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Online event on “Democracy Day in the Time of the Pandemic: A Sustainable Response to the Global Crisis based on Multilateralism and the Rule of Law”

Remarks delivered by Ambassador Stefano Stefanile, Deputy Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, at the online event on “Democracy Day in the Time of the Pandemic: A Sustainable Response to the Global Crisis based on Multilateralism and the Rule of Law,” co-organized by International IDEA and the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), and co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Italy and Sweden to the United Nations. —


First off, let me congratulate IDEA and IDLO for their joint initiative to promote this event in relation to the International Day of Democracy. When our Mission was proposed to be a co-sponsor of this discussion, together with Sweden, we did not hesitate for a single moment in accepting the offer. At the time of the pandemic, reflecting on the importance of upholding democracy and the rule of law, which in normal situations should be considered a fundamental necessity, has become all the more urgent. Furthermore, IDEA and IDLO are two highly respected organizations, which Italy is pleased to partner with. We are particularly proud to host IDLO’s Headquarters in Rome. Last, but not least, both organizations are represented here in New York by two highly esteemed Italian nationals, which is a factor that certainly helps to create synergies between themselves as well as with our Mission.

Coming to the topic of our discussion, Covid-19 has affected almost every country in the world, with a variable degree of human losses and socio-economic consequences, but also with a variable impact on democracy, human rights and rule of law. As outlined by the Secretary General of IDEA, the Director General of IDLO and also the Representative of the UN Democracy Fund, several countries and local authorities have decided to postpone national or subnational elections. Inequalities and insecurity have widely increased because of lockdowns, aggravating the conditions of the most vulnerable, There have been also a series of repercussions on the administration of justice, with judiciary activities that in some countries have been drastically slowed down or, in some extreme cases, have been substantially paralyzed.

Another dimension which has also been mentioned is to do with the fact that most countries have been faced with the urgent need to adopt extraordinary measures, put in place extraordinary legislative and regulatory measures to contain and ultimately tackle the pandemic, with the risk, again, of impacting on human rights and on the integrity of democratic processes. The ability of Governments to contain the virus – while safeguarding human rights, ensuring social protection and promoting a sustainable recovery – has proved to be very closely linked to the capacity of their leadership and their public institutions to put in place transparent and effective actions in the respect of democratic values and the rule of law.

Let me touch briefly on my country’s experience. Italy – which has been among the first countries to be heavily hit by the virus – we also had to face this test. Our government had to undertake a series of extraordinary measures, including the proclamation of a state of emergency during the most acute phase of the health crisis,. But this was done having fully in mind that public safety must go hand in hand with the need to respect not only Constitutional principles, but also international law obligations and the rule of law. To this end, all measures that were adopted in Italy, both at national and local level, had a temporary nature. They were also clearly anchored to the principles of necessity and proportionality. A technical and scientific committee has been advising the Government on assessing the adequacy and proportionality of the proposed measures. Furthermore, and this is an important dimension, the publicity of all acts adopted by the Government through their publication on the Official Gazette and their notification to Parliament and there was also an obligation of periodic reporting to Parliament on the measures taken.

So, the pandemic has been for Italy, like for many other countries, also an occasion to measure the solidity of its democratic institutions and to reaffirm its own commitment towards peaceful, just and inclusive societies, based on the rule of law. And this test did not involve only public institutions, but also civil society, which reacted in a cohesive and extremely positive fashion. And we will hear in a few minutes the point of view of Professor Giovannini, who has a profound knowledge of both public institutions and civil society of Italy.

Looking ahead, the pandemic has presented and is still presenting critical challenges for policymakers. This is an extraordinary situation which implies the necessity to tackle unprecedented challenges. But the experience of the pandemic will also provide the opportunity, for all levels of Government, to focus on the most pressing needs of our societies and to shape the post-emergency recovery in a better and more effective way. And this better recovery will have to include, for all countries, a strong attention to the irreplaceable role of democratic and effective institutions, a reinforced commitment to good governance, justice and rule of law, and a stronger impulse to the building of inclusive and resilient societies and this must be put at the centre not only of national policies but also at the centre of development cooperation strategies and this is something that we have already been doing for some time and should be placed also upfront in the plan of work of the UN development system as a whole. IDLO has developed some concrete recommendations in its policy brief and I can express our full support to them.

Finally before concluding let me mention something operational. Many of you will remember that in 2019 Government of Italy in cooperation with UNDESA and IDLO hosted the Global SDG 16 Review Conference in Rome that was in preparation of the HLPF that took place subsequently in Rome. Well, the intention was this year to, transform that event in a periodic event and having the second edition again in Italy this year. This was not possible due to the pandemic again but there is a clear plan of this tripartite cooperation with UNDESA and IDLO to have the second edition of the Conference next year and to dedicate it to the impact of COVID 19 in the sector of the rule of law. So also from this point of view, the concepts and what we are listening to today will be inspirational for us for the organization of this Conference.

Thank you very much again for this opportunity.