BRITISH HIGH COMMISSION OP-ED ON THE OCCASION OF THE UN INTERNATIONAL DAY OF DEMOCRACY, 15 SEPTEMBER
In this, the year of the 800th anniversary of the UK’s Magna Carta, 15 September is the UN International Day of Democracy. The theme this year is providing space for civil society. The UK mark’s this day to recognise the benefits of democracy and the rule of law to individual states and their citizens, and to make clear our support for the rules based international system.
Some may question how an 800 year old document can still be relevant. But it is important to remember that the drivers behind Magna Carta – concern about unrestricted power of the executive, the state’s ability to curtail individual rights and lack of due process in convicting individuals of crimes against the Crown – remain just as relevant in today’s world. Arbitrary detention, torture, and state-sponsored harassment of those who disagree with the government of the day continue, regrettably, to be a reality in many countries around the world.
The UK believes that strong democratic institutions and accountable government, which uphold universal rights and the rule of law, are key building blocks for secure and prosperous states. In short, rule of law and a strong democracy are the best way to ensure people are not only free in the political sense, but also economically free and prosperous.
It is a sad fact that the current global environment is challenging. Evidence suggests that globally the pace of democratisation has slowed. Autocratic and dictatorial regimes can be seen in many places, abusing the rights of their people.
But there are positive stories as well. On 11 May Guyana went through a free, fair and democratic election. People were able to cast their votes and a new Government was elected. Democracy was seen to prevail.
The UK supports democracy around the world through country-specific support, and by working to develop an international political environment supportive of democratic transitions. We also work with regional organisations (including the Commonwealth and European Union) to strengthen their democracy work.
We are a long-term supporter of civil society and the work of Human Rights Defenders around the world. We seek to strengthen civil society and engage with host governments, local NGOs and other civil society actors to do this. We raise issues of concern with host governments and through international fora. We also work with other countries and organisations such as the Community of Democracies to highlight these issues.
There are some who claim that democracy is a Western model of government that has either failed or is not relevant in certain places. I could not disagree with this statement more. It is often made by those who seek to justify repression and abuse. People want and aspire to live in countries with democratically elected governments, so that they have some control over the decisions that affect their lives. These principles of transparency, accountability and representative government are important values. They are universal.
We do not prescribe one particular form of parliamentary or party system. However, we believe that where rule of law and democratic values are upheld, prosperity flourishes, and the risk of instability is minimised.
Let me be clear. What we term democracy is not perfect. No system is perfect. But it is by far the best system we have to ensure that Government is selected by the people and rules for the people. That means all of the people – not one specific group.
Some will claim that the UK is seeking to preach or impose one-size-fits-all solutions on other nations. That could not be further from the truth. One of the lessons from Magna Carta’s 800th Anniversary is that democracy and the rule of law take time to establish roots. Progress towards democracy and the rule of law is an evolutionary process and the UK has a long history of sharing experience and exchanging views.
Let me conclude by wishing you all a happy International Democracy Day. May there be many more!