Coronavirus imposed several limitations on our daily lives. Most exposed groups everywhere became even more vulnerable not only to health risks posed by the virus but also to the responses adopted. Finding a balance between controlling the spread of the virus and ensuring individual liberties has been a challenge that all countries have faced.
Securing access to elementary democratic participation has been essential. Some very positive examples have demonstrated the usefulness of technology to ensure the continuation of civic participation, as well as the expression of different points of view.
However, measures haven’t always been applied to listen to the will of populations. Unnecessary postponing of elections, reinforcement of barriers in accessing voting opportunities or lack of acknowledgement of freedom of expression have also been witnessed. And here technology has been applied to further restrict individual freedoms, control opposition and endanger human rights activists..
‘In these challenging times, the EU will remain a steadfast and outspoken supporter of democracy, human rights and the rule of law worldwide and within the EU. Collective efforts are needed, together with a new perspective on supporting democracy that delivers for citizens are needed.’ stated High Representative Josep Borrell and Vice-President Dubravka Šuica on the occasion of the International Day of Democracy.
Access to reliable information is fundamental during this period. It contributes to a clear understanding of different measures adopted, their impact on the lives of citizens and the overall evolution of preventive options, such as vaccination.
The doubts of many have been inflamed by chains of disinformation, contributing to added risks of vulnerability and prolonging the combat to the pandemic. Here it is important to mention that the work of civil society organisations and pluralistic media has been essential to combat part of this disinformation battle.
One of these cases comes from Timor-Leste. The digital platform The Oekusi Post gives an important contribution to boost social messaging about Covid-19 prevention and promoting factual information. Their work in three languages (Tetum, English and Indonesian) allows content to be accessible to a much broader population. It also includes a fact-checking website with the aim of debunking fake news that spread on social media platforms in the country.
Needless to say that the effects of the pandemic call for the rebuilding of many structures of societies worldwide. Now is the time to guarantee that global efforts are applied in a sustainable manner: only by doing so, populations can be better prepared for current and future challenges. The voices of all must be heard, and this includes ensuring stronger participation of youth and women in the decision-making process.
To ensure that values are met with concrete actions, the European Union has approved last November the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024. It represents a strong commitment to further advance universal values to all. The EU and its Member States will use the full range of their instruments, in all areas of external action, to focus and to further strengthen EU global leadership on the following overarching priorities:
As a concrete example of the EU action on the ground, this month, a new EU Election Observation Mission in Kosovo has been deployed to observe the local elections. During the visit of High Representative to Iraq, Josep Borrell also announced the upcoming deployment of another electoral mission in the country: ‘We want to continue supporting Iraqi democracy, follow the preparations of the October polls with great interest and upon Iraqi request are deploying an EU Electoral Observation Mission’, Borrell stated.
The EU is committed to living up to its ideals. The pandemic may have uncovered and created new challenges, but also generated the opportunity for stronger collective work on the promotion of democracy.