Covid-19 Crisis Threatens Democracy, Almost 500 Leading World Figures Warn
Intellectuals, political and civil leaders, Nobel Laureates and pro-democracy institutions are warning that the freedoms we cherish are under threat from governments that are using the crisis to tighten their grip on power.
PRAGUE - Democracy is under threat as many governments around the world assemble emergency powers that restrict human rights and enhance state surveillance without regard to legal constraints, parliamentary oversight, or time frames for the restoration of constitution order.
‘’The current pandemic represents a formidable global challenge to democracy. Authoritarians around the world see the COVID-19 crisis as a new political battleground in their fight to stigmatize democracy as feeble and reverse its dramatic gains of the past few decades,” the letter says.
“A Call for Democracy“ is an open letter coordinated by 70 institutions and organizations and signed by almost 500 political and civil leaders including 13 Nobel laureates and 62 former heads of states or parliaments. Forum 2000 Foundation is one of 17 organizations that initiated the call. Some of the signatories will be guests of Forum 2000 Conference, which will take place in Prague on October 11-13, 2020.
„In the time of the pandemic, we need to be careful. Governments tend to accumulate power in times of crisis and we need to make sure they renounce it, once normalcy returns. Thus, independent information sources and strong civil society are crucial and need to be vigilant and ready to react,“ says Jakub Klepal, Executive Director of the Forum 2000 Foundation.
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A Call to Defend Democracy
The COVID-19 pandemic threatens more than the lives and the livelihoods of people throughout the world. It is also a political crisis that threatens the future of liberal democracy.
Authoritarian regimes, not surprisingly, are using the crisis to silence critics and tighten their political grip. But even some democratically elected governments are fighting the pandemic by amassing emergency powers that restrict human rights and enhance state surveillance without regard to legal constraints, parliamentary oversight, or timeframes for the restoration of constitutional order. Parliaments are being sidelined, journalists are being arrested and harassed, minorities are being scapegoated, and the most vulnerable sectors of the population face alarming new dangers as the economic lockdowns ravage the very fabric of societies everywhere.
Repression will not help to control the pandemic. Silencing free speech, jailing peaceful dissenters, suppressing legislative oversight, and indefinitely canceling elections all do nothing to protect public health. On the contrary, these assaults on freedom, transparency, and democracy will make it more difficult for societies to respond quickly and effectively to the crisis through both government and civic action.
It is not a coincidence that the current pandemic began in a country where the free flow of information is stifled and where the government punished those warning about the dangers of the virus -- warnings that were seen as spreading rumors harmful to the prestige of the state. When voices of responsible citizens are suppressed, the results can be deadly, not for just one country but for the entire world.
Democracy is not just a cherished ideal. It is the system of government best suited to addressing a crisis of the magnitude and complexity of COVID-19. In contrast to the self-serving claims of authoritarian propaganda, credible and free flows of information, fact-based debate about policy options, the voluntary self-organization of civil society, and open engagement between government and society are all vital assets in combating the pandemic. And they are all key elements of liberal democracy.
It is only through democracy that societies can build the social trust that enables them to persevere in a crisis, maintain national resilience in the face of hardship, heal deep societal divisions through inclusive participation and dialogue, and retain confidence that sacrifice will be shared and the rights of all citizens respected.
It is only through democracy that independent civil society, including women and young people, can be empowered to partner with public institutions, to assist in the delivery of services, to help citizens stay informed and engaged, and to bolster social morale and a sense of common purpose.
It is only though democracy that free media can play their role of informing people so that they can make sound personal and family decisions, scrutinize government and public institutions, and counter disinformation that seeks to tear societies apart.
It is only through democracy that society can strike a sustainable balance between competing needs and priorities – between combatting the spread of the virus and protecting economic security; and between implementing an effective response to the crisis and protecting people’s civil and political rights in accordance with constitutional norms and guarantees.
It is only in democracies that the rule of law can protect individual liberties from state intrusion and constraint well beyond what is necessary to contain a pandemic.
It is only in democracies that systems of public accountability can monitor and circumscribe emergency government powers, and terminate them when they are no longer needed.
It is only in democracies that government data on the scope and health-impact of the pandemic can be believed.
Democracy does not guarantee competent leadership and effective governance. While democracies predominate among the countries that have acted most effectively to contain the virus, other democracies have functioned poorly in responding to the pandemic and have paid a very high price in human life and economic security. Democracies that perform poorly further weaken society and create openings for authoritarians.
But the greatest strength of democracy is its capacity for self-correction. The COVID-19 crisis is an alarming wake-up call, an urgent warning that the freedoms we cherish are at risk and that we must not take them for granted. Through democracy, citizens and their elected leaders can learn and grow. Never has it been more important for them to do that.
The current pandemic represents a formidable global challenge to democracy. Authoritarians around the world see the COVID-19 crisis as a new political battleground in their fight to stigmatize democracy as feeble and reverse its dramatic gains of the past few decades. Democracy is under threat, and people who care about it must summon the will, the discipline, and the solidarity to defend it. At stake are the freedom, health, and dignity of people everywhere.
African Movement for Democracy
African Network of Constitutional Lawyers (ANCL)
Alinaza Universitaria Nicaraguense (AUN)
Al-Kawakibi Democracy Transition Center
Alliance of Democracies Foundation
Asia Democracy Network
Asian Network For Free Elections (ANFREL)
Association Béninoise de Droit Constitutionnel (ABDC)
Association for Participatory Democracy (ADEPT)
Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE)
Coalition for Dialogue in Africa (CODA)
Colectivo Ciudadano Ecuador
Council for Global Equality
Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA)
Democracy Reporting International (DRI)
Democracy Without Borders
European Endowment for Democracy
European Network of Political Foundations (ENoP)
European Partnership for Democracy
Forum 2000 Foundation
Fundación Nuevas Generaciones
Fundación Paraguaya de Cooperación y Desarrollo
Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarrollo Económico y Social (FUSADES)
Human Rights Campaign
Human Rights House Foundation
Christian Democratic International Center
Institute for Democratic Governance
Instituto Venezolano de Estudios Sociales y Políticos (INVESP)
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL)
International Republican Institute
Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA)
National Democratic Institute
National Endowment for Democracy
Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD)
Olof Palme International Center
Parliamentarians for Global Action
Parliamentary Center of Canada
PAX for Peace International
Political Parties of Finland for Democracy – Demo Finland
Prague Civil Society Centre
Program on Democratic Resilience and Development, IDC Herzliya
Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights
Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe por la Democracia (REDLAD)
Swedish International Liberal Center (SILC)
Taiwan Foundation for Democracy
The Carter Center
The Center Party's International Foundation (CIS)
The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA)
The Foreign Policy Centre
The George W. Bush Institute
The Inter American Institute of Human Rights (IIDH)
The International Democrat Union (IDU)
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Organization
The Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation
The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS)
The McCain Institute for International Leadership
The Nadav Foundation
The Oslo Center
The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida
Unión de Partidos Latinoamericanos (UPLA)
West Africa Centre for Democracy and Development
West Africa Civil Society Institute
Westminster Foundation for Democracy
World Movement for Democracy
World Uyghur Congress
World Youth Movement for Democracy
Antoni Abat Ninet
Diego Abente Brun
Ana Vilma Albanez de Escobar
Abdalaziz Younis Al-Jarba
Mohammad Hamid Ansari
William J. Antholis
Oscar Arias Sanchez
Rosalía Arteaga Serrano
Jan Peter Balkenende
Dennis C. Blair
E. Gyimah Boadi
Enrique José Bolaños Geye
Kjell Magne Bondevik
Tanja A. Börzel
Laurens Jan Brinkhorst
William J. Burns
Fernando Henrique Cardoso
Ateki Seta Caxton
Charles Joseph Clark
Chester A. Crocker
Cheikh Oumar Cyrille Touré
Tom Gerald Daly
Sabine de Bethune
F.W. de Klerk
Humberto de la Calle
Gloria de la Fuente
Liliana De Riz
Ravindra De Silva
Cholpon Idinovna Djakupova
Bilen Asrat Ejigu
Claudia Escobar Mejia
Joao Carlos Espada
Frank J. Fahrenkopf
Ezzedine Choukri Fishere
Federico Franco Gómez
William A. Galston
Timothy Garton Ash
Leymah R. Gbowee
Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir
Maxine Tanya Hamada
Sascha Hannig Nunez
Ivan Miloš Havel
Carlos Fernando Chamorro
Joaquim Alberto Chissano
Toomas Henrik Ilves
Jose Miguel Insulza
Roza Isakovna Otunbayeva
Eddie D. Jarwolo
John John Shattuck
Arnold Chung Chin Kiu
Ernest Bai Koroma
David J. Kramer
Sook Jong Lee
Rafael Marques de Morais
Radwan A. Masmoudi
Robert C. Miller
Carlos Alberto Montaner
Wai Wai Nu
Rosa Maria Paya
Bhoj Raj Pokharel
David E. Price
Nguyen Quang A
Miguel Ángel Rodriguez
Claudia Ruiz Massieu
Juan Manuel Santos
Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera
Maryam Garba Usman
Hans Van Baalen
Peter Van Praagh
Mario Vargas Llosa
José Miguel Vivanco
Dov S. Zakheim