Program Areas

Program Areas

Appointment of UN Rapporteur discussed at Democracy Summit in Seoul

Panel discussion on 19 March 2024 in Seoul. Image: DWB

At the Third Summit for Democracy in Seoul, hosted by the South Korean government, an event was held during the civil society and youth segment on March 19th to discuss the appointment of a UN Special Rapporteur on Democracy (UNRoD). 

According to assessments presented by V-Dem and International IDEA, among others, democracy continues to be threatened and authoritarianism is on the rise in many countries. At the side event, participants agreed that the proposed new UN mandate, to be set up by the Human Rights Council in Geneva, is timely and can help protect and strengthen democracy.

The event’s moderator David Tran, Coordinator of the Alliance for Vietnam’s Democracy, highlighted that the new proposal for the creation of a UNRoD mandate already enjoys international civil society support. He referred to an international statement, published last November, that by now has been endorsed by more than 150 civil society organizations, networks, think tanks and institutions, as well as over 400 individuals from across the world. The statement was presented on the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 2023 and is still open for signature.

According to the statement, a UNRoD in particular would undertake an institutional and structural analysis of the state of democratic rights, make recommendations for improvements, and identify best practices.

Bringing together supporters of the UNRoD proposal to discuss details and implementation, panelists included Thomas Garrett, Secretary-General of the Community of Democracies; Annika Silva-Leander, UN Representative in New York of International IDEA; Ichal Supriadi, Secretary-General of the Asia Democracy Network; Kourtney Pompi, Senior Director of the Governance Practice Area of Counterpart International;and Hong Yoo-Jung, Coordinator at the International Affairs Department of The May 18 Memorial Foundation.

Panelists Thomas Garrett, Ichal Supriadi, Yoo-Jung Hong and Kourtney Pompi. Image: DWB

In the opening remarks, Annika Silva-Leander noted that ”in light of the challenges faced by democracy the world over, the establishment of a UN Special Rapporteur on Democracy emerges as a pressing necessity, as such a mandate would provide a dedicated mechanism within the UN system to monitor, evaluate, and report on the state of democracy worldwide, thereby bolstering international efforts to safeguard and promote democratic values.”

She added, however, that “the current geopolitical landscape presents real challenges”, as some UN Human Rights Council member states are not aligned with democratic values. She concluded that “the necessity for this mandate has never been greater” but “the likelihood of its realization has probably never been more uncertain”. 

In response, Thomas Garrett pointed out that while the goal clearly is to get the mandate established, even pushing for it in itself is already worthwhile. He explained that in UN resolutions reaffirming democratic principles, the word “democracy” often was not used. “This was in the belief it was more prudent to employ diplomatic wording” in order “to gather the needed numbers of supporters”, he said. But even “diplomatic words of avoidance were opposed by those States working against the fundamentals of democratic order”, he added, so a new strategy is necessary.

The panelists concurred that democracy is a human right

“A UN Special Rapporteur on Democracy, assisted by an independent advisory board, could prove to be a useful mechanism to direct spotlight into various situations around the world that require attention”, Garrett noted. 

The session also focused on lessons that can be drawn from the existing 58 Special Rapporteurs, 45 thematic and 13 country specific, as well as how a UNRoD could complement existing mechanisms for promoting democracy and human rights at the national, regional, and international levels.

Ichal Supriadi underscored the importance of the new mandate to potentially synchronize democracy promotion efforts with human rights mechanisms and consolidate related issues such as freedom of speech, association, transparency, and government accountability. 

As part of the discussion, the panelists concurred that democracy is a human right and identified a need for it to be better included in the UN’s human rights frameworks. The UNRoD could be a mechanism for this, it was said. References were made to Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a dedicated mechanism, the UNRoD mandate was conceived as a way to address some of the UN’s current shortcomings in promoting democracy.

Hong Yoo-Jung suggested that consideration should be given as to how a UNRoD mandate could contribute to making democratic rights more robust, going beyond the possibility of merely making recommendations.

Kourtney Pompi emphasized that “Special Rapporteurs offer a unique opportunity to serve as a politically neutral voice, in an organization that is otherwise full of competing political interests. The Special Rapporteur role can aggregate voices, provide access and ask the tough questions that UN actors may otherwise be unable to do due to geopolitical and competing interests.”

Panelists discussed how civil society organizations can leverage the establishment of a UNRoD to mobilize support for pro-democracy efforts. It was believed that civil society organizations should contribute to shaping the mandate and priorities of a UNRoD to help advance their advocacy for democracy.

The third Summit for Democracy, building on the momentum of the previous editions, gathered over 800 government officials, representatives from international organizations, academia, and civil society to discuss policy enhancements and strategic pathways under the theme of “democracy for future generations.” The conference offered a platform for dialogue on collaboration and collective action to safeguard democratic values, strengthen institutions, and empower citizens.

Among the topics addressed during the Summit stand out the imperative to further examine the relationship between democracy and recent technological advancements, combat corruption and disinformation, safeguard the rule of law, uphold election integrity and freedom of expression, and foster youth engagement, civic involvement, gender equality, and partnerships among democratic states. 

The civil society and youth segment of the Summit featured dozens of side events facilitated by the Global Democracy Coalition. The event on the UN Special Rapporteur, hosted by Democracy Without Borders, concluded with closing remarks from moderator David Tran, whose organization Alliance for Vietnam’s Democracy backs the UNRoD proposal as well. He extended thanks to the attendees and called for collective effort to propel the initiative forward.