For the last 17 years, we have observed the International Day of Democracy. The UN has detailed the vital importance of democracy in its Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. Positioning it as the bedrock of peaceful, productive, and free societies, the UN has established democracy as an essential component of societal progress. Yet in recent years, authoritarianism has increasingly challenged the global order threatening democratic freedoms and the institutions that preserve them.
As the war in Ukraine rages past the 18-month mark, Russia is not only attacking the geographic sovereignty of its neighbor but also trust in democratic norms and institutions. Russia’s leaders are forcing many around the world to question democratic systems and leaders with false, malign claims of incompetence, ineffectiveness, and hypocrisy. Yet even spurious claims such as these should not result in waning support for democracy. Rather, we should adopt a renewed recognition that only with democracy can people freely protest, publish, or organize against leaders. It is democracy that allows us to check and even change our leaders.
While democracy continues to decline in the world, the resolve and courage of citizens everywhere continue to inspire a renewed hope that democracy can prevail. Even in Syria, where for more than a decade, protests have been met with government shelling and even chemical weapons, people are again displaying remarkable courage as they maintain a weeks-long call for new leadership.
Journalists everywhere take on the dangerous responsibility of holding leaders to account: a fundamental of democracy. This responsibility is increasingly dangerous as authoritarian leaders weaponize mis/disinformation laws in the latest assault on members of the press. Yet, despite the legal and even mortal danger imposed by undemocratic officials, journalists continue to bring people insights essential to holding leaders to account.
While our democratic systems create opportunities for us to report on corruption, advocate for change, and replace ineffective leadership, we must also remember that democracy requires widespread citizen engagement. At DT Global, we are committed to supporting journalists and activists; to reorienting rule of law to the needs of justice seekers; and to leading whole-of-society efforts to ensure more transparency on decision making and the use of public resources.
Democratic institutions provide more than just opportunities for free expression. As SDG 16 proclaims, strengthening the rule of law and promoting human rights is key to finding “lasting solutions to conflict and insecurity.” On this International Day of Democracy, let us each reflect on the freedoms, the assurances, and the security that would be impossible without democracy. Let us recommit to holding our officials accountable and supporting the activists, leaders, and citizens fighting to maintain a government for and by the people. As democracy is threatened, so too is the pursuit of durable peace.