Ahead of the Summit for Democracy that is hosted by US President Joe Biden in a virtual format on December 9 and 10, the International Coalition for Democratic Renewal (ICDR) issued a statement calling for strengthened collaboration of democracies worldwide. The coalition was started four years ago and now counts over 400 intellectuals, scholars, politicians, civil society representatives and democracy activists from across the world. The statement was published today by the groups’ host organization, Forum 2000.
The document highlights that “democratic governments from all world regions must develop a common democratic agenda to deal with the challenges posed by China and Russia and to address common causes of democratic backsliding at home”, adding that in doing so, they should “closely collaborate with and involve civil society actors and democratic parliamentarians”. According to the coalition, the upcoming Summit for Democracy “provides an appropriate forum” to launch this task and can “jump-start the revitalization of democratic cooperation.”
A UN Rapporteur for Democracy?
In addition to addressing issues such as autocratic governments’ “interference in countries around the world” and the global financial system serving as an enabler of kleptocracy, the coalition recommends that “a debate about setting up a special envoy/rapporteur for democracy within the UN system in order to make it more difficult for the authoritarians to take advantage of the international settings” should be on the summit’s agenda.
Last month, the European Partnership for Democracy expressed their expectation that governments participating in the summit should be asked to make specific commitments. A “menu” developed by the organisation in consultation with other groups includes 41 suggestions over several thematic areas such as cooperation at the international level, national structures for supporting democracy, democratic practice, foreign policy and international development, democratic backsliding and autocratisation, digital policy, corruption, and monitoring and follow up.
In line with ICDR’s proposal, one of the items in the first area says that states “may agree” to work towards the creation of a UN Special Rapporteur for Democracy. According to the concluding document of a virtual round table series on democracy organized by the Club de Madrid, such a mandate under the UN Human Rights Council “could be a positive contribution to the quality of democracy worldwide.”
Civil society “largely left to its own devices”
Less than four weeks ahead of the summit, the intended program, participants, format and content are vague and not confirmed. According to sources of the Atlantic Council and Foreign Policy invitations “have gone out to 108 countries” but it appears that none have been issued to civil society representatives and activists so far. It has also been argued that democratic opposition leaders should be included.
In particular, it remains unclear if and how civil society input will be taken up by the official summit process. According to a report at Politico, civil society groups are complaining about “being marginalized” and “left out” despite an unidentified White House source insisting, unofficially, that the administration is actively engaging outside groups and is “going to involve civil society meaningfully in every aspect of the summit itself.”
“As far as we can tell, at this point civil society is largely left to its own devices with regard to the summit and it is hard to get information,” commented Democracy Without Borders’ Executive Director Andreas Bummel. In August, the organization had presented its own “principles and proposals” for an “alliance of democracies” which highlighted that parliamentarians and representatives of civil society organizations should be part of the summit. “Their involvement must be more than mere tokenism”, the document said.
Under the auspices of International IDEA, a set of webinars will be held by numerous organizations on December 7 in order to “to galvanize a global conversation on democracy”.