As the world struggles to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating consequences, we must learn from the lessons of the past 18 months to strengthen democratic resilience in the face of future crises. This means identifying and developing good governance practices in situations of emergency – whether public health, environmental or financial.
It means addressing the egregious global injustices laid bare by the crisis, from pervasive gender inequalities and inadequate health systems to unequal access to vaccines, education, the internet and online services. Along with the profound human toll borne by those most deprived, these persistent historical inequalities are themselves threats to democracy.
Strengthening democracy also means embracing genuine participation in decision-making — including peaceful protests — giving a real voice to people and communities that have traditionally been excluded. The silencing of women, religious and ethnic minorities, indigenous communities, people with disabilities, human rights defenders and journalists is an impediment to creating healthy societies. Democracy simply cannot survive, let alone flourish, in the absence of civic space.
Finally, safeguarding democracy means phasing out emergency powers and laws as the worst of the pandemic subsides. Some States and security sector institutions rely on emergency powers because they offer shortcuts. With time, such powers can seep into legal frameworks and become permanent, undermining the rule of law and consuming the fundamental freedoms and human rights that serve as a bedrock for democracy.
As I stressed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, every crisis poses a threat to democracy, because the rights of the people, in particular those most vulnerable, are all too quickly ignored. For this reason, protection of rights in times of crisis is a key element of my Call to Action for Human Rights.
On this International Day of Democracy, as we look beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, let us commit to a future in which we recognize human rights and the rule of law as fundamental to democracy. Let us commit to safeguarding the principles of equality, participation and solidarity, so that we can better weather the storm of future crises.