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.

Event: Free elections to resolve the crisis in Belarus

On 1 and 2 June 2021, we held the international conference on “Democratic Elections for Resolution of Crisis in Belarus”.

Our purpose was to bring together Belarusian and international experts on elections to discuss ideas for holding early elections as a means to ending the political crisis in Belarus. 

In spring 2021, almost 800,000 Belarusian citizens took part in an online survey to express their support for negotiations leading to early elections and several international actors have supported the idea of resolving the crisis through an election. 

Our speakers considered ways to establish a dialogue between the society and the current authorities of Belarus to create conditions for early elections. This includes ways to hold such elections and achieve the long-term goal – fundamental electoral reform in Belarus, including the adoption of a new electoral code. More information about the conference can be found in the programme available here.

The working languages of the conference were Belarusian, Russian and English.

The event was streamed live in Russian on Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s official YouTube channel. Watch the English recordings below.

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The conference was organised jointly by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), International IDEA, and DRI. 

Photo Credit: Homoatrox – Protest rally against Lukashenko, 20 September 2020. Minsk, Belarus

Tunisia’s constitutional court: The institutional arbitrator put on hold

Since the Tunisian Constitution was adopted in 2014, DRI has accompanied the democratic transition process in Tunisia and continually monitored the implementation of the constitution.

According to Article 148 of the constitution, the constitutional court should have been put in place within a year of the first parliamentary elections, which took place in 2014. Yet, it still remains absent to this day – an absence that has significant negative effects on Tunisia’s judicial order and the functioning of its political system.

DRI Tunisia recently organised a colloquium to discuss the obstacles to the creation of the court as well as potential ways forward. Read the full story in French.

Power and the covid-19 pandemic: Webinar series

Marking the conclusion of the “Power and the COVID-19 Pandemic” symposium, an upcoming webinar series running from 12-14 May will bring together contributors from around the world to discuss the impact of the pandemic on law and governance, drawing on five cross-cutting  themes:

  • human rights
  • democracy
  • the rule of law
  • science and decision-making
  • the impact of an extended emergency

Find out more and register for the webinars here.

The 2021 “Power and the COVID-19 Pandemic” symposium was hosted by the Verfassungsblog, convened by Joelle Grogan, and supported by Democracy Reporting International, the Horizon-2020 RECONNECT Project and the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law.

Watch now: Launch of new DRI report on covid-19 and the rule of law in the EU

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, EU Member States have been among the hardest-hit countries in the world. Suffering from high mortality rates and successive waves of infection, states (re)introduced highly restrictive measures.

To evaluate how the pandemic response has affected the rule of law across the EU, Democracy Reporting International gathered assessments from 35 national experts, covering all 27 Member States.

This analysis is brought together in DRI’s new report Extraordinary or extralegal responses? The rule of law and the COVID-19 crisis, which identifies five critical areas of concern across all EU Member States and provides recommendations on how to address them.

To mark the launch of our new report, we invite met on 5 May 2021, 10:30-12:00 CET  for the discussion of our findings and further perspectives with:

  • Joelle Grogan, Senior lecturer and legal academic at Middlesex University London and author of DRI’s new report
  • Álvaro de Elera, Member of European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová’s Cabinet, responsible for the rule of law portfolio
  • Veronika Bílková, Member of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe

The event was moderated by Paul Zoubkov, Manager Europe at Democracy Reporting International.

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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.

Bridging the gap between human rights goals and reality in Pakistan

by Shaheera Syed,  DRI Pakistan

Strengthening political support for democracy and human rights in Pakistan was at the centre of a conference organised by DRI Pakistan on 10 March 2021. This event brought together key human rights stakeholders from the country’s four provinces including policymakers, high-ranking officials, activists, experts, as well as international partners.  

The conference was an opportunity for constructive discussions on the future of democratic and human rights reforms in PakistanThe conference’s objective was to help combine political support for these reforms and strengthen engagement between stakeholders.  

Speakers notably included German Ambassador Bernhard Schalagheck, who highlighted the importance for Pakistani legislators, officials, and civil society to champion human rights reforms. He added that Germany would continue to lend its support to these efforts.  

The panellists reflected upon how human rights formulate the foundation of democracy. The safety, protection, and promotion of these rights is essential for a fully functional democratic system. The speakers asserted that political support is vital to stop the violation of human rights. They agreed that although federal and provincial governments have made certain inroads in this regard, there remains a long road ahead. This lukewarm political support is coupled with human rights institutions that are only partially operationalWhen mechanisms like parliamentary standing committees can play a tremendous oversight role, they seldom do so. Similarly, the national human rights institutions (NHIs) severely lack resources which in turn limits their power to fulfil their mandate and achieve any substantial progress.    

Veteran politicians shared their own experiences during the discussions on how to make parliamentary oversight effective. They pointed out that significant opportunities exist in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where local assemblies have amended rules to particularly empower parliamentary committees. The event also featured DRI’s toolkit for effective parliamentary reforms.   

Finally, participants also stressed the need for bridging the gap between civil society and government to bring democratic and human rights reforms. They added that concerted efforts were needed to reduce the gap between government and civil society and emphasised the importance of all components of the human rights machinery to collaborate to steer human rights policy reforms in Pakistan.   

This event took place as part of the project Consolidating Democratic Stability in Pakistan, dedicated to supporting institutional reforms aimed at consolidating democratic gains and improving human rights protection in Pakistanfunded by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs (GMFA).  

Programme Agenda – Inter-provincial Exchange Democratic and Human Rights Policy Reforms

Pakistan: Helping Khyber Pakhtunkhwa prepare its first human rights plan

DRI Pakistan’s Shaheera Syed looks at how DRI worked with local authorities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to introduce the province’s first comprehensive plan to protect human rights.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which borders Afghanistan, has long been undermined by conflict. Since 2010 DRI has been working with the provincial government, legislators, and civil society to strengthen democracy and respect for human rights.

In February 2016, Pakistan introduced its first national plan to protect human rights. Since then, the country’s provinces have been introducing new measures. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) first developed a policy on human rights in 2018 to ensure the protection, promotion, and enforcement of human rights within the province. However, until recently, there was no concrete plan to guide the implementation of this policy.

This is where DRI’s Pakistan office comes in. In collaboration with the provincial Department of Law, Parliamentary Affairs and Human Rights, we started working on developing an implementation plan in 2019.

The first step was to take stock of the human rights situation in the province. We met with human rights defenders, civil society groups and government officials to get their input on the situation and their ideas for turning KP’s policy into a concrete plan.

Basing ourselves on the findings, we helped write the province’s first ‘Human Rights Action Plan’ in alignment with the national action plan, KP’s human rights policy and Pakistan’s international human rights commitments.

The plan will help improve how government policies are designed, delivered, and overseen to better protect human rights. This includes measures ranging from establishing child units in each district of the province to developing women-oriented legislation.

The plan also provides a way forward for improved coordination between provincial government entities to streamline how the plan goes into effect.

The Human Rights Action Plan is a milestone achievement of the provincial government and DRI’s engagement with the human rights bodies and women parliamentary caucus was extremely helpful,” said Maliha Ali Asghar Khan, Chairperson of the Woman Parliamentary Caucus (WPC) and member of the Standing Committee on Law, Parliamentary Affairs, and Human Rights KPK. She added that DRI’s assistance helped with the activation of the provincial human rights committees which will enable parliamentary oversight, improving the protection of human rights, especially of women.

“The work we have done with the authorities in KP helps bridge the gap between the international commitments Pakistan has made to human rights and the specific needs on the ground in the province,” says Javed Malik, DRI’s Country Representative in Pakistan.

“We were happy to help facilitate the process, which was led by those who will be directly affected by it. Ultimately, the success of this plan rests on active involvement and political support from local elected representatives to make sure that it turns into reality.

Find out more about DRI’s work in Pakistan here: http://democracy-reporting.org/pakistan/

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

Ukraine: Call for participants in Youth in Politics school

Democracy Reporting International is looking for participants for its online school “Youth in Politics”, which is organised in cooperation with the Vostok SOS Charitable Foundation. The school will be held from 15 to 30 March. Young people, aged 18 to 35, are invited to apply. Priority will be given to candidates from the south-eastern regions of Ukraine.

Find more information in Ukrainian here.

Webinar: Power and the covid-19 pandemic

One year on how has the covid-19 pandemic affected the law, and the way states govern? Should we be concerned about the ongoing use of emergency powers? How can we look forward to what lies ahead?

Marking the launch of the 2021 Power and the COVID-19 Pandemic” Symposium, this webinar will bring together five contributors to discuss the impact of the pandemic on legal systems globally, and offer initial assessments for the rule of law, democracy, and human rights:

  • Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Regents Professor University of Minnesota Law School; Professor of Law, Queens University Belfast; UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism
  • Martin Scheinin, British Academy Global Professor, Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, University of Oxford; part-time Professor, European University Institute, Florence; Collaborator of the PluriCourts Centre of Excellence, University of Oslo; Member of the Scientific Committee of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency
  • Thomas Bustamante, Professor of Legal Theory at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil; Research Productivity Fellow of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development
  • Thulasi K. Raj, Advocate, Supreme Court and Kerala High Court; Equality Fellow, Centre for Law & Policy Research, Bangalore
  • Jakub Jaraczewski, Legal Officer, Democracy Reporting International

The webinar took place on 24 February, 14:00-15:30 CET. It was chaired by Joelle Grogan (Middlesex University London) who is the convenor of the Symposium.

Watch the full video below.

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The Power and the COVID-19 Pandemic Symposium beginning on 22 February 2021 is hosted by the Verfassungsblog and supported by Democracy Reporting International, RECONNECT, and the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law. The Symposium brings together experts from over 70 countries to reflect on how legal and political systems have adapted to ongoing challenges presented by the pandemic to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, and to offer recommendations on the future of good governance.

The rule of law in the EU in 2020: What went right? What went wrong?

2020 will go down in history, and not just because of the covid-19 pandemic. This year saw the rule of law emerge from a technical legal issue to the mainstream of European politics. We have seen developments across the EU that invoked hopefulness, anger, satisfaction, and disappointment.

DRI’s Jakub Jaraczewski looks at four trends that highlight what went well on the rule of law, and four that highlight what went very wrong in 2020.

What went right?

1.      Rule of law conditionality in EU budgets: Its final shape is not exactly what many advocates and experts wanted, and the joint threat of a Hungarian-Polish veto was harrowing, but ultimately the EU will impose rule of law conditionality in its budgets for the first time ever.

2.      Support for the rule of law goes mainstream: In public debate, the rule of law traditionally took a backseat to democracy and human rights. 2020 saw this change, as matters related to the judiciary, legality, and transparency went mainstream and enjoyed broad public backing, with the majority of EU citizens supporting the concept.

3.      Across the EU, there has been a pushback against rule of law backsliding: Some countries, such as Slovakia and Malta, saw positive political changes or improvements in how they approach the rule of law. In other EU member states, courts stepped up to oppose attacks on the judiciary, with tribunals in Germany and the Netherlands, as well as rank-and-file courts in Poland, fighting back on efforts to undermine the judiciary in Poland. Local governments also became increasingly invested in the rule of law.

4.  The European Commission’s record on the rule of law in 2020 was far from perfect. But at times, the ‘Guardian of the Treaties’ has lived up to expectations. The actions taken against Malta and Cyprus regarding their ‘golden passports’ schemes and the much-awaited rule of law report on the 27 EU member states were this year’s highlights.

What went wrong?

1.      The situation in Hungary and Poland has deteriorated even further. Despite the efforts outlined above, the governments in both countries – emboldened by the lack of a strong response from the EU (Hungary) and recent electoral victories (Poland) – pushed forward with their bold plans to further subjugate their legal systems and abolish checks and balances to their power.

2.      The European Commission failed to live up to expectations on several occasions. Lack of strong action on Hungary and Poland, but also the failure to respond to worrying developments in countries such as Bulgaria continue to tarnish the record of the von der Leyen Commission. The Commission could have acted faster and, when doing so, brought cases with wider rule of law implications before the European Court of Justice instead of focusing only on narrow issues.

 3. Covid-19 was a massive challenge for all EU member states. From the perspective of the rule of law, the emergency measures introduced by governments in response to the pandemic were all over the place. With questions as to the legality, clarity, proportionality, and necessity of many draconian measures, coupled with a lack of pan-European coordination by the EU, there was much left to be desired about the rule of law stress test the EU endured this year.

4.      Political groups in the European Parliament have not done enough to defend EU values. While many MEPs and the parliament as an institution continued to fight for stronger rule of law in Europe, the biggest political players failed to address the issue in their own ranks. Too often political groups turned a blind eye to what was going on within their member parties, with the European People’s Party continuing to go soft on Hungary’s Fidesz and Bulgaria’s GERB, while the Socialists & Democrats ignored the actions of the Maltese Labour Party.

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.

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