Nations auspices.

Environmental protection, population control, AIDS, regulation of international migration, combating transnational crime, the human settlements of tomorrow; it is today quite obvious that these are global issues and individual nation-States have only a very limited influence on them.

The globalization of the economy should therefore be accompanied by a movement for the globalization of democracy.

The United Nations now wishes to become part of this new stage of democratization by encouraging the new international actors to participate in bringing about a global democratic society.

Today, commercial enterprises and financial institutions wield a great deal of power at the global level. It is therefore essential to include transnational enterprises in the development of the law of global society, so that they appear not as predators seeking to take advantage of gaps in the international social order but as agents of development and important factors for social integration.

I should also like to stress the importance that I attach to the role of non-governmental organizations in the democratization of global society.

Indeed, in order to establish an open and living democracy, we need to take account not only of the will of political subjects and the behaviour of

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economic agents but also the aspirations of social and cultural constituencies.

Non-governmental organizations are a fundamental form of representation in today's world. Their participation in international organizations is, in a way, a guarantee of the political legitimacy of the latter.

In referring in this way to United Nations activities in the field of democratization, and outlining general trends in the international law of democracy, I am well aware that I have been engaging for the most part in speculations about the future.

Perhaps you are disappointed that I have not mentioned here the more immediate problems facing us today, such as the situation in the former Yugoslavia, terrorism or the financial crisis of the United Nations.

However, I wished to rise above the contingencies of everyday life for a few moments, to outline the major challenges facing the international community of tomorrow and to tell you about the role that the United Nations and democratic values can play.

In conclusion, I should like to take advantage of the opportunity that you have given me to speak in this university today in order to go somewhat further.

If international law truly becomes the vehicle of democratic aspirations and values, it will then become more than a language between States. It will become a real code of conduct for peoples and nations.

Perhaps we should think about this more often and also about the role that the teaching of international law can play in the formation of public opinion.

Indeed, it would be very short-sighted to view international law as only a university subject for students. Evolving international law must also be a broad civics textbook for citizens of the world, a way of mobilizing every man and woman towards what is, we are convinced, our common destiny. Then international law will have reached, so to speak, its pinnacle. And, by ceasing to be only a language used between States, it will become the common heritage of men and women, of peoples and of nations.

I should like to thank you, once again, for your welcome and the honour that you have bestowed on me by inviting me to speak today at your prestigious university.

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For information media. Not an official record.