Democracy under attack

“The response to the pandemic, and the widespread discontent that preceded it, must be based on a New Social Contract and a New Global Deal that creates equal opportunities for all and respects the rights and freedoms of all. – UN Secretary General António Guterres. Credit: United Nations
  • Opinion by Simone Galimberti (Kathmandu, Nepal)
  • Inter Press Service

Yet, at the same time, I wonder why the organizers of the World Expo did not come up with a different type of pavilion, focusing on democracy and people’s participation in political affairs.

In many ways, celebrating women but neglecting democracy and with it one of its prerequisites and at the same time its by-products, human rights, is a contradiction which, unfortunately, should not shocking given the general state of democracy and human rights in the world. .

In this context the summit for democracy organized by President Biden in December was a significant undertaking.

It’s not because the United States of America was behind it, a country that, as we know, faces deep divides in terms of issues related to suffrage and universal suffrage.

It was because the Summit was a symbolic gesture, a statement on, on the one hand, the relevance and resilience that democracy still has for millions of people around the world and, on the other hand, almost paradoxically, on its vulnerability and fragility.

While many people can still exercise their right to vote and express their opinions freely, global reports such as the Global State of Democracy Report 2021 published by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, IDEA, it is clear that democracy is under attack both in traditional liberal democratic contexts as well as in areas where democratic practices are emerging.

Unfortunately, ongoing geopolitical dynamics prevent a neutral debate about the future of democracy and instead a clash of perspectives and with it, different political systems, prevails, hampering an important conversation.

On one side there is the model of liberal democracy based on periodic elections and on the other side of the spectrum we find the one-party system of government.

In between is a mix of hybrid models that, while formally embracing electoral democracy, act more like authoritarian regimes.

Yet there may be another way to look at this equation, one that would place universal human rights at the center of any political system adopted, regardless of its electoral practices.

You may not be able to periodically elect your representatives, but in practice you will be able to enjoy freedom of opinion, the freedom to express your judgment on the current state of affairs in your country.

It is unclear how criticism and dissenting opinions are continually considered such deadly weapons that can endanger the survival of nations, but this is what happens almost daily.

For example, while Dubai celebrates its fascinating Expo, the United Arab Emirates continues to imprison the human rights defender Ahmed Mansour detained since March 2017.

Whatever the charges against him, the authorities show a disregard for the most basic human rights and this is not an isolated episode but rather a constant pattern of abuse.

Undoubtedly, it can certainly be better when it comes to basic human rights and that is why the Democracy Summit could become an opportunity to pressure nations like the UAE to show leadership rather than fear and insecurity when it comes to democracy and human rights.

The UAE, like many other authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, is successful in many ways. Events like the Expo or the upcoming World Cup in Qatar, another democratic pariah despite the recent Shura Council election or the upcoming Winter Olympics and Paralympics in China, show how these countries have found their own way. towards excellence and prosperity. .

There are risks associated with a nation like the United States pushing the democracy agenda, but the follow-up summit to be hosted by the Biden administration in 2022 could offer a way for more nations to step up and to show some commitment at least to human rights.

Will the nations that have not been invited to the summit this year, nations like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, do more in this area or will they just continue their business with a ‘business as usual’ approach?

To be clear, there is no doubt that it would be a mistake to simply promote the liberal democratic model based on elections and representation as the only model to be followed universally.

There are, indeed, other ways to reinvigorate democracy and human rights and, for example, the ongoing conversation on the new social contract promoted by the United Nations could provide such a place to rethink the relationship between peoples and their governments.

This is why it is so relevant to be as inclusive as possible in building on the momentum created by the UN Secretary-General with his push for a new social contract, because such discussions could enable nations like the United Arab Emirates to join and contribute, in their own way. , to formulating better and just models of governance, not just more efficient ones.

Involving young people will be essential.

Recently, at the World Youth Forum hosted by the Egyptian government, another nation lagging far behind in human rights standards and practices, Secretary General Guterres, called on young people to “keep talking”.

I’m not sure how such an invitation would be digested by President El-Sisi, the organizer of the Forum, but Guterres is right to affirm the right of young people to express themselves and share their voice.

More than ever, the United Nations has an enormous responsibility to continue to focus on human rights and freedom of expression and such an effort can help to advance, even indirectly, the global agenda adopted by the President Biden.

Although Guterres may not be in a position to speak explicitly about democracy and elections, he is well placed to deepen the debate around the new social contract and, with it, address uncomfortable issues for leaders in trouble. comfortable talking about democracy and human rights.

And such leaders of states like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Brunei, China or Nicaragua, to mention a few nations that are certainly not human rights pioneers, should not only listen, but also engage on these issues.

Will Biden tactically find a way to allow the United Nations, with its proclaimed neutrality, to be involved in such difficult conversations?

Violations of human rights cannot be tolerated anywhere and it is also a norm applicable to all, including those states which proudly display strong democratic credentials, for example the EU nations or the United States itself.

We hope that one day not too far from today, the United Arab Emirates and other like-minded nations will be able to tell their own success stories in terms of protecting human rights and involving people in local affairs. .

They do not lack the creativity and resources to find their own solutions which, while upholding the highest human rights standards, can at the same time be localized enough to come up with new ideas to make their societies more inclusive, more open and fairer.

After all, a social contract based solely on economic prosperity, while getting the job done now, won’t go too far and won’t be resilient enough to weather future crises.

Simone Galimberti is the co-founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partner of young people living with disabilities. The opinions expressed here are personal.

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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