06.03.2009 - SHSviews 23

Interview with Pier Ferdinando Casini: ‘No democracy without partnership between men and women.’

in SHSviews 23

For Women’s Day 2009, SHSviews is publishing an interview with Pier Ferdinando Casini, which took place just before his term came to an end as President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in October 2008. Asked to explain the role played in promoting human rights by this organization which brings together more than 150 parliaments around the world, he stressed that the participation of women in political life is changing political priorities in the world and asserts a strong belief that: “There can be no democracy without a genuine partnership between men and women in the conduct of public policies”.

What are the main objectives of the Inter-Parliamentary Union?

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is an international organization of parliaments, and now numbers 145 parliaments among its members. It promotes peace, dialogue and democracy, and seeks to strengthen the parliamentary institution.

It has played a key role in the development of democratic principles of governance and in establishing international standards for free and fair elections, in multi-party systems.

The expertise of its members enables it to provide advice and technical support to countries undergoing political transition or in post-conflict situations. In recent years, the IPU has played an active role in the establishment of parliamentary systems of more than 50 countries, including Afghanistan, Albania, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste and Uruguay.

What kind of action has the IPU led to defend and promote human rights?

They are of several kinds. First, the IPU assists parliamentarians – a community of more than 40000 people – to represent their constituents. In 1976, it created the Committee on Human Rights of Parliamentarians, whose mission is to investigate complaints of violation of their rights. Since then, the Committee has reviewed over 500 cases in over a hundred countries and has often found a satisfactory solution.

A Standing Committee of the IPU also exists, which is dedicated to the study of issues relating to democracy and human rights. Its recommendations involve parliamentary follow-up to consolidate and strengthen the respect for fundamental freedoms in national legislation.

To enable national parliaments to be more effective in human rights issues, the IPU also organizes, since 2004, an annual meeting of members of parliamentary bodies dealing with human rights. It also launched a project for parliamentarians from the countries of Francophone Africa to assist them in their work on the implementation of the recommendations of UN treaties on human rights to adopt new laws or amend existing laws.

How does this organization help us to connect national and international debates?

The IPU holds two meetings per year, which are, for parliamentarians coming from all regions of the world, a unique space allowing them to compare their experiences and address the major current topics of general interest. They are also an opportunity for delegations from parliaments, members of the IPU, to hold bilateral meetings, and thus enhance parliamentary diplomacy.

For example, at the Assembly held in April 2008 in Cape Town, South Africa, more than 1 200 delegates discussed the fight against poverty, the balance between national security and individual freedom, State policies, and foreign aid, including issues relating to migrant workers, human trafficking, xenophobia and human rights.

Throughout the year we also organize conferences, regional meetings and seminars in different parts of the world. A parliamentary conference was held in 2007 in partnership with the European Parliament on the World Trade Organization (WTO). The same year, a parliamentary meeting was also held in Manila to discuss HIV/AIDS.

Has the IPU had the opportunity to draw upon studies conducted by scientists?

Of course. The Assembly held in Cape Town, for example, saw the launch of a major report, produced in partnership with many organizations. This publication has been the opportunity to bring together world experts on health, political leaders and parliamentarians worldwide to discuss the urgent need to accelerate measures to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in terms of reduction of maternal and infant mortality.

Entitled Tracking Progress in Maternal, Newborn & Child Survival, this report reveals, indeed, that only a fraction of the 68 developing countries – which account for 97% of the cases of maternal and infant mortality in the world – has made sufficient progress to ensure essential health care that save the lives of women, infants and children.

Following the debate, a strong commitment was made by legislators, representatives of organizations such as UNICEF and WHO, as well as by doctors and journalists of The Lancet, for the campaign “Countdown to 2015”.

With regard to IPU, this commitment will not go unheeded, since an assessment of what has been done in 2008 at the national level to combat maternal and infant mortality will be presented at the next IPU Assembly, which will be held from 5 to 10 April 2009 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

But this is just one of the many examples of collaboration between experts and parliamentarians working to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Does the IPU publish numerous reports and studies itself? Through these publications, are you trying to influence national policy strategies?

The publication of books useful in policy-making is indeed an important activity of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. In terms of statistics on women in parliaments, the IPU has become the reference. The promotion of increased participation of women in politics is one of the programmes that gives high visibility to our organization.

For the IPU, there could indeed be no democracy without a genuine partnership between men and women in the conduct of public policies. We know, indeed, that even if more and more women hold high political posts, more than 80% of those elected in the world are men.

A very recent study by the IPU, entitled Equality in politics: a survey of women and men in parliaments, shows that women’s participation in politics is changing political priorities in the world. The presence of women in parliament is beginning to be felt and is redefining political projects.

The IPU therefore follows not only the advancement of women in politics around the world, but in addition, sets up seminars for candidates, men and women, during elections held in developing countries and emerging democracies promoting gender equality. A seminar of this kind has been conducted in Rwanda, and this has borne fruit, since Rwanda is now the country with the largest number of women in Parliament, with 56.3% of women MPs, ahead of Sweden with 47%.

What kind of relationship do you have with UNESCO?

The IPU and UNESCO signed a cooperation agreement in 1997. In 2003, as part of this partnership, we launched a parliamentary network and jointly published a Guide to Parliamentary Practice to assist the UNESCO Secretariat, as well as its networks, to better understand the functioning of national parliaments. The IPU has given UNESCO and its National Commissions a unique insight on parliaments which should make collaboration between the Organization and its Member States more efficient.

Interview by Nfaly « Vieux » Savané


Pier Ferdinando Casini

Aged 54, Pier Ferdinando Casini was President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union from October 2005 to October 2008, when he was replaced by Theo-Ben Gurirab, current Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Namibia. Bachelor of Law, author of several essays on international politics, Italian parliamentary life, and the European constitution, Mr Casini has been regularly re-elected member of the Italian parliament since 1983. During his various national mandates, he was a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Commissions and was the Vice-President of the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on Terrorism in Italy. In 2001, he was also elected President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies.




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