By Henry Kyambalesa
“BRICS” is an acronym for “Brazil,” “Russia,” “India,” “China,” and “South Africa.” It is an inter-governmental organization (IGO) founded by Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, and was established on June 16, 2009 after a series of meetings by top “BRIC” government leaders before South Africa (represented by the “S” in “BRICS”) joined the IGO in 2010.
The IGO’s purposes and aspirations include pursuing cooperative endeavours in such spheres as trade, investment, banking, security, and infrastructure development, among other matters.
The remainder of this article is devoted to a survey of the following themes:
(a) The role of a multi-party system of governance in mitigating the potential for political leaders to abuse the power they wield;
(b) The role political leaders in democratic countries can play in mitigating the potential for autocrats to pursue unilateral and implacable causes of action;
(c) The role citizens can individually and collectively play in taming the wild and wicked instincts of political leaders; and
(d) Unconditional adoption of the Principles of the United Nations (UN) by sovereign nations and political leaders worldwide.
1. Multi-Party Politics. In the 21st Century, the need for each and every sovereign nation-state worldwide to create and/or earnestly embrace an electoral system that provides for multi-party politics cannot perhaps be overemphasized. In the absence of multi-party politics, it would be folly for any given country to claim to have a genuine democratic system of government.
Countries which have single-party political systems of government, for example, can generally be said to be dictatorships. And countries which have two political parties can be said to be pseudo democracies. This includes the United States of America, which elects the President on the basis of the results of the Electoral College rather than on the basis of the popular vote that would directly bestow the presidency upon the candidate who would secure at least 51% of votes cast during any given national election.
(The term “Electoral College” refers to a body or group of 538 people or electors provided for in the U.S Constitution and that is tasked with the responsibility for electing the country’s president and vice president. The 538 electoral votes represent the 435 Congregational Representatives from the country’s 50 States, 100 Senators elected from the country’s 50 States, and 3 electors given to the District of Columbia.)
2. Leaders in Democratic Nations. Executive presidents and prime ministers in democratic countries need to refrain from making unilateral declarations of disputed lands or territories as belonging to one country or another in order to dissuade autocrats from mimicking them. Former U.S. president, Mr. Donald J. Trump, for example, should have refrained from making the following declarations:
(a) In December 2017, he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel rather than Tel Aviv, the country’s capital, and moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, despite the international community viewing East Jerusalem as under Israeli military occupation. And
(b) On March 25, 2019, he recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel through a presidential proclamation. The proclamation made the U.S. the first country to recognize Israeli rather than Syrian sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967.
Executive presidents and prime ministers in democratic countries also need to guard against the temptation of unilaterally withdrawing their countries from multilateral institutions, agencies or treaties in order to foster the need for citizen participation in governmental decision making either indirectly through their representatives in the legislature or, preferably, directly through referendums.
Mr. Donald J. Trump, again, should have refrained from making such decisions and declarations as the following:
(a) In June 2017, he announced his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement;
(b) In June 2018, his administration withdrew the U.S. from the UN Human Rights Council;
(c) In October 2018, his administration withdrew the U.S. from the International Court of Justice (ICJ); and
(d) In July 2020, his administration officially notified UN Secretary-General of its intention to withdraw from UN World Health Organization (WHO) membership.
Since there was no widespread uproar or condemnation of any of the foregoing decisions and proclamations, Russia’s Vladimir Putin must have used Mr. Trump’s playbook to recognize, on February 21, 2022, two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine—that is, the “Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic—as independent and sovereign nations.
3. Role of the Citizenry. A country’s citizens can also play a vital role in the process of creating a peaceful and stable socioeconomic setting that would have little or no potential to give the mandate to political leaders with despotic tendencies to form government. They can do so in several ways. During local and national elections, for example, they need to put personal, ethnic, and partisan interests aside and reflect more seriously on the goals political contestants promise to pursue during their terms of office if they get elected.
Also, they can, through mass demonstrations, protests and/or rallies in public squares, demand that any suggested amendments to their countries’ national Constitutions, or to the national Constitutions of other countries, should be made only through a national referendum, and after an exhaustive and broad-based debate relating to the amendments.
Moreover, a country’s citizens can, individually and collectively, advocate for reforms in the structure and modalities of governance in their home countries by participating actively in mass demonstrations, protests and/or rallies in public squares.
Besides, they can advocate for reforms in the structure and modalities of governance in other countries by locally staging mass demonstrations, protests and/or rallies in public squares.
Additionally, they can—through mass demonstrations, protests and/or rallies staged occasionally in public squares—castigate countries where the behavior, activities and/or policies of political leaders are contrary to the following ideals or elements of good governance:
(a) Transparency—Public access to information about the state, its decision-making mechanisms, and its current and contemplated projects and programs—except for state secrets and matters relating to public officials’ right to privacy;
(b) Accountability—Availability of a mechanism for ensuring that individuals are directly and fully liable for the outcomes of their decisions and actions, and the appropriation of resources assigned to them;
(c) Rule of law—The existence of non-discriminatory laws and law enforcement organs of the government that are efficient, impartial, independent, and legitimate;
(d) Citizen participation—Availability of channels and mechanisms through which the citizenry and non-governmental institutions can—directly or through representation—have an influence on governmental decision-making processes and the behavior and actions of public officials; and
(e) Constitutional provisions for, and guarantees of, freedom of expression and a free press and a multiplicity of competitive news-media outlets.
With respect to a free press and a multiplicity of competitive news-media outlets, there is a need for citizens—particularly in countries where governments have a monopoly over TV and radio operations—to implore their leaders to put an end to the situation whereby large segments of the mass media are state-owned, under tight controls by the government of the day, and the virtues of individuals’ rights and freedoms are subordinate to those of the ruling political party and the state.
4. Adoption of the Principles of the UN. National leaders need to unconditionally embrace the “Principles of the United Nations” stipulated in Article 2 of the multilateral organization’s Charter, which essentially prohibit member-countries from engaging in activities and/or covert operations against the territorial integrity or political independence of other member-countries.
Specifically, the following Principles stipulated in Article 2 of the United Nations (UN) prohibits member-countries from threatening or, except in self-defense, using force or war against other member-countries in Clauses 3 and 4:
(a) The UN is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.
(b) All Members, in order to ensure to all of them the rights and benefits resulting from membership, shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter.
(c) All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.
(d) All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the UN.
(e) All Members shall render assistance to the UN in any action it takes in accordance with the present Charter, and shall refrain from giving assistance to any member-country against which the UN is taking preventive or enforcement action.
(f) The United Nations shall ensure that states which are not Members of the United Nations act in accordance with these Principles so far as may be necessary for the maintenance of international peace and security.
(g) Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the UN to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll.
A 2023 UN Resolution:
In February 2023, owing to their multifaceted cooperation with the Russian Federation, three BRICS member-countries—that is, China, India and South Africa—abstained from supporting a UN General Assembly’s resolution requiring Russia to “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine and [calling] … for a cessation of hostilities.”
Seven UN member-countries—that is, Belarus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Mali, the Russian Federation, and Syria—voted against the resolution for a diversity of reasons.
Besides, other twenty-nine UN member-countries—that is, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Cuba, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR, Mongolia, Mozambique, Namibia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tajikistan, Togo, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, and Zimbabwe—abstained from supporting the UN resolution apparently due to their over-dependence on Russian oil and/or their obligatory trade relations with the Russian Federation.
(The distribution of the UN General Assembly’s votes requiring Russia to “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine and [calling] … for a cessation of hostilities” were as follows: in favor: 141 votes; against: 7 votes; and abstentions: 32 votes.)
But regardless of their different reasons for not supporting the UN resolution designed to compel Vladimir Putin to pull his country’s military forces out of Ukraine, the dissenting UN member-countries are literally Putin’s enablers and cheerleaders.