International Day of Democracy 2009
Democracy and political tolerance
Lack of political tolerance is a problem everywhere. It manifests itself when political leaders refuse to give space to opposition parties and politics, when political parties do not tolerate dissent from their membership and, more generally, through a rejection of different views. The IPU has chosen the theme of "Democracy and political tolerance" for the International Day of Democracy 2009 in order to highlight the importance of creating a culture of tolerance in society, and political life in particular.
POLITICAL TOLERANCE AND INTOLERANCE
Political tolerance means accepting and respecting the basic rights and civil liberties of persons and groups whose viewpoints differ from one's own. All citizens, including political leaders, have a responsibility to practise political tolerance in their words and actions. As a clear rejection of "might makes right," political tolerance is a key principle of democracy.
As an ideal, democracy upholds that members of the society should treat each other, and be treated, as equals. Underlying democracy is the acceptance and respect of the other. Democratic life is both the right to differ as well as the acceptance of such difference by all. Democracy implies respect for the plurality of views and virtues of dialogue as a means of resolving conflict.
Political intolerance is engendered by a willingness to restrict the rights of a disliked person or group based on their differing views. It represents a threat to democracy since it discriminates against and may even silence certain parts of the population. Intolerance creates a conformist culture and a closed society, which narrows citizens’ perceptions of politics and shapes their subsequent behaviour.
DEVELOPING A CULTURE OF POLITICAL TOLERANCE
A culture of tolerance involves debate and dynamic exchanges of opinions and arguments, whereby people can learn from others, get closer to the truth, and benefit from a vital public life. Developing a culture of tolerance is a long term undertaking that removes the roots of intolerance and is necessary for the democratic process.
Some of the key ingredients of a culture of tolerance are:
Education and political participation can cultivate tolerance among citizens. States can help to eliminate discrimination and hatred by promoting dialogue with minority and vulnerable groups. Citizens who have more opportunities to practise and observe tolerance are more appreciative of and committed to tolerance and respect for others' rights. States can contribute to the overall democratic learning and stability by involving citizens in the democratic process and upholding the civil liberties of all groups.
- Freedom of expression
A society in which freedom of expression is not guaranteed hinders political tolerance. Open dialogue and a diversity of political opinions are made possible by and reinforce a culture of tolerance.
The media plays an important role in developing a culture of tolerance. States have a duty to allow a pluralistic media to flourish and present diverse and critical views. Encouraging a wide array of ideas and beliefs among individuals and institutions builds an equitable and non-discriminatory environment that enhances political life.
POLITICAL TOLERANCE AND PARLIAMENT
Political life involves confrontation, and this is perfectly normal. Institutions of democracy, such as parliaments, provide the channels to make confrontation between opinions possible. Parliament is meant to regulate tensions and maintain an equilibrium between competing claims of diversity, and to accommodate the participation of all people in the society it represents.
Political tolerance is therefore essential to the functioning of parliaments and should be actively pursued in practice.
- Parliamentary immunity and freedom of expression
Freedom of expression is the working tool of members of parliament, without which they cannot represent their constituents. Members of parliament need some measure of protection to carry their work, most importantly, protection of their freedom of speech. Thus, parliamentarians generally enjoy immunity from prosecution or other proceedings for votes they cast, statements they make in parliament and acts carried out as part of their parliamentary function. Parliamentary immunity safeguards the integrity and effectiveness of the parliamentary institution. However, this immunity is not an individual privilege granted for personal benefit and is not meant to place parliamentarians above the law. Rather, it protects them from politically motivated proceedings or accusations. Parliamentary immunity is vital for enabling parliamentarians to speak freely according to their conscience, without fear of harassment, punishment or other retaliatory measures.
- Party control over the parliamentary mandate
The freedom of conscience and expression of parliamentarians is frequently limited in practice by political parties, which seek to exercise control over their members. Although in theory parliamentarians generally have a free representational mandate, various rules and practices have been put in place to ensure that members support the "party line". By controlling the terms of their mandate or party membership, parties can prevent parliamentarians from fulfilling their mandate and undermine the democratic process as a whole.
- Rights and duties of the opposition
The freedom of expression of parliamentarians, almost exclusively those from the Opposition, frequently comes under attack. This is a particular concern because the Opposition in parliament is an indispensable component of democracy. Opposition and minority parties play a key role in holding the government to account, and in providing alternative policy options for public consideration. The opposition therefore has rights and duties that enable it to make an effective contribution to the democratic process.
|RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PROMOTING POLITICAL TOLERANCE
To Speakers (Presiding Officers) of Parliament
To political party leaders
- Maintain impartiality in exercising functions to ensure equality of treatment of all parliamentarians, whether from the ruling or opposition parties
- Guarantee respect for parliamentary rules, for example, that all parliamentarians have an equal opportunity to speak
- Ensure that all parliamentarians can receive information upon request from a specific service within parliament
- Encourage the use of a bureau or other management structures within parliament in which all parties are represented
To individual parliamentarians
- Develop internally democratic procedures that allow for full debate on contentious issues, rather than relying on dictates from the party executive
- Follow appropriate procedures when pursuing the suspension or expulsion of a member, including guaranteeing due process and the right of members to defend themselves
- Develop and adhere to codes of conduct, that promote political tolerance, especially during the electoral period
- Open avenues for inter-party dialogue and initiatives to set example for constituents
To civil society
- Pursue political action through dialogue and concerted action, not violent means
- Be role models for constituents by acting in a statesmanlike manner in negotiations and debate, respecting the opinions expressed by others
- Promote tolerance in relations with citizens and be receptive to opinions expressed by constituents
- Run electoral campaigns that are transparent and adhere to electoral codes of conduct
- Support civic education campaigns, in particular, youth outreach
- Work with local communities and authorities to monitor and prevent hate speech, provide forums for dialogue between groups, and raise awareness about intolerance and discrimination
- Promote political participation in all its forms, such as voting, contacting elected representatives, participating in the work of political parties, signing petitions, and attending lawful demonstrations
IPU COMMITTEE ON THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF PARLIAMENTARIANS
Political intolerance often leads to abuses of the human rights of parliamentarians in a number of ways, such as through the arbitrary use of defamation laws. Actions that infringe on parliamentarians' rights and immunities are of particular concern for democracy. The IPU's Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians investigates such violations.
|TYPES OF PREJUDICE SUFFERED BY PARLIAMENTARIANS, 2009 *|
* Based on the cases considered by the IPU Human Rights Committee
By protecting parliamentarians against abuses, the Committee safeguards the rights of the parliamentarians' constituents and therefore defends the institution of parliament and democracy in general. In June 2009, the Committee was examining 58 cases concerning 253 parliamentarians in 30 countries.
|EXAMPLES OF HUMAN RIGHTS CASES REPORTED TO THE IPU GOVERNING COUNCIL
On 18 September 2001, 11 parliamentarians from Eritrea were arrested after publishing an open letter criticizing President Issayas Afwerki's policies. They have been held incommunicado ever since without ever being formally charged or tried. The Committee finds no grounds for justifying their imprisonment, which violates their human rights, and has urged authorities for the immediate release of the parliamentarians.
In Myanmar, the IPU has consistently condemned the complete refusal of the military rulers to convene the Parliament that was democratically elected in May 1990, and has expressed serious concern for the continuous removal of many parliamentarians-elect by various means from the political process. These means have included arbitrary arrest, detention, unfair trials and denial of basic legal rights of political opponents. As of 2009, 16 parliamentarians-elect continue to languish in prison.
Texts of all resolutions on human rights cases adopted by the IPU Governing Council
A PARLIAMENT DOES NOT GUARANTEE DEMOCRACY, BUT THERE CAN BE NO DEMOCRACY WITHOUT A PARLIAMENT