Democracy Without Borders

Democracy day: international parliamentary support for a UN rapporteur

Opening of the autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in October 2022. Image: PACE/Flickr

On the occasion of the International Day of Democracy celebrated on 15 September 2023, a number of parliamentary bodies and elected representatives from across the world expressed support for the appointment of a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Democracy, in short UNRoD. 

A statement published by Parliamentarians for Global Action, an international network of legislators advocating for human rights, democracy, gender equality, climate justice and other issues of global concern, noted that the new UN mandate should help “examine how the right to democratic representation and participation of citizens is implemented, and how it would serve the purpose of helping strengthen democracy and democratization”. 

The mandate can identify new and best practices to reinforce democracy

“As we stand firm in our belief that democracy and human rights are inseparable, we join the initiative led by Democracy Without Borders on the establishment of a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Democracy”, the document said. Signed by twenty elected representatives, it points out that by “supporting this mandate, we can learn from new and best practices and reinforce our global commitment to strengthening democratic values, promoting accountable governance, and ensuring the protection of human rights, ultimately contributing to a more peaceful and just world.”

Group photo at an international meeting of Parliamentarians for Global Action in 2022. Photo: PGA (with kind permission)

“Democracy is under threat all over the world. As legislators, we have a larger stake in preserving democracy in our countries and worldwide. The derailment of democracy in one country is a threat to all democracies”, said Syed Naveed Qamar, a Pakistani legislator and President of Parliamentarians for Global Action.

The subject of a UNRoD was also addressed in a statement adopted by the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The Committee, comprised of 87 elected representatives from across the Council of Europe’s 46 member states, noted that “democratic backsliding must be redressed by respecting fundamental human rights and freedoms, enhancing trust in public institutions, strengthening the rule of law, countering inequalities, protecting social rights and the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, protecting freedom of the media and the integrity of democratic processes against external interference, opening up spaces for civil society and youth engagement and harnessing the potential of technology while preventing its dangers.”

Protecting and strengthening democracy at a global level

According to the statement, the Committee as part of these efforts “commends and supports” establishing a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Democracy “to protect and strengthen democracy at a global level”, among other things. The declaration was originally introduced by George Papandreou, former Prime Minister of Greece and chair of the sub-committee on democracy.

Another organization that expressed support of a UN Special Rapporteur on Democracy was ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, a network of more than 100 current and former elected representatives from across Southeast Asia. “The global trend of democratic decline is a serious concern for parliamentarians everywhere, but particularly in Southeast Asia, where young democracies across the region risk backsliding into authoritarianism,” said Board Member and Malaysian Member of Parliament Wong Chen. “We urge the UN to give this issue the serious attention it deserves, starting with the appointment of a Special Rapporteur.”

At an event celebrating International Day of Democracy in Brussels, Jerzy Pomianowski, the Executive Director of the European Endowment for Democracy, an autonomous pro-democracy trust fund established by the European Union, said that the mandate of a UNRoD should be set up. He argued that findings of a UN-appointed rapporteur would bear significant weight. The rapporteur could serve as a focal point for international democracy-related research and action, he said. 

In 2007 the UN General Assembly decided to observe 15 September as the International Day of Democracy as an opportunity to promote and uphold the principles of democracy. The appointment of a UNRoD is promoted by Democracy Without Borders in collaboration with numerous other groups.