October 12, 2011
Tuesday I had the immense privilege of attending talks and discussion panels at the Forum 2000 Conference that is held every year in Prague. It is an occasion that invites dignitaries, scholars, diplomats, and activists from around the world to discuss current global issues and, as the program clearly states, theories on democracy and the rule of law.
The conference was kicked off on Monday with an opening speech by the first president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, and continued until today. Yesterday, I attended three 90-minute sessions, all of which related to my potential field of advanced study. I must say, some of the discussion was extremely enlightening, and all of it was very engaging.
The first session was titled “Legal Institutions and Transition.” It primarily focused on the rule of law, and how it determines economic and political success in a transition state. One of the panelists was a Russian dignitary and a member of the opposition against Putin. He made the assertion that Russia currently doesn’t have a rule of law (as Putin gets the final say on all judicial decisions). This statement certainly had support from other scholars in attendance, and Russia was a central theme throughout the day’s discussions. There was some interesting input from the panel in comparing Eastern and Central Europe, and why the latter had more success with transition than the former. They asserted that it was due to a strong and active civil society: such development leads to pressure from below that is necessary to form a form rule of law. One of the questions I was left with was the role of international organizations in promoting the rule of law within certain states. Can there be such a role when it comes to Russia?
My second session dealt with “Corruption and Society,” where I listened to the founder of Transparency International, a prominent European NGO focused on corruption in both the private and public sectors. This was a very inspirational talk. It was refreshing for me, anyway, to see well-established and influential figures who were not cynical about corruption, nor were they involved in it. I was troubled, however, at the lack of practical application in their viewpoints. One panelist suggested a global network of anti-corruption states to fight rampant corruption. Question is: how is this feasible? Just another solution for our generation to find, I suppose.
The last session was one that interested me the most, “The Law and the Individual.” It addressed an issue that I didn’t even know was up for debate: the universality of human rights. As it turns out, there are some scholars, like Bobo Lo, expert on Chinese/Russian relations and human rights, who believe that there will never be a universal code of human rights… the global community is nowhere near a consensus about the implementation of human rights laws because the moral authority of the West, upon which the international community has thus far relied, is being undermined by the financial crisis in the U.S. and the Eurozone as well as the mishandling of military activity in the Middle East.
This was a very gloomy perspective to hear, particularly as someone who is seriously considering devoting their education and passions to the implementation of global human rights standards. Others were more positive: the Arab Spring has demonstrated a commitment to human rights, and such commitment can only ever be an international issue. Plus, collective international condemnation has proven to be an incentive for governments to stop human rights abuses, particularly if the state has something to gain, and lose, in terms of the global scale. I wonder if the future of international criminal justice will play a significant role?
The panel ended with a good quote by the moderator, “We all must struggle against what isn’t human.” Simple and very much to the point.
Katie Beaver ’13 is a Government and History major at the College of William & Mary. She is originally from Howard County, Maryland and is spending a semester abroad in Prague. She is studying politics, religious and ethnic issues, and culture through the Czech and Central European context while abroad, and has developed an active interest in those subjects. She has also had the opportunity to travel to surrounding Central European cities including Vienna, Krakow, Budapest, and Berlin. Katie has blogged about her semester abroad at Czechmate: A Prague Blague.