Blog

Global Monitor of COVID-19´s impact on Democracy and Human Rights
Published: 13/04/2022
A Tale of Two Years: Findings from the Global Monitor of Covid-19's Impact on Democracy and Human Rights
Public health experts had been warning of the likelihood of a global pandemic for many years before Covid-19 became that long-feared pandemic in 2020. To the extent that governments had prepared for such a pandemic, most of the focus had been on the immediate dangers to life and health. The secondary effects of pandemic responses on democracy and human rights did not become a major area of research until we were in the midst of the pandemic. Nonetheless, International IDEA quickly developed a data project to track the impact of Covid-19 responses on democracy and human rights. Two years after the pandemic started, we have published a new report: Taking Stock After Two Years of Covid-19  that takes a hard look at the data. One of the most devastating impacts we found—that pandemic restrictions most severely affected individuals and regimes with pre-existing vulnerabilities—was something decision-makers should have anticipated. Learning from our experiences, we must put forward more inclusive, responsive and accountable measures that protect public health while safeguarding our democracy and human rights. Emergency legal responses One might have expected that high-performing democracies would be the most likely to invoke emergency provisions to provide legal cover for extraordinary public health measures, but that was actually not the case. While 59 per cent of the 166 countries we cover invoked some form of state of legal exception during the pandemic, mid-range and weak democracies, along with hybrid regimes did so most often. High-performing democracies had the capacity to legislate their way through the crisis, while in authoritarian regimes emergency powers were not needed to take extreme steps. The invocation of states of emergency was not associated with more violations of Civil Liberties. Rather, our annual data show that the majority of countries that experienced a significant decline in this area had not invoked an emergency. Restrictions on civil liberties Certain civil liberties were restricted during the pandemic in the interest of protecting public health. With the exception of Turkey and Yemen, all of the countries we covered implemented restrictions affecting Freedom of Association and Assembly, including school and business closures, bans on public events, and limitations on the size of private gatherings. At least 89 per cent of countries introduced a lockdown at some point during the pandemic.   Source: International IDEA, ‘Global Monitor of Covid-19’s Impact on Democracy and Human Rights’, 2022,                                                          <https://www.idea.int/gsod-indices/covid19globalmonitor>                                                                                                                                                                            In much the same way, all countries we covered placed restrictions on Freedom of Movement, with at least 86 per cent of countries introducing border closures even though their effectiveness in preventing the spread of viruses is disputed. Lockdowns and other pandemic control responses were most devastating in developing countries, where more people rely on the informal economy for income. Going forward, restrictions that last beyond the point of community transmission should be questioned. While Freedom of Association and Assembly was the most directly affected civil liberty, Freedom of Expression is of more concern going forward. This vital support of democracy had been under threat before the pandemic, and is under continuing stress due to three phenomena: a) a wave of repression of journalism, b) a flood of pandemic-related disinformation that continues to jeopardize public health measures, and c) an increase in laws against disinformation that are ripe for exploitation by anti-democratic governments. Contact tracing apps Data collected by a variety of organizations show that 51 per cent of the countries we covered deployed a contact tracing app (CTA), with the highest regional proportion in the Middle East (71 per cent) and the lowest in Africa (24 per cent). The first CTA however emerged in China in February 2020—before the potential for a global pandemic was known to much of the world.       Sources: International IDEA, ‘Global Monitor of Covid-19’s Impact on Democracy and Human Rights’, 2022, <https://www.idea.int/gsod-indices/covid19globalmonitor>; MIT Technology Review's   The experiences of women and minorities The pandemic has had disproportionate impacts on women and marginalized communities all over the world, including through an increase in violence, both in terms of domestic abuse and hate crimes, higher rates of unemployment, long term loss of educational opportunities  and racial and ethnic minorities exposed to increased xenophobia and racism. Moving forward, it is vital that governments fully integrate the voices and needs of women and minority groups in the post-pandemic recovery processes. Building back Given humanity’s previous experience with pandemics and other emergencies, it is surprising that we were not better prepared for the impacts of Covid-19. One of the most devastating findings is one we could have expected: individuals and regimes with pre-existing vulnerabilities were the most severely impacted by the pandemic. Regimes that were already looking for ways to exert more control over their populations found pandemic-related justifications to do so. Governments everywhere struggled to find the proper balance between respecting individual rights and protecting public health. We must think about how to better integrate disadvantaged groups at the front and center of recovery efforts and systematically into our institutions and mend the broken bonds of trust at all levels. The good news is that the mechanisms for dialogue and accountability that are at the heart of democracies are perfectly suited for the work that will go into rebuilding trust. Building back better is possible, but it means being responsive and accountable to everyone.  
Democracy Notes
Published: 24/03/2022
Democracies and war: the Ukrainian and European responses
In the latest entry in the GSoD in Focus series, International IDEA argued that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has set in course a series of events that mark “a turning point in European history.” The immediate evidence for this is overwhelming: a historic refugee crisis, unprecedentedly swift sanctions, and the remilitarization of  Europe’s largest economy. The invasion is indeed an attempt to remake the global order, but it also delivers a reminder of the intrinsic strengths and capabilities of democracies.  To judge from the increasingly elevated rhetoric of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the work of Kremlin-affiliated analysts to develop a post-hoc strategic justification for the invasion, and a since-deleted piece celebrating a swift Russian victory, the Kremlin envisioned the invasion as a bold stroke that would mark the end of Western geopolitical dominance, and help bring about a new, multipolar, and post-liberal international system. The decline of American unipolarity had opened a space for Russia to behave, once again, as an empire. Russia would act, create new realities, and leave weakened democracies to simply study what it has done. Putin’s drastic underestimation of both Ukrainian resistance and western resolve has, for the moment, scuttled these plans.  But the aim of this blog is not to analyse one man’s motivations. The above should not be taken as definitive, but as a prominent narrative that the Russian state, which has often been ideologically eclectic, may return to in the future when circumstances demand. Authoritarians are not free from domestic pressures, and those drivers, as well as the nature of popular support and protest, are the subject of fierce debate. What is more interesting is the rapid transformation of Ukraine’s political geography and its echoes across the continent.  Ukrainians have organized mass demonstrations in the face of Russian military occupation in Kherson, Melitopol, and Kharkiv, and videos of unarmed civilians physically confronting Russian troops are commonplace. Defying pre-war understandings of Ukraine’s political cleavages, many of these cities largely sat out the 2014 protests, or previously routinely supported political parties that advocated for an accommodationist resolution to resolving Ukrainian and Russian tensions. The breadth and strength of Ukrainian resistance is a vital reminder of the mobilizing power of democracies under threat.   The roots of this mobilization can be observed in a post-2014 rise in the participation in civil society organizations, which has not followed the trend of decreasing or inconsistent participation in formal electoral processes:  Given this demonstration of the resilience of a democracy roused in anger, it is worth dwelling on the paper’s warning that European democracies should pay close attention to how Kremlin-friendly right-wing populists react; it is difficult to envision the Russia-led “right internationale” surviving its hegemon’s sudden shift to imperial revanchism.  Russia did not prepare international audiences for its invasion with a propaganda campaign comparable to the one which preceded the 2014 annexation of Crimea, leaving its international allies without a consistent, defensible narrative for their local constituencies. Accordingly, far-right (and left) parties in Europe that have publicly embraced Putin will have to account for their past support in the coming elections.   One well-worn path, at least for the far-right, would be to resort to demagoguery: anti-Russian sentiment may prove to be fleeting, but it could serve as a springboard for politicized discussions on which populations are and are not “European.” However, as tempting as the thought may be, the risk of mass democratic enthusiasm leading to undesirable ends is not limited to one extreme of the political spectrum. More sober-minded politicians may channel popular support for Ukraine into increasingly tough sanctions, which despite their non-violent reputation, can cause serious unintended harm to ordinary Russians or the countries in its “near abroad”, or a rash response by the Russian state itself.  International IDEA’s The Ukraine Crisis and the Struggle to Defend Democracy in Europe and Beyond is available here.   This blog reflects the personal opinions of the author and does not represent the official position of International IDEA.
Democracy Notes
Published: 16/03/2022
Pandemic states of emergency: Changing approaches over the course of the pandemic
With a novel virus quickly spreading worldwide in early 2020, many countries invoked emergency powers (either statutory or constitutional) to facilitate government responses. The legal mechanisms ranged from new legislation directed to this pandemic (as in Czechia and Germany), to the invocation of constitutional provisions originally envisaged for wars, insurrections, and natural disasters (see Latvia and Portugal for example). In the first half of 2020, a number of legal and political scholars published articles that detailed the legal measures used in particular countries (see the excellent collection of posts at Verfassungsblog), and comparative analyses of the world (see posts at ICONnect and Harvard Law Review). Now, at the end of the first quarter of 2022, having faced at least four waves of rising and falling daily caseloads in most countries, we can better understand the connection between containing the pandemic and the use of emergency powers. Data collected by International IDEA’s Global Monitor of COVID-19’s Impact on Democracy and Human Rights show how emergency legal responses changed over time. While many countries invoked a state of emergency (SOE), which in many cases allow for a temporary derogation of rights and give the executive more powers, in the first pandemic wave (as many as 93 in March 2020), relatively fewer invoked a full SOE in the second, third, and fourth waves (averaging 51 active SOEs after 1 July 2020). Some countries in which a first SOE had expired or been affirmatively ended in the middle of 2020 invoked a second SOE in the later months of the year. The relative stability in the number of active SOEs after August 2020 seems to indicate that the optimism of the summer of 2020 has been replaced by governments staying the course and repeatedly renewing a SOE. The surprising finding from our data is that the early peak in the number of countries invoking an SOE in response to the (relatively lower) caseloads of the first wave has not been matched as governments have sought ways to contain the much larger subsequent waves. However, there has been some variation here, as some governments responded to the Omicron wave by bringing in their third or fourth SOE of the pandemic. The characteristics of the countries where SOEs were declared are also interesting. What is most striking is relationship between the level of democracy as measured by the GSoD Indices and the use of emergency powers. Countries at the top and bottom of International IDEA’s democracy classification (i.e., high performing democracies and authoritarian regimes) were less likely to invoke an SOE. However, mid-range and weak democracies, and hybrid regimes, were more likely to invoke a constitutional SOE. Authoritarian governments are unlikely to be as bound by constitutional or statutory constraints as even hybrid regimes, and certainly less than democracies. It may not be necessary to declare an emergency in order to impose significant restrictions on rights. In contrast, high-performing democracies are more likely to have a political culture that enables inter-partisan cooperation in moments of national peril, and to have a higher capacity within the government to respond to crises making the invocation of an SOE unnecessary. It is in the middle where the exigencies of the pandemic seem to have required an SOE in order to empower the government to take action. The use of SOEs may also be predictive of how democracy may fare in various countries as the pandemic ends. High-performing democracies are likely to emerge from the pandemic with their institutions and political cultures intact. There is, however, some danger that the restrictions on rights (and particularly freedom of expression) instituted in weaker democracies and hybrid regimes may have longer lasting impacts on democratic consolidation. In particular, laws restricting freedom of expression and media freedom passed in some countries (for example in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia, Serbia, and Turkey) which were ostensibly created to deal with the wave of misinformation around the pandemic, could also be used to clamp down on dissenting opinions and aid anti-democratic actors now and in the future.