Civil Society Debate on “Inclusive Democracy”, organised by the Conference of INGOs in connection with the World Forum of Democracy on 7 October 2012
Round table on “Inclusive Democracy and Human Rights”
Moderator: Conny Czymoch (Germany) Journalist;
Speakers: Albert Tevoedjre (Benin) Ombudsman of the Republic of Benin; Annelise Oeschger (Switzerland) International Movement ATD - Fourth World; Larbi Chouikha (Tunisia) Independent Electoral Commission, Tunisian League for Human Rights;
Rapporteur: Rita Patricio (Portugal) Amnesty International
This session discussed the interlinks between democracy and protection of all human rights for all mostly looking at the situations in Africa, in particular in Tunisia and in Benin, and in Europe. The session discussed obstacles to the full enjoyment of human rights and democracy and pointed at recommendations to address them.
It was noted that international law protects human rights including the right to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections that are universal and by equal suffrage. Human rights such as freedom of expression, association and assembly are part of the enabling environment for the exercise of inclusive democracy and must be guaranteed by the law. The right to be recognised as a person before the law requires also obtaining legal identity documents. This however is at stake for many. Obstacles to the enjoyment of economic and social rights, such as the right to housing and health and also education, exclude people from exercising their political and civil rights, entrapping them in a vicious cycle of poverty.
The session looked at the revolution in Tunisia that brought hope to the Region but also new challenges.
In Tunisia’s 2011 landmark elections, for the first time since 1956 the organisation and monitoring of the electoral campaign was the task of an electoral independent body and not of the Ministry of Interior. The challenges facing this democratic exercise included an electoral code that allowed for 1600 electoral lists. Only 50 % of the electoral population was registered, the other 50% were excluded from voting. Lack of participation affected in particular the women and the youth, illiterate and people with disabilities. Main shortcomings related to the lack of education, lack of electoral experience of voters, of civil society, and of the media.
In Africa, corruption, nepotism and military coups have for long hijacked democracy and respect for human rights. Only recently Mali suffered a coup d’Útat. It was noted that democracy also requires solidarity from the international community and neighbouring countries.
Problems faced by Benin have included issues related to the electoral lists. Some progress has been achieved through discussion and engagement at the internal level and also in international forums. The institution of the Ombudsman in Benin, a guarantee for respect of human rights, intervenes in a strategic and selective way, in coordination with civil society, aiming at achieving constructive change.
Across Europe, the financial sector is increasingly influencing public policy, also at the local level. The poorest and the most vulnerable populations are being excluded from fully fledged democratic participation. Some say that we experience a democratic fatigue in Europe. Many feel alienated, powerless, and not recognised in political speech. Their needs are excluded from public decision making. This includes migrants, Roma and other vulnerable groups. It was argued that more than “fatigue for democracy” we are facing a “call for democracy” that asks for people to be effectively heard and be given a chance to participate.
Recommendations to political leaders issued by participants:
- Ensure an enabling environment for the flourishing of democracy that guarantees the protection of all human rights for all:
o Laws must be compatible with the international human rights obligations that States have adhered to,
o Public policies must be compatible with such obligations and aim to fulfil human rights,
o Governments and public institutions should be representative and accountable at national and local levels,
o Justice systems must be independent, accessible and provide for accountability for violations of human rights;
- All sectors of the population, including the poorest and most vulnerable, the migrants and the Roma, should be enabled to effectively participate in political life. Political leaders must avoid racist, xenophobic and discriminatory speech;
- Electoral systems must provide the right to vote to everyone without discrimination on the basis of religion, race, gender or other prohibited grounds;
- Priority should be given to human rights’ and electoral education, of the population and the media, in particular to ensure the participation of women and youth. Illiteracy must be addressed;
- Engage the international community in finding solutions to democratic and human rights’ crisis in a spirit of solidarity;
- Recognise the key role of civil society in all levels of governance, through its effective consultation and engagement including in the drafting of legislation and public policy.