A new look for our fifteenth birthday

Over the past 15 years, DRI has grown, working in different parts of the world on a wide range of issues. Fifteen is an age of change, for both people and organisations. As we have adapted to the world that surrounds us, we wanted to update how we present ourselves to that world. We built on our solid foundations to reveal an energetic presence, working hard to defend democracy.

We are bold, we are reliable, and we are here to stay. Our new look is an evolution that breathes new energy into our efforts. As we began collaborating with Oana Maries, the designer behind our rebranding, we were challenged by the need to bring together everything that DRI is doing – and tie it up in a neat bow. But while the range of issues we work on is wide and complex, our approach is simple.

What we do takes seemingly abstract elements of international law and democratic principles, focuses on their core, concrete elements and translates those into lived reality in numerous different ways. We zoom in on the essential to see how democracy can best take root where we are working. A one-size-fits-all approach does not truly help people develop self-governance; thus, we work with people on the ground and adapt this core to each specific context where we operate. Like us, our logo is the result of focusing on the essentials.

We also redesigned our website and newsletter to better reflect what we do: strengthening democracy across the world. Now, information is easier to find, the diversity of our team is better reflected, and more content is available in more languages.

We hope you enjoy our new look as much as we do. We look forward to collaboratively growing, adapting and expanding through the next 15 years of DRI with you!

We want to hear from you

Our new website is a work in progress. Let us know what you think and write us at website(a)democracy-reporting.org.

DRI joins call for UN General Assembly to end anonymous shell companies

DRI joins 700 signatories from 120 countries asking the 2021 Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly to set a new global standard on beneficial ownership transparency.

The appeal submitted to the UN General Assembly by Transparency International calls for a new global standard for transparency in company ownership. The appeal comes ahead of the UN General Assembly Special Session Against Corruption, UNGASS 2021, scheduled for June.

In this appeal, we ask that UNGASS 2021 commits all countries to set up national, public registers of companies, disclosing the real individuals who own, control or benefit from them.

The signatories include renowned academics and research centres, companies and business executives, civil society groups and activists as well as several government agencies and public officials.

Go to the full text and the list of signatories

The family is growing: DRI joins the European Partnership for Democracy

As part of its efforts to promote and strengthen democracy in Europe and beyond, Democracy Reporting International (DRI) today became the 16th member of the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD).

“We admire EPD’s way of bringing together democracy-minded organisations across Europe,” said DRI Executive Director Michael Meyer-Resende. “We live in a time where the meaning of democracy is deliberately blurred and misinterpreted to facilitate power concentration and corruption. It is important to work together to defend and develop the essence of democracy and its institutions in Europe and beyond. We are happy to join the EPD and look forward to teaming up for greater impact.”

“We are delighted to welcome DRI into the network and look forward to learning from their expertise and valuable experience in various sectors of democracy support programme,” added Ken Godfrey, EPD’s Executive Director. “Having worked with DRI on issues of democracy and social media previously already, we also look forward to further deepening our cooperation on advocacy. The times call for civil society to stand united to defend and deepen democracy – DRI’s unique approach and well-acknowledged expertise will be extremely valuable in this joint endeavour.”

EPD is a not-for-profit organisation that brings together a network of 16 organisations specialising in the different parts of a democratic system. Based in Brussels, EPD’s mission is to make a contribution to and reinforce the impact of European endeavours in democracy assistance across the world – including within Europe. EPD fosters cooperation between members through innovative programmes, targeted advocacy and cutting-edge knowledge production.

Democracy Reporting International supports democratic governance around the world with a focus on institutions, elections, constitutions, parliaments, and democratic discourse. DRI is headquartered in Berlin and has offices in Ukraine, Tunisia, Libya, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar.

Photo credit: CC-BY-4.0 © European Union 2020 – Source: European Parliament

We answer your questions ahead of Myanmar’s elections

We talk with DRI’s Country Representative in Myanmar, Eva Gil, ahead of this weekend’s elections in the country.

What is DRI Myanmar working on for the election?

DRI supports non-partisan domestic election observers, a specialised type of civil society organisation that monitors the election process to increase voters’ trust and issues reports with recommendations for improvements.

Here in Myanmar, we work with the support of the European Union and also to follow-up on the EU’s Election Observation Mission recommendations, promoting broad-based dialogue and awareness to improve Myanmar’s electoral framework. 

We are also keeping a closer eye on the situation in Yangon. We have prepared an overview of the top 15 townships to watch ahead of the vote during the election.

What are the greatest challenges during these elections?

Myanmar’s 2015 elections were held in a positive spirit and were seen as a chance for a fresh start that would remove stalwarts of the old regime from the government. The voter turnout was high, as were the expectations for a government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Now there is increasing disappointment with the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) leadership and the 2020 elections are held in a climate of discontent. 

The political landscape has changed since 2015, with new national parties emerging – often these are spin-offs from the major government and opposition parties. New ethnicity-based political parties were founded, as the multiple small parties in Myanmar’s ethnic states merged to form a united front against the ruling party. There is a climate of antagonism particularly between supporters of the USDP, the successor party of the military regime, and the NLD. In some areas, unfortunately, we have seen more violent clashes between supporters of the two parties during this election campaign than during previous elections.

A big risk for the democratisation process is voter disenfranchisement, which particularly affects candidates and voters in areas with large ethnic minorities. Myanmar has highly restrictive citizenship criteria and many local and international actors, including the UNHRC Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, have recommended that the 1982 Citizenship Law should be reviewed. In addition, not only must candidates be citizens, but their parents must both be citizens (at the time of the candidate’s birth) to stand for election. The authorities have put more emphasis on the scrutiny of particular groups of candidates – resulting not only in Rohingyas but also other Muslim candidates being disqualified for this election.

These problems already existed in 2015 and a lot of work was done by domestic election observers and human rights defenders to raise this issue and put electoral reforms on the agenda. However, the government appears to have lacked the political will to strengthen civil and political rights while prioritising foreign investment or “economic development” and, to some extent, peace negotiations. It is important to continue supporting and pushing democratic and human rights reforms, as issues such as citizenship law or electoral laws are make-or-break matters that compromise the legitimacy of the political system as a whole.

If these issues were not enough, the covid-19 pandemic also represents an enormous challenge to the electoral process. Many parts of the country are under lockdowns or stay-at-home orders, which considerably limits voters’ and candidates’ freedom of movement. Unfortunately, the authorities did not consult the Union Election Commission (UEC), Myanmar’s election commission, and many precautionary health provisions came at very short notice. For example, the regulations on how to hold campaigns while respecting public health guidelines and “social distancing” came only one day before the start of the official campaign period. This caused a lot of challenges to parties and candidates who had to be creative and adapt to those restrictions at the last minute. 

Some of our partners and the media also report that the major parties, both the USDP and the NLD, have held mass rallies throughout the country despite UEC and public health requirements. This, again, can result in smaller, ethnicity-based political parties feeling alienated and unfairly treated in the electoral process. 

Was there increased online campaigning on Facebook due to covid-19? 

Of course, compared to previous elections, there was increased online campaign activity, which added to the challenges faced by candidates and parties. Facebook has made important efforts to improve its services in Myanmar, holding regular meetings with civil society and election stakeholders (the UEC, political parties, and the media) to better understand the country and more effectively moderate content. 

The specific problem in Myanmar is that candidates are using their personal Facebook accounts to campaign, rather than Facebook pages, which makes monitoring more difficult. Based on our research and that of our partners, we saw that nationalism was a dominant topic during the campaign along with the discrimination of ethnic or religious groups. 

At the same time, Facebook was used as a platform by many of those political parties that did not agree to air an abridged version of their campaign speeches on public broadcasters. All registered parties obtain free space to broadcast their manifestoes through public television, subject to prior review by the UEC. Unfortunately, the UEC applied a very wide interpretation of their powers to review the campaign speeches and many, mostly smaller or ethnicity-based political parties, disagreed to what they considered censorship and decided to stream their speeches on Facebook instead.

Interestingly, Tik Tok played an important role for youth: in particular followers of both the NLD and USDP uploaded thousands of videos to campaign for their party, achieving over 3 million views. If you consider that in Myanmar there are 4 million first time-voters, this is a high figure! Unfortunately, we also found some videos portraying clashes and violence among opposing party followers, as well as disinformation and content discriminating minorities. 

How about women’s participation?

Women’s participation in politics is very low in Myanmar – in 2015, 13% of candidates were women and, while better, this time the increase was only to 16%. On a positive note, while in 2015 the NLD fielded almost all the female candidates, many more parties are putting forward women candidates this time around and a few parties – particularly ethnicity-based parties – fielded about 30% women, a move that civil society was advocating for. 

Several constituencies will not be able to vote this weekend. What does this mean for the overall process?

I already pointed to disenfranchisement as one of the biggest challenges in general. In late October, the UEC announced that the elections would not take place in some areas, in many cases to the dissatisfaction of political parties and voters who felt that the decision was taken in an opaque and unfair manner. 

Of course, as a general rule cancelling a vote is an extreme measure that should only be implemented under very specific circumstances and, in that case, votes should rather be postponed than cancelled. The problem in Myanmar is that there are no clear criteria to determine where the vote would be cancelled or postponed, as the laws give the UEC very broad powers to cancel elections “where the situation does not permit”. There appears to be a lot of back and forth lately between the UEC, the government and the military about the number of constituencies where voting was cancelled and who is to blame. This could all have been avoided if there had been clear and objective criteria in the law that guide the UEC, along with written and public documentation of its decisions. 

When it comes to the right to participate in elections, the partial cancellations are a total restriction of voter rights: the election goes ahead and voters in some wards and villages are excluded, although the winning candidate for that area will still represent all voters in that constituency.

If the whole election in a constituency is cancelled, it actually means that it is postponed as voters might at least have the chance to vote at a later stage (probably within a year, through by-elections). The postponements might still have political implications, though, in particular at the state and regional level where the margins are smaller. 

Again, disenfranchisement is a huge problem in Myanmar and it has many dimensions. But when it comes to cancellations, for example, a solution such as agreeing on clear legal criteria in a broad consensus would avoid political problems and allegations of bias in the future. In other words, by failing to reform problems within the election framework, the credibility of the process is weakened. This is not only contributing to disenfranchisement but also affecting the credibility of the democratic institutions as such. We hope that the next government will take these up and involve all stakeholders in making the laws clearer and more specific so that election processes in future will be more inclusive, transparent and credible. 

What role are domestic election observers playing in the process? Will they be able to provide a truthful picture of the reality on the ground, given the covid-19 restrictions?

As Myanmar’s airports are still closed to all commercial air traffic, foreign journalists will not be able to enter the country and the international press will hardly cover these elections. The same applies to international observation missions: the EU has decided to send an Election Expert Mission, which does not include a big number of observers. Both the Carter Center and ANFREL were only able to deploy a limited number of locally established international observers. 

In this context, the pressure on domestic observers is huge and they suffered a lot of challenges as a consequence of the covid-19 restrictions. For example, observer organisations had trouble recruiting volunteers because potential candidates were afraid of coming into contact with the virus in overcrowded polling stations and travel between townships is restricted. 

We supported CSOs in adapting their methodology to these challenges and they will still have evidence and data to prepare their analysis and recommendations. Of course, we must manage expectations of what can be done under these special circumstances.

What is next for DRI Myanmar?

We hope that the discontent with this election, in particular with the election management body, will help us raise electoral reforms on the political agenda. Of course, the winners of any election will have little incentive to change a system that benefits them, but electoral reforms mean much more than electoral system change! 

I want to highlight that the grey areas and inconsistencies that we had already pointed out in 2015 have created big political problems in 2020. The next government and legislature should prioritise electoral reform and generate a broad debate – including with minority and ethnicity-based parties – to reform the democratic “rules of the game” so that everyone feels treated fairly. 

We also see this as an essential part of the peacebuilding process. You cannot build a new union if conflict actors, armed ethnic groups and ethnicity-based political parties do not agree to how elections, the very essence of democratic practice, are carried out.

Find out more about DRI Myanmar’s work here, or reach out to us at [email protected] with your questions.

This was prepared under the European Union (EU) funded project ‘Support to Electoral Processes and Democracy – STEP II Democracy’ –  which supports inclusive, peaceful and credible electoral processes, and enhances the capacity of stakeholders to strengthen the democratic transition in Myanmar.  

Photo credit: United Nations Photo / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Myanmar: Civil society observers get ready for election

Given the current circumstances, we have removed the names of individuals and local organisations from this article for their own protection.

With  Myanmar’s 8 November elections approaching fast, DRI partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US-based non-profit organisation FHI 360 to hold a second Election Academy from 21 to 25 September, put together under the EU-funded STEP Democracy Programme. Participants from domestic election observation groups, political parties and media discussed electoral issues such as the mandate of the Union Election Commission (UEC), campaign rules, polling, counting and announcing results.

The training combined lectures on international standards for elections and the legal framework in Myanmar with interactive breakout discussions, in which participants could share their experiences. They also had the chance to evaluate the current election laws and determine which amendments would be necessary to meet international standards.

One participant shared her perspective on the academy:

“We all need to know the election laws and international electoral standards to make sure we have genuine elections. At this training, I learned new facts about election offences and malpractices, as well as dispute resolution procedures. As I am now working on communications in my organisation, I feel more confident to share news and information about the electoral process. In addition, I now have a clearer knowledge of the facts around elections and will highlight it in my communications community if they share wrong facts or disseminate misinformation.”

“I discovered details about each of the stages of the election cycle. As participants were from different states and regions, I could hear and exchange about the specific challenges across the country. I also found the case studies we discussed very useful: I learned about other countries which held and postponed elections due to covid-19, a very timely discussion for us in Myanmar. As I am now working on voter education, I will add these lessons to my training module and will share the knowledge in my community,” said another participant.

This activity is part of our work to support credible elections and enhance the capacity of stakeholders involved in electoral advocacy. In addition, DRI will work with participants to form an alumni network, which then can contribute to a debate on broad-based election reform.

This was prepared under the European Union (EU) funded project ‘Support to Electoral Processes and Democracy – STEP II Democracy’ –  which supports inclusive, peaceful and credible electoral processes, and enhances the capacity of stakeholders to strengthen the democratic transition in Myanmar.  

Photo credit: soelin / CC BY 2.0

Statement: The EU should step up to support the people of Belarus

Last Sunday Belarusians cast their votes in a highly charged and contested presidential election. After several opposition candidates were prevented from participating and others were arrested, the election came down to a contest between incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko, in office since 1994, and Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

In contrast to previous presidential elections, neither the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) – Europe’s leading intergovernmental election-monitoring body – nor other credible international organisation observed the election. According to ODIHR’s Director at the time, the lack of a timely invitation more than two months ahead of the election reflected a lack of commitment on the part of the Belarusian authorities to co-operate with ODIHR election observers as envisaged by OSCE commitments.

According to a civil society assessment of media conduct, throughout the campaign state-owned media overwhelmingly supported the incumbent president, forcing the opposition, who were denied fair access to radio and TV channels, to rely on social media. This finding, prepared by Memo 98, the Eurasian States in Transition (EAST) Research Center and Linking Media, was one of many elements leading to the conclusion that the election never had the semblance of an honest, competitive vote.

Widespread protests erupted across Belarus after the first official reports indicated that Lukashenko had won a landslide victory, with Tikhanovskaya coming third after the “reject all candidates” option.  People have taken to the streets in large numbers to peacefully protest that the election results were rigged. These protests were met with a brutal response from the authorities, resulting in injury and a number of deaths.

Fearing for her safety, Tikhanovskaya has sought sanctuary in Lithuania after apparently being forced to record a video accepting the official results and calling for demonstrations to stop.

Belarus has a history of fraudulent elections, which have been heavily criticised by the OSCE/ODIHR and other international observers since the mid-1990s. Both the framework and conduct of elections are deeply flawed. They would require a comprehensive overhaul to bring them in line with international obligations and standards for democratic elections.

Belarus has long been of interest to the European Union (EU), demonstrated by its inclusion in the Eastern Partnership programme, which aims to deepen and strengthen relations between the EU and its six Eastern European neighbours. Until 2015, the EU maintained an array of sanctions on senior Belarussian officials and businesses and the human rights, democracy and rule of law situations in the country were a regular focus of EU external policy, with the EU spearheading initiatives such as resolutions on human rights in Belarus at the United Nations.

Since 2015, the EU has suspended sanctions and lifted the pressure on the Belarusian government as the Lukashenko administration softened its stance towards the opposition and engaged with them in a more constructive dialogue. This approach appears to have initially seen success, but their actions surrounding the presidential election indicate that the Belarusian authorities have reverted, once again, to authoritarian crackdown on democratic dissent.

The situation in Belarus is not only of concern to its immediate EU neighbours Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. It also concerns the EU’s ambition for global geopolitical relevance. EU’s core external policy documents: the 2012 Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy, the 2016 Global Strategy and the 2020 Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy all mandate the EU to work on strengthening of democratic processes and respect for political rights: the right to vote and stand in elections, the freedom of assembly, the freedom of association and the freedom of expression and the media worldwide.

Many states, including Belarus, have freely committed to respecting obligations of democracy and genuine elections, as outlined in our 2012 policy paper: Overview of State Obligations Relevant to Democratic Governance and Elections.

Right next door to the EU, people’s democratic aspirations are being crushed.  It is important that, at this moment, the EU steps up to offer support in the spirit of the democratic and human rights principles it espouses.

We urge that consideration be given to the following actions:

  1. Establishing an immediate independent investigation, possibly involving the European Parliament, to review and report on the significant flaws of these elections, including the on-going post-election phase. The Belarusian authorities did not allow credible international election observation, but the events can still be investigated.
  2. Reinstating previous sanctions on senior officials, and businesses as well as imposing new ones, including asset freezes and restrictions on movement across the EU, targeting Aleksander Lukashenko, his inner circle, senior election officials involved in fraud, and entrepreneurs linked to the government. Yesterday’s statement by the EU’s High-Representative already raised this possibility.
  3. Providing support to politicians, supporters, civil society actors and their families who fear for their safety and seek refuge in the EU Member States.

Democracy Reporting International (DRI) strengthens democracy by shaping the institutions that make it sustainable. We support local ways of promoting democracy with impartial analysis and good practices, bringing international standards to life. Sign-up to our newsletter to stay up-to-date. 

Photo caption: Rally in support of Sviatlana Tsikhanoŭskaya, 30 July 2020, Minsk, Belarus
Photo credit: Homoatrox, CC BY-SA 3.0

A Call to Defend Democracy

Democracy Reporting International has joined International IDEA, the National Endowment for Democracy and over 500 other individuals and organisations to issue this global call to defend democracy. We continue to do our part, working to strengthen justice, elections, democratic discourse and local governance everywhere we work.

Join the movement and sign the global declaration here. 

The COVID-19 pandemic threatens more than the lives and the livelihoods of people throughout the world.  It is also a political crisis that threatens the future of liberal democracy.

Authoritarian regimes, not surprisingly, are using the crisis to silence critics and tighten their political grip. But even some democratically elected governments are fighting the pandemic by amassing emergency powers that restrict human rights and enhance state surveillance without regard to legal constraints, parliamentary oversight, or timeframes for the restoration of constitutional order.  Parliaments are being sidelined, journalists are being arrested and harassed, minorities are being scapegoated, and the most vulnerable sectors of the population face alarming new dangers as the economic lockdowns ravage the very fabric of societies everywhere.

Repression will not help to control the pandemic.  Silencing free speech, jailing peaceful dissenters, suppressing legislative oversight, and indefinitely cancelling elections all do nothing to protect public health.  On the contrary, these assaults on freedom, transparency, and democracy will make it more difficult for societies to respond quickly and effectively to the crisis through both government and civic action.

It is not a coincidence that the current pandemic began in a country where the free flow of information is stifled and where the government punished those warning about the dangers of the virus—warnings that were seen as spreading rumours harmful to the prestige of the state.  When voices of responsible citizens are suppressed, the results can be deadly, not for just one country but for the entire world.

Democracy is not just a cherished ideal.  It is the system of government best suited to addressing a crisis of the magnitude and complexity of COVID-19. In contrast to the self-serving claims of authoritarian propaganda, credible and free flows of information, fact-based debate about policy options, the voluntary self-organization of civil society, and open engagement between government and society are all vital assets in combating the pandemic.  And they are all key elements of liberal democracy.

It is only through democracy that societies can build the social trust that enables them to persevere in a crisis, maintain national resilience in the face of hardship, heal deep societal divisions through inclusive participation and dialogue, and retain confidence that sacrifice will be shared and the rights of all citizens respected.

It is only through democracy that independent civil society, including women and young people, can be empowered to partner with public institutions, to assist in the delivery of services, to help citizens stay informed and engaged, and to bolster social morale and a sense of common purpose.

It is only through democracy that free media can play their role of informing people so that they can make sound personal and family decisions, scrutinize government and public institutions, and counter disinformation that seeks to tear societies apart.

It is only through democracy that society can strike a sustainable balance between competing needs and priorities – between combatting the spread of the virus and protecting economic security; and between implementing an effective response to the crisis and protecting people’s civil and political rights in accordance with constitutional norms and guarantees.

It is only in democracies that the rule of law can protect individual liberties from state intrusion and constraint well beyond what is necessary to contain a pandemic.

It is only in democracies that systems of public accountability can monitor and circumscribe emergency government powers, and terminate them when they are no longer needed.

It is only in democracies that government data on the scope and health-impact of the pandemic can be believed.

Democracy does not guarantee competent leadership and effective governance.  While democracies predominate among the countries that have acted most effectively to contain the virus, other democracies have functioned poorly in responding to the pandemic and have paid a very high price in human life and economic security.  Democracies that perform poorly further weaken society and create openings for authoritarians.

But the greatest strength of democracy is its capacity for self-correction.  The COVID-19 crisis is an alarming wake-up call, an urgent warning that the freedoms we cherish are at risk and that we must not take them for granted.  Through democracy, citizens and their elected leaders can learn and grow.  Never has it been more important for them to do that.

The current pandemic represents a formidable global challenge to democracy.  Authoritarians around the world see the COVID-19 crisis as a new political battleground in their fight to stigmatize democracy as feeble and reverse its dramatic gains of the past few decades.  Democracy is under threat, and people who care about it must summon the will, the discipline, and the solidarity to defend it.  At stake are the freedom, health, and dignity of people everywhere.

Join the movement and sign the global declaration here. 

Myanmar 2020: How to balance democracy and public health?

When it comes to democracy, countries across the world are faced with a dilemma during the covid-19 pandemic: should they hold elections at the cost of public health or postpone them at the cost of people’s right to vote?

Before Myanmar’s general elections set for November 2020, the Union Election Commission and election stakeholders must discuss and decide on how to adapt the electoral process to mitigate public health risks. Civil society groups have a key role to play, presenting their concerns as well as proposing potential solutions.

To help overcome this challenge, DRI Myanmar has been holding a series of webinars with civil society and international experts to share experiences from Sri Lanka, New Zealand, as well as some European and African countries. This shared knowledge forms the basis for constructive discussion on how to tackle risks during Myanmar’s election.

One civil society participant noted: “Through the webinar series, I was able to learn about other countries and felt that we are not alone in overcoming this situation. I could share my perspective and insights on the possible approaches to mitigate the public health risks during elections and I believe that with my knowledge from the webinar series, I can effectively present advocacy points to political parties and the government. I also plan to share these on social media for public awareness on elections.”

DRI supports national election observers in Myanmar as part of the STEP Democracy Programme funded by the European Union. We will continue to organise webinars on elections and covid-19 to strengthen local civil society groups involved in election observation and advocacy.

Webinar: The Rule of Law and Long-Term Impacts of Covid-19 Emergency Measures

Almost all EU Member States have introduced states of emergency or enacted similar measures to contain the spread of covid-19. These legal regimes have profoundly affected the rule of law, altering the political and legal landscape. As EU countries gradually lift the lockdowns and begin opening their borders and economies, which emergency measures will remain in place? Businesses are re-opening, but freedom of assembly remains restricted and courts function at minimum capacity. Simultaneously, while attention is focused on the fight against the virus, measures might intentionally or accidentally escape scrutiny and remain in force despite no longer being needed.

Our webinar, held on 9 June 2020, explored these challenges, their lingering consequences and dangerous developments, focusing on the situation in Finland, Hungary, Italy and Poland, as well as on cross-cutting issues common to all EU Member States.

Our panellists included:

  • Professor Cristina Fasone (Assistant Professor in Comparative Public Law at Luiss Guido Carlo, Rome)
  • Jakub Jaraczewski (Legal Officer, Democracy Reporting International)
  • Professor Kim Lane Scheppele (Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School and the University Center for Human Values, Princeton University)
  • Professor Martin Scheinin (Professor of International Law and Human Rights, European University Institute, Florence; former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism)

In Hungary, worrying reforms and dangerous adjustments to the constitutional framework are underway whereas in Poland, strict measures overlap with an impending overload of courts and an ongoing attempt to hold the presidential election. In Italy, a fractured legal landscape of measures met one of the most severe outbreaks of the virus while in Finland – a country almost serene by comparison – the pandemic nevertheless provided unique legal challenges. 

Despite different experiences in both the outbreak of covid-19 and the reaction to it, all four countries face some common challenges. The constitutional frameworks for states of emergency were tested, with some countries forgoing them altogether. Emergency measures were introduced using a wide, and frequently confusing, variety of instruments, leading to a lack of legal certainty. In the extreme case of Hungary, these measures give rise to the fear of a permanent state of emergency. In all four countries, courts are set to face a daunting task of dealing with an overload of postponed and delayed cases while facing new “corona-cases” unique to the circumstances related to the pandemic. 

Questions from the audience touched upon lessons learnt for drafting emergency legislation and the role of the civil society in the process of countering a pandemic. 

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This webinar was organised in cooperation with the RECONNECT programme.

Democracy Reporting International (DRI) works to improve public understanding of the rule of law in the EU as part of the re:constitution programme funded by Stiftung Mercator. Sign-up to DRI’s newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to find out more about the rule of law in Europe.

Tunisia: Work continues, pandemic or not

By Yasmine Chaouch, Communications Officer, DRI Tunisia

We have been working with local authorities and civil society groups in Tunisia, strengthening the country’s democratic transformation and supporting the implementation of the Local Government Code, which frames how municipalities can operate. We have been able to lay the groundwork for collaboration between civil society groups and local governments through workshops, publications and several reports monitoring the implementation of the constitution.

This year, a notable focus of our work has been working with four civil society groups from the municipalities of Ariana and Hencha to help improve how they manage projects and support their work in partnership with their local municipalities.

This work was to start on 12 March 2020, continuing throughout March and April. Little did we know that the whole country would go into a national lockdown after our first day, on 13 March. We had to think fast and adapt to the situation as there was no crisis plan for the four civil society groups or their municipal partners.


“Lockdown or not, Ramadan or not, the work continues. It was a great experience to collaborate and work online with DRI,” said participant Aicha Karafi Hosni.


With a little coordination between our team and our partners, we set up a virtual training room via visio.tn, a Tunisian platform, complete with separate workshop spaces for every civil society organisation to work on their strategy and brainstorm on how to deal with the current situation with the local authorities.

While the main pillars for the training were kept, on drafting project proposals, choosing the right work plan, identifying indicators, and other elements, we also had to improvise with new themes, such as how to respond quickly to a crisis and widening the risk assessment matrix that needs to go with every project.

“The training is vital for anyone who claims to want to make a change, even small. It was an intense and deep reflection on the purpose of citizen engagement, on what we want to do, on what we can do and especially on what we cannot do,” said Elyssa Amara. “A real intellectual confinement, in addition to the physical confinement, which taught us to be very careful in the choice of our project and very precise in the way making it alive.”

Thankfully, despite the physical limitations, participants easily joined and took part in the workshops and plan to keep working online to finalize and present their projects.

This activity took place as part of the third phase of the “Support to the Constitution Implementation in Tunisia” project, funded and supported by the German Federal Foreign Office.

Strengthening Libya’s civil society despite the lockdown

By Wedad Ibrahim, Project Manager at DRI Libya

For civil society’s work to make a real difference, projects need to be based on real needs and address challenges in concrete ways. We were planning on training ten civil society groups to help accomplish this, sharing tools and good practices. With the knowledge acquired, these groups would be able to apply for funds more effectively to implement their own projects. However, as the covid-19 pandemic reminded us, the best-laid plans can quickly need to be adapted.

At DRI Libya, we are used to navigating around conflict to work with civil society, but the lockdown imposed in response to the coronavirus meant that we needed to find a solution that would work. We knew that we wanted to move the training online, the question was making sure that our partners would be able to access the relevant information despite power outages and bad internet access.

We were finally able to find a solution that would work for all our participants through social media, enabling them to download training materials to consume offline as needed. We also made sure that these training materials had both audio and visual elements, to adapt to our audience’s needs.

I am happy to say that our efforts were not in vain. Najat Al Malti, from the Nana Marne Charity Organisation, noted that “This was a creative solution to the problem. The materials were clear and included all the information that we need. Having the material available in different ways makes it easier for us to share it with others even beyond the training.”

Including Najat, 21 participants, including ten women, took part, representing ten organisations from Libya’s three regions. This included three organisations that focus on including youth and women in decision-making processes, three working with Amazigh or Tuareg people, two groups that focus on women’s issues, and one organisation that works with people with disabilities.

This work took place as part of the “Strengthening Civil Society Engagement on the Constitution and Political Transition” project financed by the German Federal Foreign Office.

How a Lebanese municipality is protecting households affected by covid-19

By Mostapha Raad, Communications Officer at DRI Lebanon

The municipality of Ejdebrine in Koura, North-Lebanon, was quick to support its citizens amid the ongoing spread of the Coronavirus in Lebanon.

On 24 March, the residents of Ejdebrine were surprised by a Facebook post published by their mayor, Jocelyn Al-Bayeh, who announced: “The better our psychological state, the stronger our immunity. On behalf of all its members, the municipality has paid the March 2020 power-utility bills, wishing you continued health and wellness.”

This is just one way that local authorities in Lebanon are stepping up their efforts to protect the local population from the pandemic and ensure that households can make it through economic difficulties.

In conversation over the phone, the mayor said this decision was a municipal “duty and the least we could do towards our people”. She added: “The municipal council took the responsibility of helping the destitute and all the residents of the town, so we paid the utility bills owed to the municipal power generator for 160 subscribers, with a total value of 12 million Lebanese pounds.”

The municipality has also taken measures to stop the propagation of the virus. “We have closed the town’s access points and assigned the municipal police and volunteers the task of checking the temperature of all those coming in and out, based on the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities and the General Mobilisation Resolution issued by the Council of Ministers to counter the spread of the coronavirus.”

Local authorities are also responsible for distribution assistance, both in-kind and services, and for ensuring that families do not fall through the social security net, all in cooperation with the relevant government ministries.

Each municipality is also responsible for creating a task force that includes local officials as well as civil society and community organisations, to mitigate the pandemic through awareness and contingency measures.

In addition to foregoing payment of local electricity bills, Ejdebrine provided 172 food vouchers, with a value of 100,000 LBP each, to cover citizens’ basic needs. “The municipality has also collected the residents’ medical prescriptions and bought the necessary medicine directly” added mayor Al-Bayeh.

According to Al-Bayeh, the municipality is sterilising all public spaces and buildings on a weekly basis through the municipal health department and volunteers.

Local authorities in Lebanon have suffered from the central government’s delays in transferring revenues of the Independent Municipal Fund. In reaction to the pandemic, President Michel Aoun signed a decree to distribute the 700 billion LBP that was owed for the year 2017, providing a first step to paying what is owed and providing municipalities with an influx of cash when they need it most.

Municipalities play a vital role in curbing pandemics in coordination with the central government. The covid-19 pandemic demonstrates how municipalities are at the forefront whenever crises strike.

The pandemic also highlights the need to bring the draft law on administrative decentralisation to the front of the political agenda. Its adoption would enhance the work of local and regional authorities, facilitate citizens’ affairs, and mark a step in the direction of accountability and good governance. This would also give municipalities the tools they need to carry out their frontline efforts when facing crises such as covid-19.

Find out more about Democracy Reporting International’s work in Lebanon here