Posts Tagged ‘Democracy’

The will of the people or ‘democracy under the rule of law’ in Europe ?

December 9, 2017

It is not often that I recommend the reading of long ‘governmental’ documents, but this time it do without hesitation. The Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs published on 4 October 2017 its 104th thoughtful report, entitled: “The will of the people? The erosion of democracy under the rule of law in Europe”. Below I reproduce the Conclusions and recommendations, but reading only these you miss out on gems such as the section on Media page 27:

“Until the end of the twentieth century the media landscape was dominated by newspapers, radio and television. However, the advent of the internet in the early 1990s and social media in the early 2000s brought about a radical change. The low cost of accessing the internet means that everyone is now, in principle, able to generate journalistic content (through blogs, websites, YouTube videos, live streaming, etc.). This has resulted in democratisation of the media and diversification of the media landscape, but has also had negative effects.

The independence of the media is crucial for the credibility of reporting. But on the internet this seems to be largely immaterial: media that focus on a specific political or ideological niche are highly successful online. Besides the role of the internet, another factor instrumental in undermining media independence is the concentration of media ownership in the hands of just a few companies..The income of the traditional news media is being squeezed by greater competition.

 

Online media are often funded from advertising revenue. Consequently, the facts are no longer necessarily central; what counts is attracting as many visitors as possible to the site, relying on the speed of posting news online, sensational content and the ideological message. This undermines the reliability of the media. As everyone is now potentially able to generate news and the quantity of media content has risen explosively, it is becoming ever more difficult to check the content, sender and sources. So it is easy, for example, for populist movements to claim that the traditional media, especially newspapers, are biased and mendacious. This problem is exacerbated by the phenomenon of ‘fake news’, which is disinformation generally intended to substantiate one’s own political positions or undermine the positions and reputation of political opponents.

Whereas at the time of the Arab Spring there was much praise for the positive impact of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) on the democratic process, there is now greater awareness of its darker side.61 First, social media contributes to the formation of ‘ lter bubbles’. Informational bubbles of this kind are created by the user personally (self-selection) and strengthened by search and personalisation algorithms (pre-selection). This hyperpersonalisation of news and opinion has created a situation in which people are shielded from conflicting positions and isolated from people who think differently. In addition, social media tends to polarise social debate. Although social media undeniably facilitates and intensifies political debate and discussion, the nature of reactions on social media (fast, brief, simplistic, one-sided and often anonymous) has made the tone of the social debate considerably more strident. Finally, social media makes individuals more transparent. Connections, posts and likes help to create a more complete picture of individuals, who they are and what they think, believe and want. Within a democracy under the rule of law this picture can be used, for example, to microtarget voters with a view to influencing their political choice. But social media is also a powerful tool for monitoring individuals and identifying political opponents.”

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Conclusions and recommendations

‘The rule of law is not a peaceful property, a house in which we can sleep serenely.’160

This statement, made by the late senator Willem Witteveen in a parliamentary debate on the rule of law in 2014, remains as relevant as ever. Democracy under the rule of law needs constant maintenance, in Europe as elsewhere. Since the turn of the millennium, the increasingly apparent alienation between the institutions of democracy under the rule of law and sections of the population whose circumstances and prospects have become precarious and/or who feel that the nation’s cultural identity is under threat, has created an environment fraught with risk. In several European states, movements with varying degrees of influence have emerged that want to use democratically acquired power to limit the political status and legal safeguards of other population groups. This indicates that, to a large extent, they do not feel that constitutional democracy, i.e. democracy under the rule of law, is in everyone’s interest, including their own.

As pointed out in the introduction to this advisory report, it is an essential but delicate task, when standing up for the rule of law in the international arena, to respect the democratic character of the states concerned and enhance their democratic quality. As societies become ever more complex, rights, obligations and diverse social interests must constantly be weighed against one another and conflicts resolved. This means that all levels of government need to strike a balance between catering to the public’s wishes and making an independent assessment based on the general interest. Due to a large number of developments and factors, which have been described in this report, this balance has gradually been disturbed in recent decades. Many people across Europe now feel that the institutions of democracy under the rule of law mainly benefit others, including ‘the establishment’ or minority groups. This dissatisfaction is fuelling alternative political movements that promise more consultation and more effective government.

In Europe, a broad effort is required to restore and strengthen public support for democracy under the rule of law. It should be clear to all that the rule of law does not hamper democracy but rather bolsters it. There needs to be greater awareness that democracy only benefits all citizens if it is accompanied by rule-of-law safeguards. Citizens also need to know that their voices are being heard at international level. EU institutions must serve the public visibly and tangibly. That is not sufficiently the case at present.

All member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union are responsible for maintaining democracy under the rule of law in Europe. The fact that national governments working together in the EU appear unwilling to call one another to account for the erosion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights does nothing to enhance the EU’s credibility in the eyes of its own citizens. It merely confirms the widespread perception that the EU promises human dignity but does not effectively protect it.

This does not just undermine norms and values that are a key part of the European identity; the stability of Europe, too, is at stake. If the protection of individual rights and minorities is eroded, this rapidly generates domestic tensions, bilateral conflicts and, inevitably, migratory flows that can sometimes assume unmanageable proportions.

And if the erosion of democracy under the rule of law goes hand in hand with the undermining of common EU institutions, as is often the case, those institutions will increasingly be incapable of taking effective action to resolve such crises.

Even if no large-scale escalation occurs, the erosion of democracy under the rule of law eats away at the foundations of interstate cooperation that are important in Europe. Police cooperation, the European arrest warrant, the transfer of asylum seekers under the Dublin system – all these forms of cooperation are based on mutual trust in the quality of legal systems and the protection of the core values of the rule of law. But if the factual basis for that mutual trust disappears, mutual recognition and solidarity will sooner or later also be put in jeopardy.161

In addition to these considerations, a deficient democracy under the rule of law creates an unattractive investment climate. Confidence in constitutional stability and in the fair and effective public administration of justice is, after all, essential. Without such confidence, investors will be forced to resort to arbitration and other forms of investment protection; they will then have to contend with both increasingly critical public opinion and legal objections.162

Recommendations

Below the AIV will make a number of policy recommendations concerning how the Netherlands can work in the appropriate international bodies and bilaterally to preserve the constitutional structures of democracy under the rule of law from (further) erosion. The Netherlands must be prepared to swim against the tide and continue its engagement on this issue, with a view to preventing the operation of the democratic system from eroding its own principles.

It needs to be completely clear, of course, that such efforts should support states’ democratic functioning – taking account of their historically acquired characteristics; a democracy’s procedural and substantive features must not be further torn apart, but rather woven together in a more convincing manner. This requires respect for the diversity that can exist among the member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union. Alignment should constantly be sought with the common fundamental values of democracy and the rule of law as accepted by all the nations concerned. The recommendations made here therefore build on what has been agreed with and by the other states.

There is a need for caution here. For various reasons, there is bound to be some discrepancy between the complexity of the problems described in this report and the recommendations presented below. First, there is no magic bullet that will halt the erosion of democracy under the rule of law in Europe in a simple manner, because numerous complex factors are involved (see chapter II). What is needed is a differentiated approach at various levels: national, international, governmental, societal, etc. Second, a society can only achieve democracy under the rule of law from within. Individuals and organisations from other countries can merely play a supporting role. It stands to reason that the Dutch government – to which many of the recommendations relate – can mainly offer support in the realm of social developments and their anchoring in the rule of law. Third, the political balance of forces in Europe, especially in the European Union, currently offers limited scope for voicing a powerful counter-message. Only a limited number of European countries are firmly committed to defending the principles of the rule of law. Finally, account must be taken of the increased public scepticism towards EU cooperation that has developed in the Netherlands, as in other countries.

1. Increasing institutional responsiveness

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is the most important organisation in Europe when it comes to setting standards for human rights and monitoring how they are reflected in member states’ legislation, policy and practices. Nevertheless, there appears to be little awareness in Europe of the Council’s importance in this regard. The Netherlands could take the lead in a political re-evaluation of the Council’s importance. This could be done in the following ways:

  1. Working with like-minded countries to secure a greater political role for the Committee of Ministers in monitoring the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in the member states. The Committee of Ministers should not restrain the Council of Europe’s independent institutions (the European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee of Social Rights), but support and encourage them.
     
  2. Promoting the implementation of the Brussels Declaration and the Plan of Action on Strengthening Judicial Independence and Impartiality by entering into a twinning relationship with certain countries and helping them to increase knowledge about the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights within government and the judiciary, and among the legal profession and NGOs, to expand national parliaments’ role in implementing judgments by the European Court of Human Rights in the member states and to create an independent national human rights institute.
     
  3. Taking the initiative to expand the Committee of Ministers’ traditional focus on civil and political human rights to include the social rights laid down in the European Social Charter. The Netherlands could highlight this by providing extra support for the HELP programme.
     
  4. At set times, the government should provide the Permanent Parliamentary Committees on Foreign Affairs and Justice with confidential information about the deliberations in the Committee of Ministers, especially as regards the implementation of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights.
     
  5. The Netherlands can support reciprocity within the Council of Europe by asking the Venice Commission for advice on Dutch legislation in the event of dilemmas like those concerning the judicial review of legislation and the consequences of referendums.

European Union

  1. Within the EU, the Netherlands must continue its efforts to strengthen the annual rule of law dialogue, as a stepping stone towards a peer review mechanism,163 for which there is still insufficient support in the Union.
     
  2. The Netherlands can join with like-minded countries to form a (possibly informal) group of ‘trailblazers’ that launches a peer review. Such a group can set a positive example of European cooperation for EU citizens, including people in countries that do not yet want to participate. It will show them that ideas on the rule of law can be exchanged in an atmosphere of openness and mutual trust.
     
  3. Some EU member states, notably Poland and Hungary, are currently firmly opposed to the notion that membership of the Union entails certain responsibilities in terms of democracy and the rule of law. At the same time, these countries receive substantial amounts in EU subsidies. In the upcoming negotiations on the EU budget (multiannual financial framework) and how to reform it, the Netherlands should seek to link receipts from the cohesion and structural funds to success in satisfying the original Copenhagen criteria for EU accession.
     
  4. The Netherlands can express support for the European Parliament’s proposal for an    EU Pact for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights.
     
  5. The Senate and the House of Representatives can play a constructive role in promoting the principles of democracy under the rule of law in Europe by raising this issue with other European national parliaments. Consideration could be given to creating a parliamentary network focusing on practical cooperation and knowledgesharing on linking democracy and the rule of law. This could be done bilaterally, but also, for example, by setting up a trilateral partnership among a number of parliaments. In addition, like-minded leaders of European political parties should enter into a dialogue in their own political group in the European Parliament with those parties that approve measures at national level that undermine democracy under the rule of law.
     
  6. Dialogue should always be preferred over confrontation in international diplomacy. The same applies when addressing the issues of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Where dialogue repeatedly fails, however, the international community should be willing, as a last resort, to draw a line in the sand. In concrete terms, this means that the Netherlands and its EU partners should make clear that there can be no room for Turkey in the Council of Europe and the European Union if it decides to reintroduce the death penalty.
     
  7. Legislation like Russia’s ‘foreign agent’ law and its abuse of general legislation in respect of NGOs should consistently be condemned by the Netherlands, both bilaterally and internationally, in cooperation with like-minded countries.

OSCE

The Netherlands could in the near future consider launching a candidacy for the Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). This would give it the opportunity to put democratisation and the principles of the rule of law more emphatically on the organisation’s agenda, including in the field of human rights.

G20/OECD

The Netherlands is currently taking part in the G20 at the invitation of Germany, which now holds the Presidency. The Netherlands should strive for ongoing participation in this forum, which is ideally suited for working with like-minded countries to address the adverse consequences of globalisation. As in the OECD, a discussion on this subject should focus not only on trade, investment and development but also on socioeconomic rights, environmental rights and the relationship between government and citizens. The Sustainable Development Goals could provide a useful tool for this purpose.

2. Social diplomacy

The above recommendations are aimed mainly at governments and multilateral institutions. Earlier in this report, however, the AIV stated that international political pressure by governments, however essential, is not sufficient to safeguard democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Europe. Above all, there should be broad support in society for these values, and the public should have confidence in the institutions of democracy under the rule of law. This requires a long-term dialogue with civil society organisations, opposition movements and institutions that can translate international human rights to the national level. The AIV would make the following recommendations for this purpose.

  1. As part of its human rights policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should set up a democracy and rule of law programme that focuses on the member states of the Council of Europe where democracy under the rule of law is in danger. It should also draw on the expertise of other relevant ministries (e.g. the Ministries of Education, of Security and Justice, and of Economic Affairs).

    To support this programme, a rule of law fund should be created. During the next government’s term of office, around €2.5 million per year should be set aside for this purpose in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs budget. The existing MATRA programme, which focuses exclusively on strengthening democracy and the rule of law in candidate and potential candidate countries of the EU and the countries of the Eastern Partnership, can be integrated into this broader rule of law fund. The MATRA programme budget is set to decline from €13.7 million in 2017 to €9.1 million in 2018 and 2019. The AIV recommends that, at the very least, this reduction should be reversed.

    The rule of law fund will support civil society organisations with a regional focus on areas such as the following:

    • People-to-people and profession-to-profession contacts. Through placements and exchanges, knowledge and experience can be shared between socially relevant professional bodies, like the judiciary and legal profession, the ombudsman, educational, knowledge and cultural institutions and the media.
    • Raising public awareness of the value and importance of democracy under the rule of law. This can be achieved, for example, by promoting education in citizenship, democracy and human rights, especially among young people. The expertise of the Council of Europe’s Directorate of Democratic Citizenship and Participation can be used for this purpose.
    • Supporting citizen and other initiatives aimed at research and quality journalism in vulnerable democracies.
     

  2. In international forums dealing with internet freedom and governance (e.g. the World Summit on the Information Society/Internet Governance Forum and the Freedom Online Coalition), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can devote more attention to the internet’s potential role in strengthening the principles of democracy under the rule of law where they are under threat.
     
  3. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs can work with the private sector (e.g. via major social media platforms and the Global Network Initiative) and NGOs in organising projects on digital citizenship, democracy and human rights. A concrete example is the organisation of a Democracy Hackathon, where European software programmers and website developers work together on ICT products (e.g. an app) that can improve trust between citizens and government (both local and national). This ‘hackathon’ could focus on a different theme every year, such as the internet and privacy, social media etiquette, fake news and fact-checking, as well as services provided by local and national government, migration and election observation.

3. Strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its missions

  1. The AIV strongly recommends that the policy capacity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Dutch missions in Council of Europe member states be evaluated and, where necessary, expanded with local knowledge. This will enable the ministry and missions to identify and respond quickly to local initiatives and opposition movements in the fields of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Missions will need to have sufficient funds at their disposal for this purpose.164
     
  2. In its strategic secondment policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could focus more explicitly on both non-governmental and multilateral organisations that exert influence, directly or indirectly, on democratisation and the principles of the rule of law, for example the G20, the OECD and the World Summit on the Information Society/Internet Governance Forum and the Freedom Online Coalition.

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160 From senator Willem Witteveen’s contribution to the debate on the rule of law, Proceedings of the Senate 2013-2014, 22-5-1 (March 2014).
161 For example, Germany will no longer be able to avoid the decision not to send asylum seekers back to Hungary. See Politico, 11 April 2017, ‘Germany suspends migrant returns to Hungary – Hungary’s been criticized for detaining migrants in camps on its border with Serbia’, <http://www.politico.eu/article/ germany-suspends-migrant-returns-to-hungary/>.
162 See case C-284/16 (Achmea), now pending before the EU Court of Justice, which, among other things, revolves around the question of whether the Dutch-Czech arbitration agreement is compatible with EU law.
163 See the earlier recommendation for a peer review in AIV advisory report no. 87, The Rule of Law: Safeguard for European Citizens and Foundation of European Cooperation, The Hague, January 2014, pp. 35-37.
164 See also AIV advisory letter no. 32, Representing the Netherlands Throughout the World, The Hague, May 2017.

Maldives’ Mohamed Nasheed: from human rights defender to president to exile

June 26, 2017

On 23 Jun 2017 the Human Rights Foundation published the above video from its May Oslo Freedom Forum. Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was first arrested for founding an underground newspaper when he was just 17 years old. This, however, wasn’t the last time the former president would be punished for his activism. Describing his journey from democracy dissident to president of the Maldives to ousted leader championing human rights in exile, President Nasheed shares how he perseveres despite the many challenges he has faced. Although the fight for freedom is difficult, he tells us not to give up – because that’s exactly what the dictators want you to do: “Giving up is exactly what the dictators want you to do. It’s why they jail, beat, and torture. It’s why they fine newspapers and murder people who speak out. We can only beat them by not giving in.”
https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/10/16/amal-clooney-speaks-about-the-maldives-at-ai-side-event/
see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/maldives/

The end of USA’s human rights policy as we know it?

May 4, 2017

Under the strong title “Tillerson shows why he was a rotten choice to head the State Department describes in the Washington Post of 4 May 2017 how a long tradition of human rights policy by the USA may be coming to an end.

Read the rest of this entry »

Vladimir Kara-Murza, Russian democracy defender, speaks at Oslo Freedom Forum 2016

January 29, 2017

On 24 May 2016  Vladimir Kara-Murza spoke at the Oslo Freedom Forum. As the Human Rights Foundation states: “The Russian government doesn’t love activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, but he loves Russia. That’s why he is devoting his life to the fight for democracy in Russia, even though it might get him killed.

2016 Oslo Freedom Forum

Rosa María Payá carries on the work of her father in Cuba

June 8, 2016

After her father, Oswaldo Paya, was killed in a car accident, Rosa María Payá had two choices: keep her head down, or raise her own voice. She chose the latter. Today, despite the threats Cuban dissidents face from the Castro regime, Payá is demanding accountability for her father’s death and is pushing forward on his ambitious plan for a free and democratic Cuba. From the 2016 Oslo Freedom Forum on 24 May 2016. https://oslofreedomforum.com/talks/let-cuba-decide

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/09/11/human-rights-defenders-squeezed-by-geo-politics-the-cases-of-colombia-iran-and-cuba/

Shlosberg awarded the inaugural Boris Nemtsov Prize

May 23, 2016

The Boris Nemtsov Foundation was established by Zhanna Nemtsova, a daughter of the murdered politician, Boris Nemtsov, and plans to work in the field of education and raising public awareness, expert evaluations and also in “helping political prisoners and those who are prosecuted on political grounds in Russia.” A new national award, the Boris Nemtsov Prize, was created which is awarded annually for “outstanding courage in fighting for democratic values, human rights and freedom in Russia.”

Lev Schlosberg, a member of the Yabloko Party and a former deputy of the Pskov regional parliament, was announced as the first recipient. The award ceremony will take place in Bonn, Germany, on Russia’s National Day, June 12.

Nemtsov was in 2015 runner-up in the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/saudi-blogger-raif-badawi-awarded-europes-sakharov-prize/

Source: Human rights activist Shlosberg awarded Boris Nemtsov Foundation Prize | Russia Beyond The Headlines

More on the Tunisian winners of the Nobel Peace Prize

October 13, 2015

My short post on the Nobel Peace Prize for the Tunisian quartet [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/tunisian-national-dialogue-quartet-laureates-of-2015-nobel-peace-prize/] is better understood with the post by Dan Smith: http://dansmithsblog.com/2015/10/13/the-tunisian-spring-and-the-nobel-peace-prize/.

Tunisian national dialogue quartet laureates of 2015 Nobel peace prize

October 9, 2015

The Tunisian national dialogue quartet, a coalition of civil society organisations, has won the 2015 Nobel peace prize.  The quartet is comprised of four NGOs in Tunisian civil society: the Tunisian General Labour Union, the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights League [the national affiliate of the FIDH – see press link below] and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.

Kaci Kullmann Five, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel committee, said the quartet had formed an alternative peaceful political process in 2013 when the country was on the brink of civil war and subsequently guaranteed fundamental rights for the entire population. Committee says the prize awarded for quartet’s decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the 2011 Jasmine Revolution

The Tunisia director of Human Rights Watch, Amna Guellali said the prize was being seen in the country as a reward for sticking with democratic principles. “The Quartet enabled the democratic process to go ahead, it was a political crisis that could have led to civil war,” she said. “People here will hope the award is not just a token celebration, but will bring Tunisia real help.

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/north-africa-middle-east/tunisia/national-dialogue-quartet-in-tunisia-2015-peace-nobel-prize-mabrouk
(French:) https://www.fidh.org/fr/regions/maghreb-moyen-orient/tunisie/le-quartet-tunisien-prix-nobel-de-la-paix-2015-mabrouk

Source: Tunisian national dialogue quartet wins 2015 Nobel peace prize | World news | The Guardian

Thai journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk about (self)censorship under the junta

June 19, 2015

On 26 May 2015, at the 2015 Oslo Freedom Forum, Thai journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk describes his fight for democracy in his home country following the May 2014 military coup. Talking about his own arrest, Rojanaphruk denounces the limitations to the right to assembly, expression and movement in Thailand, as well as the regime’s efforts to build the illusion of a happy Thailand. Rojanaphruk concludes his presentation by reminding us that tolerance and dialogue are essential if Thailand is to become a democracy again.

for more on Thailand: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/thailand/

Lessons from the Pinochet regime by Andrés Velasco

June 2, 2015

At the 2015 Oslo Freedom Forum on 26 May Chilean economist, Andrés Velasco, in highly personal account describes how political, economic, and social unrest led to the collapse of Chilean democracy in the 1970s. Growing up under Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship, Velasco is familiar with stories of political prisoners, torture, intimidation, and exile. Velasco argues that the extreme brutality of the military dictatorship became too difficult for most Chileans to face, allowing the violence to continue unhindered. As Velasco reminds us, however, Chilean civil society eventually united behind an incredibly creative political campaign, and succeeded in voting Pinochet out of power. Velasco ends his speech on an optimistic note, arguing that the common sense of Chileans will prevent another democratic collapse.