Democracy and Emergencies: UNDEF in Commission on Lessons from Pandemic

The Global Commission on Democracy and Emergencies, convened by Danilo Türk, former President of Slovenia, and chaired by Yves Leterme, former Prime Minister of Belgium, issued its final report with policy recommendations based on lessons learned from across the democratic world from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report includes two key proposals put forward by UNDEF Executive Head Annika Savill, who is one of the Commissioners:   

• States should plan ahead, in consultation with civil society, for phasing down emergency powers once as the crisis subsides. All emergency measures should have sunset clauses; and the legal framework for emergencies should outline a clear process for the phasing-down of emergency powers, so as to be prepared for the next crisis and its aftermath. Such powers can tend to seep into legal frameworks and become permanent -- with equally permanent significant implications for fundamental freedoms and civic space. Governments should refrain from attempting to embed extraordinary responses to large-scale emergencies in flexibly-framed ordinary legislation, as this carries the risk of a long-lasting erosion of checks and balances and fundamental rights, and concentration of power in the Executive.

• Open up and strengthen civic space through participatory direct deliberation mechanisms involving selected groups of citizens, such as citizen assemblies. These have been used in several jurisdictions to bring citizens’ input into fundamental questions related to emergency response; and while they remain experimental and embryonic, they have shown their value to build common ground from the bottom up when public trust is under strain. They , have also proven helpful in providing input into some mid- and long-term challenges posed by COVID-19, based on consensus that emerges from the bottom up. add value at later stages of emergency response and in emergency preparedness processes, as a complement to parliamentary deliberations. They will however work best if they are designed and institutionalized before a crisis hits. They must also include particular allowances to ensure the equitable participation of all segments of civil society, including women, young people and minority groups.

The Commissioners are:

Danilo Türk, former President of Slovenia;  Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico;  Yves Leterme, former Prime Minister of Belgium; Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Canada; Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand; Hanna Suchocka, former Prime Minister of Poland;  Han Seung-soo, former Prime Minister of Korea; Martin Chungong, Secretary-General of Inter-Parliamentary Union; Maria A. Ressa, Nobel Peace Laureate and President of Rappler;  Elhadj As Sy, Chair of The Kofi Annan Foundation Board;  Ted Piccone, Chief Engagement Officer of the World Justice Project;  Annika Savill, Executive Head, UN Democracy Fund; Samir Saran, President, The Observer Research Foundation.

Commission web page and full report: