Liberal International (LI) has marked its 70th-anniversary year with 12 months of hard work and celebration to promote liberal values around the world. From the adoption of the Andorra Manifesto on liberalism in the twenty-first century to making international headlines fighting for freedom in The Philippines, South Africa, The UK, and beyond – and it would not have been possible without the support and generosity of our members. Here is a recap of everything we have done together over the past year…
After a wave of populism appeared to engulf 2016, Liberal International started 2017 with an energetic riposte in the form of our Isaiah Berlin Lecture with the leader of the Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, at Chatham House.
In February, Liberal International took centre stage at the annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – the largest annual gathering of human rights defenders and NGOs in Europe – where LI members from Canada, Philippines, Finland, and the DR Congo spoke about their fight against human rights abuses around the world.
“How can a country such as Russia, which is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopt legislation which not only decriminalizes but clearly condones domestic violence?” Two days after International Women’s Day in March, the Liberal Democrats’ Phillip Bennion – on behalf of Liberal International – slammed Russian legislation to excuse domestic violence at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
In the month that LI celebrated it’s 70th birthday, liberals came together on the very spot at Wadham College, University of Oxford, where Liberal International was founded in April 1947.
May was an important month for LI as the global federation brought almost 200 delegates from 56 counties together for its 70th-anniversary congress in Andorra. New member parties were welcomed, a new leadership elected, and celebrations culminated in the adoption of a new liberal manifesto – the Andorra Manifesto is available here in multiple languages. Also in this month, the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP- Taiwan) under liberal president, Tsai Ing-wen, made history as the first country in Asia to recognise equal marriage.
With a new bureau in place to lead the world federation of liberal parties the new team got hard to work with a strategy coordination meeting in Barcelona, charting LI’s course for the coming months and years. Later in June, the Cambodia National Rescue Party would go on to make enormous electoral gains during the commune elections — unfortunately, the government of Hun Sen would be quick to take steps to crush the CNRP. In more sad news, the liberal family mourned the loss of a heroine of the global liberal movement, Simone Veil.
Liberal International received a digital face-lift in July with the launch of a new, modern website to better service the needs of our parties and supporters and promote the achievements of our members. Soon after, LI president Dr. Juli Minoves and chair of the LI human rights committee, Markus Löning, attempted to meet with imprisoned liberal senator Leila De Lima in the Philippines. Denied access, LI made international headlines and forced a response from the hard-line government of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The LI bureau had an active August, with vice-president Eduardo Montealegre leading a regional response in hitting out against Venezuela’s “apprentice dictator” Nicolas Maduro while vice-president Cellou Dallein Diallo led a march of thousands of Guineans in protest at delayed elections. In more positive news, coinciding with an intervention from the president of the Africa Liberal Network (ALN – LI cooperating organisation), Stevens Mokgalapa MP, Zambia’s opposition leader, Hakainde Hichilema, was released from prison after politically motivated charges against him were dropped.
Much good news defined September for the international liberal family. Meetings at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly between the LI president Dr Juli Minoves, deputy-president Hakima El Haite and liberal presidents, prime ministers, and ministers about expanding the work of Liberal International were followed up with triumphant election results for German Liberals, FDP, which saw the party return to the Bundestag with 80 MPs.
In October LI celebrated the formation of a new Dutch government, which includes both LI member parties VVD and D66, led by liberal prime minister, Mark Rutte. Meanwhile, the Andorra Manifesto was launched by LI vice-president Karl- Heinz Paque in partnership with Yabloko (LI full member) in Moscow; this preceded LI’s address at the Inter-Parliamentary Union where liberals came together to call for more open, democratic societies. The LI Human Rights Committee also released its second thematic human rights publication: Freedom of Belief in an Era of Radicalisation. The month came to spectacular close with the 199th Executive Committee meeting taking place in Johannesburg and the adoption of the eponymous Johannesburg Declaration on Better Governance, after extensive work from LI vice-president Astrid Thors and the Executive Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, Athol Trollip. A series of best practice workshops run by the Democratic Alliance, election of a new human rights committee, and the confirmation of a new secretary-general also distinguished the 199th ExCom.
LI was making headlines again in November when news hit that the 2018 Prize for Freedom was to be awarded to Leila De Lima, for her courageous stand against the ‘drug war’ undertaken by president Duterte in the Philippines, which has cost thousands of lives. As news that the Cambodian opposition, CNRP, were on the brink of being disbanded by prime minister Hun Sen, LI put the party deputy-leader Mu Sochua in front of cameras at the BBC, where she spoke about the threat to her colleagues — many of whom have already been imprisoned and continue to suffer the grim consequences of political persecution. Towards the end of the month, LI presented its 2017 Prize for Freedom to representatives of Uyghur scholar and activist Ilham Tohti in The Hague, The Netherlands, as the LI Human Rights Committee convened for its annual meeting, which this year featured discussions at the International Criminal Court.
2017 concluded with the release of the 10th edition of the Liberal International Human Rights Committee’s Human Rights Bulletin – the third edition of 2017! With contributions from liberal parliamentarians across different continents, this version centred firmly on finding mechanisms to address harassment of women in politics – access the Bulletin here. In Chile, the 4 year-old Liberal Party fought its second round of national elections and in doing so doubled its representation in Congress, while party leader Vlado Mirosevic was re-elected with more votes than any other candidate in Chile.
December also saw the departure of Liberal International’s long-standing secretary-general, Emil Kirjas. Emil has been a defining figure in the global evolution of LI, its work, and its achievements for a decade – his contagious enthusiasm for his work and unwavering support for LI’s member parties will be missed. But, with Emil’s departure, comes a fresh opportunity and a chance for renewal – Liberals embrace change and the prospects it brings and it is with this attitude that LI looks towards the future and prepares to welcome Gordon Mackay as its new secretary-general in January 2018. Together with the secretariat team (Tamara, William, and Alessandro) LI will be working harder than ever to deliver liberal values to the world.
Please note that the London HQ will be closed for the seasonal break. Staff will be back in the office from Monday 8th January 2017.