Header image for news printout

2021 Swedish Forum for Human Rights

“No Democracy without Human Rights!”
Video statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

6 December 2021,

It is a pleasure to address your Forum.

This year’s theme recognizes that democracy and human rights are interdependent and indivisible, and that people cannot truly enjoy one without the other.

It also recognizes that while democracy can take many forms, some elements need to be respected in all. Free elections, free media, public participation, accountability and an independent judiciary are some of them.

Currently, across the world, authoritarianism is putting democracy at risk.

Studies indicate its deterioration in many countries, including where it has been long-standing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation, particularly in democracies that were already ailing.

Last year, the levels of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen was down to those of 1990.

Estimates are that one third of the world’s population would now live in countries that are becoming autocratic, only about 10% of the world population currently lives in full democracies.

This democratic erosion is having a negative effect on human rights.

Disinformation is amplified through social media, promoting hatred and discrimination and polarizing societies.

But despite these worrying signs, there are some positive trends.

People seem to be willing to participate more.

Some elections have showed good turnout, even in pandemic times.

And protests in many countries show that people demand human rights and equality, an end to discrimination and corruption, and concrete climate action.

These are all things that true democracies can and must deliver.

Social inequality fuelled many of these demonstrations that we have witnessed in the last two years.

People want a say in the decisions that affect their lives and they want economic and social systems that work for everybody.

These protests are an expression of human rights and democratic values. As such, they must be respected and facilitated by Governments.

They should not be perceived as a threat. On the contrary, they are a way for the authorities to learn from people’s grievances and make better, informed decisions.

They are also a reminder that participation, equality, including gender equality, and non-discrimination are at the basis of any true democracy.

Speaking up, and contributing to decision-making, is the right of every human being, without discrimination of any kind.

Dear colleagues,

The establishment and consolidation of inclusive and strong democracies is a task for societies as a whole -- authorities, national human rights institutions, civil society, and businesses.

In a sense, all of the work of my Office, whether it be on economic, social, cultural, political or civil rights, is in support of this goal.

I thank Sweden for its commitment through its “Drive for Democracy” initiative.

In encourage countries and all sectors of their societies to engage in democratic institutions and processes. I also call on donors to increase their support, as this is an area which tends to be underfunded.

In addition, we need to remain ever vigilant so that emergency measures enacted to fight COVID-19 are necessary and proportionate, do no last longer than they need to, and are subject to democratic oversight.

All States should review response measures taken that are restrictive of human rights and discontinue them if they are no longer essential.

Finally, meaningful participation is essential to overcoming  the multiple crises we are experiencing. It is also the only path to long-lasting transformative change and to rebuilding trust.

Protection and promotion of civic space is a key priority of my Office, under the Secretary-General’s Common Agenda and his Call to Action for Human Rights.

Civic space requires inclusive participation of civic society and all of those at risk of being left behind.

With that in mind, I encourage all of you to participate actively in this Forum, attending its seminars and sincerely engaging in its discussions.