International Day of Democracy - 15th September 2023

 

 

This year's International Day aims to empower the next generation by focusing on the critical role of children and youngsters in the democracy of today and the future.

PHOTO:© UNICEF/UN014974/Estey

By Laisha Johnson / GICJ

  

Celebrating Freedom and Empowerment

The International Day of Democracy serves as a pillar of encouragement to all nations who believe in the power of unity. It embodies the concept of freedom and empowerment; that every nation is and should be built on the expressed views and opinions of the people. It upholds the view that each person is entitled to make a valued contribution to the decision-making process. This Day compels governments to believe that every voice has a right to be heard and on this day, we are reminded that it is the collective fortitude of voices that shape societies, making each nation exceptionally unique and vigorously powerful. 

The Day was founded by the UN General Assembly in 2007 on the 20th anniversary of the First International Conference of the New or Restored Democracies. Since then, it was declared that on the 15th September of every year, Member States and their governing bodies would “review the state of democracy in the world and uphold and promote democracy and its principles.” [1] Throughout Member States, the Day welcomes various activities and events to raise awareness of democracy and celebrate values that represent a significant milestone in human history. Public debates, discussions, campaigns and conferences are usual events that take place across the globe to highlight the significance of democracy, its development and history. [2]

Democracy is a core value of the United Nations. It has been described as “a system of decision-making that takes everyone’s opinion into account”. [3] It is therefore suggested that democracy is not a goal, but rather an ongoing process requiring the participation of both individuals and organisations. This approach helps us to understand the methods we implement to achieve a consensus on the laws and policies governing our societies today. Questions such as “how well does this represent everyone’s views?” should be regularly asked by governments to ensure that nobody is left unaccounted for. [4]

A key observation is that democracy is important for “maintaining peace and stability, protecting human rights, and adopting the reality that democracy delivers not just for the many but for all.” [5] It other words, democracy is vital for the flourishing of a nation and its citizens and for the prevention of war and conflict. [6] For this to be achieved, all citizens must use their right to engage, participate and be vocal about what changes they desire to see within their communities. In democratic societies, citizens have the choice to vote for governments, take part in debates and be part of the wider decision-making process. In some instances, citizens can hold government bodies accountable for the poor decisions which affect their lives. [7]

The United Nations stand as a pillar of hope as it has worked to support democratic societies more than any other organisation since the UN Charter was signed over 70 years ago. [8] Back in 1945, democracy was not endorsed by Member States as a system or practice. However, the UN Charter had the opening words “We the Peoples” to reflect an underlying principle which supports greater participation, equality, security and human development. [9] This principle embodies the very essence of our human rights.

 

Empowering the Next Generation

The theme for 2023 is Empowering the Next Generation and it focuses on teaching young people about the power of their voices which can be used to influence law and policy. Young people should be encouraged to take leadership and challenge the deficits of democracy. It is only through education and full participation will young people be equipped to tackle persistent issues such climate change, financial crisis and unresolved conflicts between nations. [10] The Day presents various opportunities to get involved with discussions on strengthening democracy. It is an opportunity for young people to learn from democratic leaders and associates and be empowered to uphold the morals and values we stand on.

This theme highlights the issues of misinformation and disinformation which are tainting the minds of young people around the world. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres explained that misinformation and disinformation are “poisoning public spaces, polarising communities and eroding trust in institutions.” [11] The UNHCR defines misinformation as any information that is “false or inaccurate”. This includes the spreading of rumours. It also defines disinformation as “deliberate” and “includes malicious content such as hoaxes, spear fishing and propaganda”. The goal here is to “spread fear and suspicion among the population”. [12] There is no doubt that with the advancement of technology, information has become easily accessible. At the click of a button, the young and old can quickly obtain information on a range of different topics and they are free to use that information at their own leisure without heavy restrictions. Therefore, with the infiltration and circulation of misinformation and disinformation, it is evident that information can shape a person’s perspective and influence the decisions they make.

Research Scientist Dr Nadezda N. Isachenko stated that “information and computer technologies contribute to the cyber space, as a tool used for manipulating people’s consciousness.” [13] If the exposure of such content can change the system of values and mind-set a person has, it should rightly be classified as a significant problem in every democratic society of the 21st century. Therefore, International Day of Democracy 2023 is dedicated to the safeguarding in democracy as well as the empowerment of children and young people in the hope of a democratic future. [14]

  

Democracy in Human Rights

The close link between democracy and our international human rights can be seen in article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which states: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” Essentially, this clause provides the right of the people to vote for those they wish to be in government. The right to a general election is one of the fundamental ways in which democracy can be demonstrated.  

The principles of democracy are also demonstrated in article 19 of the UDHR which provides that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The views and opinions of individuals should be respected and highly valued considered that it is the will of the people that forms the basis of the authority of government. Without it, the government would experience great difficulty in creating and monitoring laws and policies that are fair, represent all people and do not infringe anyone’s rights.

However, there are some governments that may attempt to place limits on certain rights. For example, article 20 provides that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Organised protests are a useful and effective method to challenge the unlawful decision-making of governments. In the UK, the government introduced the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (Policing) Act 2022 which places additional limitations on the right to protest. Any protest that is considered disruptive will not be allowed. This may include a protest that is too noisy, or one that disrupts day-to-day deliveries, deliveries of a time-sensitive product or access to essential goods or services. [16] Nonetheless, a constructive and peaceful protest is encouraged to draw the attention to key issues and unlawful decisions that are effecting people’s lives.

Although we may see the introduction of restrictions on certain human rights, it does not take away from the fact that, in a democratic society, individuals do have the right to challenge public authorities and influence them to enforce laws and policies lawfully. These challenges should be used to fuel the right conversations between activism organisations and community groups and result in them working together to uphold democracy.

On this International Day of Democracy, the Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) praises living in a democratic world where every person’s opinion matters. It encourages States to engage in forward-thinking conversation with young people and include their perspectives when improving law and policy. It champions youth leadership – when States use its resources to invest in the positive development of young minds. It strongly believes that human rights are an integral part of every society and continues to fight injustices across the globe.

 


International Day, Democracy, International Day of Democracy, Human Rights, Geneva International Centre for Justice, GICJ, Geneva4Justice

Sources

[1] https://www.awarenessdays.com/awareness-days-calendar/international-day-of-democracy-2023/

[2] https://www.awarenessdays.com/awareness-days-calendar/international-day-of-democracy-2023/

[3] https://globaldimension.org.uk/calendar/international-day-of-democracy/

[4] https://globaldimension.org.uk/calendar/international-day-of-democracy/

[5] https://www.usaid.gov/news-information/press-releases/sep-15-2022-statement-administrator-power-international-day-democracy

[6] https://www.usaid.gov/news-information/press-releases/sep-15-2022-statement-administrator-power-international-day-democracy

[7] https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/democracy

[8] https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/democracy

[9] https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/democracy

[10] https://www.un.org/en/observances/democracy-day

[11] https://press.un.org/en/2023/sgsm21924.doc.htm

[12] Isachenko N. N, ‘The Role of Information and Informational and Communication Technologies in Modern Society’ (Utopía y Praxis Latinoamericano, vol 23, no 82) 2018

[13]  https://www.redalyc.org/journal/279/27957591031/27957591031.pdf

[14] https://press.un.org/en/2023/sgsm21924.doc.htm

[15] https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/advice_information/pcsc-policing-act-protest-rights/

 

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