More than 500 political and civil leaders, Nobel Laureates, and organisations have signed an open letter to defend democracy. The letter warns that our freedoms are threatened by governments using the COVID-19 crisis to tighten their grip on power.
The coronavirus pandemic poses serious threats to democracy. Many governments around the world have assembled emergency powers that restrict human rights and enhance state surveillance, often disregarding legal constraints, checks and balances, and time frames for restoring constitutional order.
That is the key message in “A Call to Defend Democracy,” an open letter initiated by International IDEA and other international pro-democracy organisations including the UK’s democracy assistance organisation, Westminster Foundation for Democracy. 63 other organisations have signed the letter, as well as political and civic leaders around the world, including 13 Nobel Laureates and 61 former heads of state and government.
Signatories include former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Secretary-General of NATO Lord Robertson, former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and renowned British historian Timothy Garton Ash. Actor Richard Gere is also a signatory, as he leads a charitable foundation which aims to alleviate poverty in Tibet.
“The world faces the greatest simultaneous challenges of our lifetimes – the climate emergency, inequality, social justice and economic recovery.
“To meet these, we need the greatest movement for political participation, gender and racial equality, and accountability that the world has ever seen.”
– CEO of Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Anthony Smith
The letter aims to raise awareness and mobilize citizens and policy-makers to protect democracy – recognizing that this is the most effective system for handling global crises while protecting the rights of all citizens, particularly minorities and vulnerable groups.
“The current pandemic represents a formidable global challenge to democracy. Authoritarian leaders 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 states.
“Democracy is under threat, and people who care about it must summon the will, the discipline, and the solidarity to defend it” the letter continues.
Some democracies have also introduced emergency powers without the necessary safeguards to ensure measures can be rolled back, the letter says.
The pandemic and the global movement for racial equality have shown that democracy is more important than ever.
Democracy allows for civil society to mobilise, for inequalities to be confronted, for policy issues to be openly debated, for trustworthy information to freely flow, and governments to be accountable to citizens – all essential tools for successfully dealing with the current public health emergency and its consequences.
“Now is the time when all of us must stand up for democracy. We need to make it clear to everyone what is at stake. We will not allow leaders with authoritarian tendencies to use this or other crises to increase their power and decrease our rights. We need to defend democracy – whether in the ballot box, in the media or on the streets. This is what the letter is about,”
– Kevin Casas-Zamora, Secretary-General of International IDEA.
The full letter is available here.
The list of signatories can be accessed here.