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Overcoming Dilemmas of Democratisation: Protecting Civil Liberties and the Right to Democracy

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The on-going global shift toward democratic government, vividly joined in recent years by the Arab World, is tempered by the many challenges of democratic transitions. The toppling of an autocratic leader does not automatically mean the rise of democracy. Elections do not guarantee the protection of civil liberties. And democratic leaders are not immune from the seductions of power and the incentives of dismantling democracy’s institutional checks and balances. The costs to a society and the international community for democratic reversals are high in terms of civil liberties, human rights, human development and political instability. Strengthening international legal instruments including mechanisms to enhance accountability for violence against journalists and proscribe the subversion of democratic institutions as a crime against democracy can help overcome these conundrums.

1. fn11) Freedom House, Freedom in the World: The Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties 2012 (Freedom House, New York, 2012).
2. fn22) M. Halperin, J. Siegle and M. Weinstein, The Democracy Advantage: How Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace (Routledge, New York, 2010 rev.) pp. 71–78.
3. fn33) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 217 (III), preamble, adopted on 10 December 1948 (hereinafter UDHR).
4. fn44) Halperin et al., supra note 2, p. 67; 60 per cent of democratisers are in Africa and Latin America.
5. fn55) Ibid., p. 32.
6. fn66) Ibid., pp. 37–46.
7. fn77) D. Kaufmann, A. Kraay and M. Mastruzzi, Governance Matters VIII: Aggregate and Individual Governance Indicators, 1996–2008, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 4978 (World Bank, Washington, 2009).
8. fn88) I. Kant, ‘Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795)’, in H. Reiss (ed.), Kant: Political Writings (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991).
9. fn99) B. Russet and J. Oneal, Triangulating Peace: Democracy, Interdependence, and International Organizations (W.W. Norton, New York, 2001).
10. fn1010) M. Marshall and B. Cole, Global Report 2011 (Center for Systemic Peace, Vienna, VA, 2011) p. 5.
11. fn1111) Ibid.
12. fn1212) Halperin et al., supra note 2, p. 94.
13. fn1313) A. Sen, Development as Freedom (Knopf, New York, 1999) p.152.
14. fn1414) World Bank, World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security, and Development (The World Bank, Washington, 2011) p. 5 (hereinafter WDR).
15. fn1515) Ibid., pp. 8–9.
16. fn1616) F. Stewart, ‘Horizontal Inequities as a Cause of Conflict: A Review of the CRISE Findings’, background paper for WDR.
17. fn1717) WDR, supra note 14, p. 5.
18. fn1818) P. Collier, ‘Conflict and Development’, World Bank Development Research Group (World Bank, Washington, 2001).
19. fn1919) Global Humanitarian Assistance Development Initiative, GHA Report 2011, p. 6.
20. fn2020) Halperin et al., supra note 2, pp. 46–52.
21. fn2121) R. Dahl, On Democracy (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1998) pp. 35–43.
22. fn2222) S. Huntington, American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony (Belknap, Cambridge, MA, 1983).
23. fn2323) F. Zakaria, ‘The Rise of Illiberal Democracy’, 76:6 Foreign Affairs (1997) pp. 22–43.
24. fn2424) T. Carothers, ‘Zakaria’s Complaint’, 72 The National Interest, pp. 137–143; R. Kagan, ‘The Great Unwashed’, 229 The New Republic (2003) pp. 27–38.
25. fn2525) M. Ottoway, The Rise of Semi-Authoritarianism (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, 2002).
26. fn2626) Marshall and Cole, supra note 10, pp. 10–13.
27. fn2727) Accountability refers to mechanisms by which public authorities are obliged to be responsive to the preferences of the general public, maintain the transparency and fairness of public institutions, operate within established constraints, and face sanction for abuses of power. J. Siegle, ‘Building Democratic Accountability in Areas of Limited Statehood’, paper presented at the International Studies Association Annual Conference, 1–4 April 2012.
28. fn2828) Halperin et. al., supra note 2, p. 74.
29. fn2929) Ibid., p. 71.
30. fn3030) J. Siegle, ‘Overcoming Autocratic Legacies’, 9:3 Development Outreach (2007) pp. 6–8.
31. fn3131) M. Olson, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1965).
32. fn3232) J. Siegle, ‘Explaining the Variation in Economic Performance of Developing Country Democratizers’, paper prepared for the Community of Democracies’ seminar on “Democracy and Development: Poverty as a Challenge to Democratic Governance”, Bamako, Mali, 29–30 March 2007.
33. fn3333) Siegle, supra note 27.
34. fn3434) Ibid.; J. Barkan, ‘Legislatures on the Rise?’, 19:2 Journal of Democracy (2008) pp. 124–137.
35. fn3535) Siegle, supra note 27.
36. fn3636) A. Karatnycky and P. Ackerman, How Freedom is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy (Freedom House, New York, 2005); R. Putnam, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1993); J. Siegle, ‘Social Networks and Democratic Transitions’, 12:1 Developing Alternatives (2008) pp. 39–45.
37. fn3737) B. Mikail, ‘Religion and Politics in Arab Transitions’, FRIDE Policy Brief (2012) p. 2.
38. fn3838) D. Kirkpatrick, ‘Keeper of Islamic Flame Rises as Egypt’s New Decisive Voice’, The New York Times, 12 March 2012.
39. fn3939) M. Fisher, ‘In Tunisia After the Arab Spring, Islamists’ New Freedoms Create New Muslim Divide’, The Washington Post, 29 April 2012.
40. fn4040) I. Coleman, ‘Why the Arab Spring Hasn’t Been Better for Women’, The Atlantic, 8 March 2012; R. Sweis. ‘Arab Spring Fails to Allay Women’s Anxieties’, The New York Times, 7 March 2012.
41. fn4141) Kirkpatrick, supra note 38.
42. fn4242) Ibid.
43. fn4343) Ibid.
44. fn4444) J. Fleishman, ‘A Dynamic Islamist Rises in Egypt’, The Los Angeles Times, 6 May 2012.
45. fn4545) Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Religious Freedom and Rights of Minorities, Rights of Women and Rights of People with Disabilities, 2011 Foreign and Commonwealth Office Report, <>, accessed on 17 May 2012.
46. fn4646) Phrase coined by former US Assistant Secretary of State Edward Djerejian in 1992 during the Algerian civil war.
47. fn4747) Freedom House, Countries at a Crossroads 2011 (Freedom House, New York, 2011).
48. fn4848) ‘Egypt: Retry or Free 12,000 After Unfair Military Trials,’10 September 2011, Human Right Watch,, accessed 12 October 2012.
49. fn4949) ‘Egyptian Journalists Report Being Brutalized’, 7 May 2012, Committee to Protect Journalists, <>, accessed 26 May 2012.
50. fn5050) D. Mijatovic, ‘Protection of Journalists from Violence’, Issue Discussion Paper, Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe, 4 October 2011.
51. fn5151) ‘NGO Law Monitor: Egypt’, 17 May 2012, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, <>, accessed 26 May 2012; ‘Egyptian Rights Groups Criticize Proposed NGO Law’, Project on Middle East Democracy, <>, accessed 26 May 2012.
52. fn5252) For instance, a Gallup poll in Egypt showed that support for the Muslim Brotherhood had declined from 63 per cent to 42 per cent in the four months since their parliamentary victory. R. Pollard, ‘Islamists Stage Rallies to Restore Favour among Disappointed Voters’, Sydney Morning Tribune, 25 May 2012.
53. fn5353) Fisher, supra note 39; L. Montgomery, ‘Islam Without Extremes – A Muslim Case for Liberty: Interview with Turkish Author Mustafa Akyol’, The Washington Times, 20 April 2012.
54. fn5454) Fisher, supra note 39.
55. fn5555) Ibid.; M. Akyol, Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty (W.W. Norton, New York, 2011).
56. fn5656) N. Brown, ‘Egypt and Islamic Sharia: A Guide for the Perplexed’, 15 May 2012, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, <>, accessed 18 May 2012; Montgomery, supra note 53.
57. fn5757) Fisher, supra note 39; Kirkpatrick, supra note 38.
58. fn5858) Fisher, ibid.
59. fn5959) United Nations, Charter of the United Nations, 24 October 1945, 1 UNTS XVI, preamble.
60. fn6060) UDHR, supra note 3, preamble.
61. fn6161) Ibid.
62. fn6262) Ibid.
63. fn6363) Ibid., Article 2.
64. fn6464) Ibid., Article 29(2); see also International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, preamble, 999 UNTS171 (9 December 1966). (hereinafter ICCPR)
65. fn6565) UN General Assembly, Convention on the Political Rights of Women, 20 December 1952; UN General Assembly, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 18 December 1979, Article 7.
66. fn6666) UDHR, supra note 3, Article 19.
67. fn6767) Ibid., Article 20.
68. fn6868) Ibid., Article 23 (4).
69. fn6969) Ibid., Article 21.
70. fn7070) ICCPR, supra note 64, preamble.
71. fn7171) International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, 993 UNTS 3 (1966); J. Paust, ‘International Law, Dignity, Democracy, and the Arab Spring’, University of Houston Public Law and Legal Theory Series 2012-A-3.
72. fn7272) 2005 World Summit Outcome, UN General Assembly Resolution 60/1 (24 October 2005), para. 119; Paust, ibid.
73. fn7373) Belgium v. Spain, Case Concerning Barcelona Traction Light and Power Co., 5 February 1970, ICJ 4, paras. 33–34.
74. fn7474) Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations (24 October 1970), UN General Assembly Resolution 2625, 25 UN GAOR, Supp. No. 28.
75. fn7575) Part of this education would be to remind leaders in these transitioning contexts of their rich human rights traditions. Egypt, Iran and Lebanon were members of the Commission on Human Rights that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. They, as well as Iraq and Syria, were also among the original 48 signatories of the Declaration.
76. fn7676) International attention on the case of Azerbaijani journalist and newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev is instructive in this regard. Mijatovic, supra note 50, pp. 14–15.
77. fn7777) Mijatovic, ibid., p. 16.
78. fn7878) M. Perkins, ‘Violence Against the Press in Latin America: Protections and Remedies in International Law’, 78:2 Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly (Summer 2001) p. 283.
79. fn7979) This designation is used broadly to include bloggers, citizen journalists, amateur photographers, and others who capture and disseminate independent information.
80. fn8080) Mijatovic, supra note 50. See also Mahmudov and Agazade v. Azerbaijan, 18 December 2008, ECHR, Appl. no. 35877/04.
81. fn8181) Mijatovic, ibid.
82. fn8282) B. Saul, ‘Prosecuting War Crimes at Balibo under Australian Law: The Killing of Five Journalists in East Timor by Indonesia’, Legal Studies Research Paper no. 09/109, The University of Sydney Law School, October 2009.
83. fn8383) F. LaRue, ‘Human Rights Council Holds Panel Discussion on the Protection of Journalists in Armed Conflict’, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Press Release, 3 June 2010, <>, accessed 18 May 2012.
84. fn8484) ‘Mexico: Constitution Amended, Federal Authorities Given Powers to Prosecute Crimes against Free Expression’, 14 June 2012, Article 19,,-federal-authorities-given-powers-to-prosecute-crimes-against-free-expression, accessed 12 October 2012.
85. fn8585) Ibid.
86. fn8686) ‘Mexican President Signs Law to Protect Journalists’, 25 June 2012, Journalism in the Americas,, accessed 12 October 2012.
87. fn8787) Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, <>, accessed 18 May 2012.
88. fn8888) Ibid.
89. fn8989) Zimbabwe, Burma, North Korea and Angola, among others, fit this characterisation. See also B. Bueno de Mesquita and H. Root, ‘The Political Roots of Poverty: The Economic Logic of Autocracy’, 68 The National Interest (2002) pp. 1–16.
90. fn9090) Mijatovic, supra note 50, p. 16.
91. fn9191) ‘914 Journalists Killed since 1992’, Committee to Protect Journalists, <>, accessed 26 May 2012.
92. fn9292) United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738 (2006), S/C 8929.
93. fn9393) J. Paust, ‘The International Criminal Court Does Not Have Complete Jurisdiction over Customary Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes’, 43 John Marshall Law Review (2010) pp. 681, 684–697.
94. fn9494) M. Perkins, ‘Violence Against the Press in Latin America: Protections and Remedies in International Law’, 78:2 Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly (Summer 2001) pp. 275–290.
95. fn9595) Perkins, supra note 78, p. 278.
96. fn9696) Organization of American States, American Convention on Human Rights, “Pact of San Jose”, No. 17955, approved 22 November 1969, Article 63.
97. fn9797) Ibid., Article 13(3): “The right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting frequencies, or equipment used in the dissemination of information, or any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions.”
98. fn9898) Perkins, supra note 78, p. 275.
99. fn9999) Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Ser. C, No. 27), 12 (1996).
100. fn100100) Perkins, supra note 78, pp. 279–280; Report No. 5/99 Inter-Am. C.H.R. Case 11.739 (Mexico), OEA/ser.I./R (1999) (hereinafter Miranda Case).
101. fn101101) Perkins, ibid., p. 280.
102. fn102102) Ibid., p. 282.
103. fn103103) Ibid., p. 280.
104. fn104104) Miranda case, supra note 100, 56.
105. fn105105) Perkins, supra note 78, p. 275.
106. fn106106) Ibid., p. 281.
107. fn107107) Ibid.
108. fn108108) Report no. 38/97 Inter-Am C.H.R., Case 10.548 (Peru), OEA/ ser.I./R (1999).
109. fn109109) ‘ECOWAS Court Orders Gambia to Pay Tortured Journalist’, 17 December 2010, Committee to Protect Journalists, <>, accessed 29 May 2012.
110. fn110110) Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2012: The Arab Uprisings and their Global Repercussions, Ukraine Country Report (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, New York).
111. fn111111) Ibid.
112. fn112112) Ibid.
113. fn113113) Ibid.
114. fn114114) Ibid.
115. fn115115) Ibid.
116. fn116116) Ibid.
117. fn117117) States considered by some observers to be facing creeping coups include Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Turkey, and Mongolia, among others.
118. fn118118) ‘US Condemns Niger Third Term Bid’, BBC News, 2 July 2009, <>, accessed 29 May 2012.
119. fn119119) Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Africa and the Arab Spring: A New Era of Democratic Expectations, ACSS Special Report No. 1 (2011), p. 18.
120. fn120120) UDHR, supra note 3, Articles 17–22; ICCPR, supra note 64, Articles 18–22, 25.
121. fn121121) UN General Assembly Resolution 55/96 on promoting and consolidating democracy, UN Doc. A/RES/55/96 (28 February 2001).
122. fn122122) J. Powell and C. Thyne, ‘Global Instances of Coups from 1950 to 2010: A New Dataset’, 48:2 Journal of Peace Research (2011) pp. 249–259. While the number of coups has been steadily declining since the 1960s, 12 of the 18 coup attempts since 2003 have been successful.
123. fn123123) Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC); African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance; Economic Community of West African States Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance; Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme (CAP) on the Harare Declaration, 1995; OSCE Charter of Paris; OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR); European Convention on Human Rights; EU Copenhagen Criteria; Arab Charter on Human Rights; Community of Democracies Warsaw Declaration. See also T. Piccone, ‘International Mechanisms for Protecting Democracy’, in M. Halperin and M. Galic (eds.), Protecting Democracy: International Responses (Lexington Books, New York, 2005).
124. fn124124) IADC, supra note 123, Articles 1–2; African Charter, Article 4.
125. fn125125) IADC, ibid., Articles 17–22; African Charter, Articles 14, 16, 23–26, 44; Millbrook CAP; The Treaty on European Union, Article 6; The European Union, Treaty of Nice (2001); the Inter-American Charter builds on OAS General Assembly Resolution on Representative Democracy, OAS AG/RES. 1080 (XXI-0/91) which calls for an immediate convocation of the OAS Permanent Council in the event of irregular interruptions of the democratic process or the legitimate exercise of power in any of the Organization’s member states.
126. fn126126) Early invocations of OAS Resolution 1080 were made in response to the 1991 military coup of then-president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti, Alberto Fujimori’s suspension of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution in Peru in 1992, and similar measures taken by Jorge Serrano in Guatemala in May 1993.
127. fn127127) UN General Assembly Resolution 46/7, UN Doc. A/RES/46/7 (11 October 1991).
128. fn128128) UN Security Council Resolution 841, UN Doc. S/RES/841 (16 June 1993).
129. fn129129) UN Security Council Resolution 940, UN Doc. S/RES/940 (13 July 1994).
130. fn130130) UN Security Council Resolution 1132, UN Doc. S/RES/1132 (8 October 1997).
131. fn131131) UN Security Council Resolution 1975, UN Doc. S/RES/1975 (30 March 2011).
132. fn132132) Arrest Warrant of 23 November 2011 (The Prosecutor v. Laurent Gbagbo) ICC-02/11-01/11; Côte d’Ivoire is not party to the Rome Statute but it had accepted jurisdiction of the ICC in 2003, which it reconfirmed in December 2010 and May 2011. New Suspect in the ICC’s Custody: Laurent Gbagbo Arrived at the Detention Centre, 30 November 2011, International Criminal Court Press Release, <>, accessed 29 May 2012.
133. fn133133) ‘Ten Years Ago, Russia’s Independent NTV, The Talk of the Nation, Fell Silent’, 30 May 2012, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, <>, accessed 30 May 2012.
134. fn134134) The EU’s ODIHR, for example, monitors the conditions in its 55 member states. The AU and its regional economic communities likewise have peace and security monitoring mechanisms that include political components.
135. fn135135) The specification of sustained patterns of deterioration is essential to distinguish a systematic institutional weakening from isolated episodes or questionable policies that would not merit this categorisation. See E. Brimmer, ‘Vigilance’, in Halperin and Galic, supra note 123, pp. 248–249.
136. fn136136) IADC, supra note 123, Article 3; this builds on its 1959 Santiago Declaration, in which the OAS identified eight principles and attributes of a democratic system for reference in determining whether political regimes were democratic. Santiago Declaration, Fifth Meeting of Consultations of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Santiago, Chile, 12–18 August 1959, Final Act, OAS Off. Rec. OEA/Ser. C//II.5.
137. fn137137) Brimmer, supra note 135, p. 235.
138. fn138138) This would be consistent with emerging donor responses to systemic corruption or human rights violations. After Malawian security forces fired on protesters in July 2011, killing 18, the US Millennium Challenge Corporation suspended aid, stating its expectation “that countries maintain a demonstrated commitment to political pluralism, human rights, and the rule of law”. M. Cohen, ‘Malawi Aid Suspension Following Protest May Curb Economic Growth, Investment’, Bloomberg News, 27 July 2011.
139. fn139139) While not invoked in the explicit defence of democracy, international precedents in this area are steadily evolving including agreements reached with European banks to reveal ill-gotten Nazi assets; the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Program (StAR) that seeks to work with injured actors and international financial institutions to identify and recover illegal diversions; the US drug kingpin designation that identifies individuals alleged to be key actors in the illicit narcotic trafficking trade and mobilize international cooperation to freeze these individual’s assets.
140. fn140140) C. Sampford and M. Palmer, ‘The Theory of Collective Response’, in Halperin and Galic, supra note 123, pp. 24–27.
141. fn141141) ‘International Recognition of Libya’s Rebel Movement’, Reuters, 22 August 2011; ‘Tunisia to Withdraw Recognition of Syria Government’, Reuters, 4 February 2012.
142. fn142142) United Nations Security Council Resolution 1962, UN Doc. SC/10132 (20 December 2010);
143. fn143143) Sampford and Palmer, supra note 140, pp. 25, 47.
144. fn144144) ‘Government in Ivory Coast Seizes Banks’, The New York Times, 17 February 2011.
145. fn145145) Sampford and Palmer, supra note 140, p. 47.
146. fn146146) Supra notes 3, 64, 123.
147. fn147147) B. Tittemore, ‘Prohibiting Serious Threats to Democratic Governance as an International “Crime Against Democracy”’, background paper prepared for the International Task Force on Threats to Democracy sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, May 2002, p. 13.
148. fn148148) Ibid.
149. fn149149) The crime against democracy is defined as the threat or use of force to remove or replace a democratic government or to prevent the installation of a democratically elected government. Ibid., p. 4; see also M. H. Halperin and K. Lomansey, ‘Protecting Democracy Abroad: Bringing Despots to Justice’, 22 The Washington Quarterly (1999); M. Halperin, ‘Democracy and Human Rights: An Argument for Convergence’, in S. Power and G.Allison (eds.), Realizing Human Rights: Moving from Inspiration to Impact (Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2000) pp. 249, 259; T. Franck, ‘The Emerging Right to Democratic Governance’, 86 American Journal of International Law (1992) p. 46; G. Fox, ‘The Right to Political Participation in International Law’, 17 Yale International Law Journal (1992) p. 539.
150. fn150150) Tittemore, supra note 147, pp. 20–21.
151. fn151151) Ibid., pp. 19–20.
152. fn152152) Ibid., p. 61. For a draft convention on Crimes Against Democracy, please see Halperin and Galic, supra note 123, Appendix B, pp. 327–333.
153. fn153153) Ibid., p. 64.
154. fn154154) Such an initiative would provide an impetus for all democratic and democratising states to review their national legal framework to ensure that subverting democratic institutions constituted a prosecutable criminal act by regional or international courts if the constitution in the affected country were suspended or judiciary otherwise compromised.
155. fn155155) Tittemore, supra note 147, pp. 71–72.
156. fn156156) Ibid., p. 74.
157. fn157157) Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, UN Doc. A/CONF. 183/9 (1998), corrected by the procés-verbaux of 10 November 1998 and 12 July 1999, entered into force 1 July 2002.
158. fn158158) Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Establishment of the International Criminal Court, UN GAOR, 50th Sess., Supp. No. 22, UN Doc. A/50/22 (1995), para. 54.
159. fn159159) Rome Statute, supra note 157, Articles 121–123.
160. fn160160) Ibid., Articles 121(3) and 121(5).

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Affiliations: 1: Senior Research Scholar, Centre for International and Strategic Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA Director of Research, Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, Washington, DC, USA


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