Democracies around the world need to adopt new initiatives to ensure the lasting protection of democracy and civil liberties threatened by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A new report, ‘Global Democracy and COVID-19: Upgrading International Support’, highlights how some governments are using the public health crisis to further curtail democratic activities and provides recommendations for policymakers and civil society to counteract the negative impacts of Covid-19 on democracy.
The report—endorsed by the National Endowment for Democracy alongside 10 other institutions focused on strengthening democracy—is aligned with a recent ‘Call to Defend Democracy’ that was signed by almost 100 organizations from all over the world, as well as nearly 500 prominent individuals from 119 countries, including 13 Nobel Laureates and 62 former Heads of State or Government. [Read more about this open letter to defend democracy.]
“The post-Covid environment will look different and require new ideas and approaches to safeguard democratic practices and combat authoritarian abuses,” the report says. “Those concerned with democracy need to help governments, international organizations and civil society reformers lift their heads from the immediate tragedy of the pandemic and factor in these longer-term political issues.”
The five report recommendations include:
- 1) Establishing a comprehensive monitoring mechanism to track restrictive emergency measures, and guide potential international responses
- 2) Incorporating democracy support into COVID-19 emergency and recovery aid
- 3) Investing in multilateral cooperation to safeguard democratic norms and practices
- 4) Providing support to new civic participation initiatives that have emerged as a result of the pandemic
- 5) Harnessing emergent innovations in democratic participation, such as on-line protests, parliamentary digitalisation and steps to improve accountability mechanisms for oversight of elections, and democratic institutions
Many governments are restricting human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as the freedoms of assembly and of movement, under the guise of battling the pandemic. The report highlights how some governments are interrupting elections, clamping down on political opponents, discriminating against minority and vulnerable groups, censoring media and increasing disinformation and digital surveillance.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is posing unprecedented challenges to democracy. We have observed how governments worldwide have enacted emergency powers to enforce lockdowns, and how some have used this crisis to further restrict democratic voices and to silence the critical voices in their societies. EED is delighted to be one of the leading supporters of this policy paper, which as well as identifying the challenges faced to democracy during these Covid-19 times, also identifies the ways democracy activists have responded to this crisis. We believe that the recommendations offer a way forward to defend democracy during and after the pandemic,” says Jerzy Pomianowski, executive director of the European Endowment for Democracy which led the report.
While certain restrictions can be justified under democratic constitutions, they must be temporary, proportionate, and subject to oversight. It is paramount that any extraordinary actions are ended as soon as the crisis period is over.
“Democracy needs to be defended more than ever. Without rising to the challenge, we risk losing fundamental freedoms that we have long taken for granted,” says International IDEA Secretary General Kevin Casas-Zamora.
Organizations endorsing the report: The National Endowment for Democracy, European Endowment for Democracy, International IDEA, The Carter Center, European Partnership for Democracy, European Network of Political Foundations, The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), The International Republican Institute, The National Democratic Institute, The Parliamentary Centre and The Westminster Foundation for Democracy.
Jane Riley Jacobsen, Senior Director Public Affairs, National Endowment for Democracy [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Christine Bednarz, Senior Manager Media Relations, National Endowment for Democracy [email@example.com]
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was established in 1983 as a private, nonprofit, grant-making foundation with a mission to strengthen democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts. With an annual appropriation from the U.S. Congress, the NED Board of Directors, which is independent and bipartisan, makes more than 1,800 grants each year to support projects that promote political and economic freedom and participation, human rights, a strong civil society, independent media and the rule of law in more than 90 countries. For more information, visit www.ned.org and follow the conversation on Twitter @NEDemocracy; #defenddemocracy.