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The scenes of hospitals lacking in equipment and filled with wounded people made viewers aware of the suffering undergone by Iraqis during the war, whose victims joined the tens of thousands of those murdered and tortured by Saddam Hussein's regime. Iraq is yet another example of the tragic phenomenon: A despotic regime endangers not only its neighbors and rivals, but its people too.

Despotic regimes are characterized by a psychopathic alienation from reality and an assessment of their true strength. Undoubtedly, had Iraq been governed by a democratic regime, the war would have been avoided and the lives of many Iraqis would have been spared. To a certain degree, this also holds true with regard to the Palestinians under Yasser Arafat. From the moment a nation is denied the ability to change its regime, its fate is sealed - death, for the most part. Democracies, by nature, don't take unnecessary risks.

Despite this, international law does not recognize the right of an individual to live in a democratic regime; i.e., an issue that is likely to determine an individual's fate is not mentioned in the UN's principal documents. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights mentions many important rights such as "the right to rest and leisure;" but when it comes to the right of an individual to participate in determining whether his fate will be life or death, the document doesn't say a single word.

The democratic regime is mentioned in Article 29 (2) with regard to the limitations on the rights outlined in the document; i.e. that they have to meet the requirements of a democratic regime. There are also many rights whose existence does not sit well with a non-democratic regime; but as far as the right itself goes, there is nothing.

The same goes for the UN charter on the protection of human rights: It includes a general article on the right of nations to choose their political regime, but makes no mention of the right of an individual to participate in this choice.

In the EU, things are different: A state cannot be accepted into the Council of the European Union if it doesn't prove that it has a democratic regime. A special body - the European Commission for Democracy through Law, known as the Venice Commission - reviews and recommends constitutional and legislative changes in countries asking to be accepted into the council, or those that are already members.

But the EU's powers are limited, and failed to prevent French President Jacques Chirac from officially hosting a cruel despot such as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on February 21. The protests against the scandalous visit were few and far between too, because the "left-wing" demonstrators were too busy venting their anger on branches of McDonald's.

The reason for this gap between the UN's human rights documents and the essential right to live under a democratic regime stems from the composition of the UN, many of whose members were and still are despotic in some way, and out of fear of causing a split among the international community.

But we are dealing with a central issue, as is being demonstrated in Iraq at present. True, the definition of democracy as a fundamental human right will not get rid of the despotic regimes, but it would be a significant declaration of principles and constitute an initial step that help democratic elements to overcome despots - just as the Helsinki Declaration helped to eradicate the Soviet despotism.

Who should initiate such a step in the UN? Israel is an ostracized and boycotted state; nevertheless, and perhaps even for this very reason, it should be the pioneer and initiate an amendment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights charters. This would explicitly stipulate that it is a fundamental human right to live in a society where one is able to participate in determining one's fate, so that it is not left in the hands of murderers such as Saddam Hussein.