News / Europe

IPU Pushes Democracy, Gender Equality, Human Rights for Parliamentarians

FILE - Inter-Parliamentary Union Secretary-General Anders Johnsson in Tripoli.
FILE - Inter-Parliamentary Union Secretary-General Anders Johnsson in Tripoli.
Lisa Schlein

As it celebrates its 125th anniversary, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) says it will continue to push for greater democracy, gender equality and human rights for parliamentarians around the world. In an interview with VOA, IPU Secretary-General, Anders Johnsson reflected on the evolution of his organization as he prepares to step down after 16 years in office.

 

The IPU was still adapting to changes brought about by the end of the Cold War when Anders Johnsson was elected secretary-general in 1998. At that time, it was largely an organization operating on an international level, with two major assemblies and not much else every year.

 

With the 21st century looming, a noticeable shift of focus quickly took shape.  IPU became more directly engaged in dealing with problems of parliamentarians in individual countries. Johnsson said many of these countries were emerging from conflict and moving toward democracy. 

 

"We accompany the parliament.  We assist the parliament in developing better procedures, learning how to deal with a multi-party setting, having an inclusive decision-making process, learning the ropes, so to speak, about how a parliament works," said Johnsson. 

 

Gender equality and the enhanced participation of women in politics are causes Johnsson has championed throughout his career. It seems to be paying off. When he assumed his post as head of IPU in 1998, only 10 percent of the world's parliamentarians were women. Now, this has more than doubled to 23 percent.

 

He told VOA a parliament without women does not deserve to call itself a democracy.

 

"It makes little sense to have only men dealing with issues of policy, legislation, budget, etc. It is like you are trying to walk with one leg. It is awfully difficult and clumsy and not very efficient," said Johnsson. 

 

Human rights are also high on IPU's agenda. Johnsson notes that many parliaments are not expert in this area, and need guidance on how to protect the rights of its citizens through legislation and other activities.

 

The organization has a Human Rights Committee that shines a light on imprisoned parliamentarians and agitates for their release.

 

The IPU chief acknowledges dealing with dictatorships is an activity fraught with difficulty. Nonetheless, he is convinced IPU does have an impact on these governments because it is an institution of parliaments, and legislatures play a powerful role in their societies.

 

Not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, organizations in Western countries jumped into Eastern and Central Europe, eager to assist these newly emerging democratic parliaments. Johnsson said the IPU made a conscious decision not to enter this competition, but to give priority to developing countries.

 

"So, from those very early days because the same democratization movement was spreading into Africa, our work focused on Africa.  And, we were very present, for example in giving support to the new parliament post-apartheid in South Africa," said Johnsson. 

 

IPU has been similarly supporting parliaments in Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, post-genocidal Rwanda and Burundi among others. However, Johnsson notes IPU may, once again, be forced to shift its focus. 

 

He says the turbulence in Ukraine, the devastating war in Syria, the militant Islamist insurgency in Iraq is changing the political landscape in the world.  He says these events are complicating efforts to push forward a democratic agenda.

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid