UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres : Democracy plays a role in defeating COVID-19

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  • The world marks International Day of Democracy on September 15, 2020.

    The annual event was designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007 to promote the principles of democracy.

    Democracy is the idea that power resides in the people. It comes from the Greek words demos (people) and kratos (rule).

    Freedom, respect for human rights, and universal suffrage are all essential elements of a democracy.

    This year’s observance of International Day of Democracy comes as the world confronts a serious threat to global health.

    As of the early morning of August 31, 2020, the World Health Organization reported that there have been 25,118,689 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

    The WHO also indicated that 844,312 people across the world have died because of the pandemic.

    The global health crisis has posed not only a grave danger to the lives and wellbeing of people around the world.

    The pandemic has also prompted governments to adopt extra-ordinary measures, which can, according to an August 2020 British policy brief, “often mean the values of the rule of law and good governance are sacrificed”.

    The policy paper was written by Joelle Grogan, a senior law lecturer at the Middlesex University London, and Nyasha Weinberg, research fellow with the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law.

    Titled ‘Principles to Uphold the Rule of Law and Good Governance in Public Health Emergencies’, the paper noted that “restrictions that have been placed worldwide on individual liberty, movement, assembly, worship, education, and commercial activity –– as well as on elections, and the working of parliaments and the courts –– are the most restrictive in contemporary history”.

    The document presented several recommendations based on the principles of rule of law and good governance.

    According to the authors, the rule of law is “recognised as a foundational legal value, and a central tenant of constitutional democracies”.

    “It is a concept of universal validity which serves to both guide and constrain the exercise of public power and authority and, in doing so, protects against the arbitrary or unlawful use of public power,” they wrote.

    Good governance, for its part, “provides a set of values that should guide the work of governments, and performance standards for accountability that should inform the development of policies, programmes and legislative frameworks during emergencies”.

    In April this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a policy brief that noted, among others, that while emergency measures “in most cases…are needed to fight the virus, they can also be politically driven and may be easily abused”.

    “The pandemic could provide a pretext to undermine democratic institutions, quash legitimate dissent or disfavoured people or groups, with far-reaching consequences that we will live with far beyond the immediate crisis,” Guterres wrote.

    In the lead-up to the September 15, 2020 celebration of International Day of Democracy, the UN Secretary-General released a message affirming the importance of democracy.

    According to Guterres, a democratic system ensures the “free flow of information, participation in decision-making and accountability for the response to the pandemic”.

    This point was espoused in a May 15, 2020 policy brief by the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs Economic Analysis.

    “To address the COVID-19 crisis effectively,” the paper stated, “the state needs to be a collaborator, creating partnerships…in a ‘whole-of-society’ approach so as to inclusively engage all communities and stakeholders in efforts to find solutions to the various challenges posed by the pandemic.”

    Such a whole-of-society approach can only happen if the system is “democratic and credible”.(ReyFort Media Group)

     

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