Blessed be the peacemakers…

 

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“Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.”

I have always loved the Sermon on the Mount, but I doubt I fully understood it until this morning.

Yes, this morning, in the shower, when I had an intuition (a full download, as a friend of mine would say). No surprise, my best intuitions are often in the shower, that’s when my rational mind is at rest and it doesn’t interfere.

Here it is. Since childhood, I have always thought of the peacemakers (and the meek and the poor in spirit) as the first Christians, the persecuted,  and, then, missionaries, men and women of God and all those who make themselves small and dedicate their lives to others.

I think of them in a non-denominational way, as I see all the religions as equal paths to God and I think that also people outside the official religions may fall within these categories, moved by spirituality or a strong ethical commitment.

Now I see how my reading of that text was limited.

Peacemakers are many more.

I am a peacemaker and I know many peacemakers. Everybody who works to build peace is a peacemaker. Changemakers who have a recipe for peace are peacemakers.

Being a lawyer with a background in the EU law I have my recipe for peace, I see law as a bridge between people, between nations and cultures.

For me peace is not the absence of war, peace is having structures which make war very unlikely: conferences, assemblies, joint committees and councils, and all sorts of places for dialogue. Law is also the tool to frame procedures: decisional procedures which are perceived as legitimate and fair. Once we have shared rules, we have a social pact, we have a legal order and a community, we don’t need anymore to take the law into our own hands, pick up our rifle.

What is true for individuals is true for states as well. Nowadays it is an (almost) universal truth that individuals have surrendered their right to take the law into their own hands as they belong to a society, sharing rules for justice and safety. But the international community – in spite of many efforts – is still half-way between society and Far West.

And I know that my role as peacemaker is to promote bridges instead of walls and guns.

But there are many more peacemakers who are at work to build these and other important tools. Many people involved in civil society organizations are at work to reduce inequalities and violations of fundamental rights which at the roots of many conflicts. Many people, who fund these organizations, are making their activity possible. There are political leaders and activists who promote peaceful political solutions. Social innovators – tech innovators as well as business innovators –  promote new models for shared responsibility for global problems. And many educators and coaches are at work to spread awareness and raise consciousness over the traditional patriarchal and hierarchic models grounded on strength and dominance.

The list is incredibly long.

This post is to tell them they are peacemakers and sons of God.

They too could have fallen in the interpretation trap I fell since childhood, and think that peacemakers are others. Please don’t underestimate yourselves, the world needs you.

If you want to connect with fellow peacemakers, you will meet a good number of them in Lecce,  on April 26-27.

Human Rights: Myth or Reality?

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Today, the United Nations kicked off in Paris a year-long campaign to honor the foundational human rights document, which will mark its 70th anniversary.

Since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, “human rights have been one of the three pillars of the United Nations, along with peace and development,” said Secretary-General António Guterres in his message for Human Rights Day, annually observed on 10 December.

As “one of the world’s most profound and far-reaching international agreements,” the Universal Declaration proclaimed the inalienable rights of every human being regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. It is the most translated document in the world, available in more than 500 languages.

Unfortunately, the fundamental  rights are being tested every day in the five continents and even if mass or systemic violations appear to be the norm only in some states – usually those which cannot be defined democracies – they appear to be evanescent also in all the countries and territories characterized by extreme poverty and/or severe  inequalities. More often than we think, also in mature democracies, there are serious injuries of human rights affecting marginalized minorities (as the Roma in Europe) and the weaker part of the population – such as migrants and refugees.

Indeed, there are different categories of human rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural – and they are interrelated more than they appear. Denying education to children – or just to little girls – seriously impairs their future ability to enjoy civil and political rights as well as their access to good standards of living.

Denying health care to poor people or access to safe food (and air!) are violations which can occur in the most civilized of nations (admitting this expression holds any sense). Denying equal rights to women is something which happens patently in maybe one third of the world, but sometimes it happens in subtle ways also in the remaining two thirds.

So, sometimes I have wondered which could be the real impact of a standard which appears out of reach for most of the world and, even when solemnly proclaimed and legally enforced, seems quite theoretical. Except when a court has the opportunity to offer about it a concrete example, which happens sometimes – not for everyone, not always.

Nonetheless, the fundamental rights became important as a standard used to assess our level of humanity and the respect of the rule of law. They progressively welded with our notion of democracy transforming it from the inside. Putting the individual at the core not just as a holder of sovereignty, but also as a beneficiary of a basket of rights that in many cases require the state to take positive action.

The UN  year-long campaign is the opportunity to revive all this, to recall that all nations can still do more and work more for the human rights to be not just myth, but reality.

It is also important to remember that the levels of protection achieved must be defended because it is always possible to go back. According to Freedom House “There were setbacks in political rights, civil liberties, or both, in a number of countries rated “Free” by the report, including Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Poland, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Tunisia, and the United States.”

In short, there are plenty of good reasons to consider human rights still a very topical subject.

Certain urges…

Who, among you, remembers Woody Allen in Manhattan Murder Mistery stating – “I can’t listen to that much Wagner. I start getting the urge to conquer Poland” ?

There are certain speeches, attitudes, states that simply trigger urges, fears, anxieties.

For me, simply, listening to Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen (or even the Italian Salvini, much less famous) lights up the urge to quote Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela or Bertolt Brecht… I can’t help, it’s just that I start getting the urge….

So here it is, some Bertolt Brecht I want to share with you all …

 

“First of all, they came to take the gypsies
and I was happy because they pilfered.
Then they came to take the Jews and I said nothing,
because they were unpleasant to me.
Then they came to take homosexuals,
and I was relieved, because they were annoying me.
Then they came to take the Communists,
and I said nothing because I was not a Communist.
One day they came to take me,
and there was nobody left to protest.”

― Bertolt Brecht

 

Human Dignity: the Value Behind the Values

Yesterday, I was speaking with a famous law professor, defending my theory of democracy in international organizations – grounded on the three core values legitimacy, accountability and inclusion – when he said something that hit me deeply:

“democracy cannot but be grounded on human dignity”.

He was, obviously, right.

Had I forgotten the basic value of human dignity? Of course not. I had assumed it, taken it for granted. And this was a mistake, I have to recognize it.

Not only it was a mistake because it  happens that the intrinsic value of every human being and every life is denied in many societies and especially to the weakest members of them, but also because if we want to understand each other on the meanings behind the words we cannot take anything for granted, we have a duty of clarity. After all, when I started this blog I took on this commitment, trying to define even words that everybody know, like democracy…. and I was forgetting such a meaningful ring in the chain of meanings!

How could we imagine a governance system legitimate by citizens, accountable towards citizens and inclusive of all citizens ….if citizens don’t have full dignity, just as human beings? Moreover, being all equally human beings, they all deserve the same respect and consideration, all enjoy the same fundamental rights.

This is clearly the grundnorm of every democratic system, what gives to legitimacy, accountability and inclusion their very meaning.

grafico dignity

There is another interesting consequence: all the citizens have the right to participate, all of them have the right to access the accountability tools (and this may even be considered a civic duty) but these are rights, never obligations. Individuals may as well chose to be on their own, do not use the democratic tools they are granted. The respect of their will to participate or not is, in the end, another way to respect their human dignity and their free will.

 

Democracy, What Does it Mean?

We know (or think to know) the exact meaning of the word “democracy”. Our idea of democracy is grounded on personal experiences of democratic – or undemocratic – national systems as well as on something we studied at school: the Magna Charta, the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, the United States Declaration of Independence.

And we all know the origin of the word in ancient Greece from the two words “Demos” and “Kratia“: people and power. So, democracy literally means power to the people or power for the people. No doubt it means for us free elections, equality, pluralist society, fundamental rights,  access to justice.

We tend to forget, nonetheless, that this definition is relative in space and time. In the ancient Athens as in the 13 American colonies there was an aristocracy living on the work of slaves and women enjoyed very few fundamental rights. Only in the XX century, our democracies acquired the current structure and still… we cannot say they perfectly mirror our ideal of democracy. Let’s face it: democracy is more a process than a state. Whatever the democracy we are in, there is always something we can do to improve it. This is clearly recognized in international rankings – such as the Democracy index or the Global democracy ranking.

Both rank countries according to levels or degrees of democracy, not just by its existence/non-existence. Not only democracy is different according to historical evolution, it is also different according to the territorial dimension we are in. Democracy in a city-state is radically different from democracy in a big country: different ways to build consensus, different ways to participate. In the first it is easy to use the instruments of direct democracy, in the second it is less. And still, both are states.

The difficulties involved in moving this democracy model from the state to the global arena are all too evident: we deal with a community of states and a community of individuals (humanity!), both crossed by deep cultural differences and dramatic inequalities. Not only there isn’t a shared concept of democracy in a framework different from the state, but it is simply impossible to apply to international organizations a model of democracy conceived in the eighteenth century for the state. Several attempts have been done by academia to build an autonomous model, but we are far from a shared vision. Moreover, international organizations are the result of a different evolutive path over the centuries, grounded on the principles of international law: a law for states, not for individuals inspired by the different logic of international relations.

So, a new democratic model for global institutions has to be implemented and, at the same time, old visions  -not serving us anymore- have to be dismantled. Utopistic? For sure! But have we a different choice? Before an institutional formula for global democracy, we need a methodological approach to get there. The aim is double: to evaluate the existing “level” of democracy in international organizations and to propose possible reforms in line with the legitimate expectations of democracy emerging in the global civil society.

Utopistic? For sure! But have we a different choice? Before we imagine an institutional formula for global democracy, we need a methodological approach to get there. The aim is double: to evaluate the existing “level” of democracy in international organizations and to propose possible reforms in line with the legitimate expectations of democracy emerging in the global civil society.

My suggestion is to ground this process on values more than on rules and institutions: let’s identify values first. My choice? Legitimacy, Accountability, Inclusiveness. They will be explored, one by one, in the following posts.

Which is your idea of democracy? Do you have a different list of values? A ranking of priorities? I’d love to know!