Message by the Office of the Commissioner for Volunteering and Non-Governmental Organizations on the International Day of Democracy
The United Nations (UN), in a relevant resolution in 2007, established September 15 as the International Day of Democracy. The unprecedented crisis caused by the pandemic has created enormous social, political and legal challenges worldwide. As states are obliged to adopt emergency measures, it is essential to comply with national laws, to protect and respect international agreements and basic principles of legality, as well as the right to justice and medical care.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on governments to show transparency, accountability and sensitivity in handling the pandemic. Also, the measures they take should be legal, necessary and non-discriminatory. In particular, he said: “The best response to a crisis is one that respects human rights and the rule of law”.
Among other human rights, states must respect and protect fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression, access to information and freedom of the press. According to Mr Guterres: “As the world confronts COVID-19, democracy must ensure the free flow of information, participation in decision-making and responsibility for handling the pandemic”.
True democracy must follow a two-way path and be based on a continuous dialogue between Civil Society and Governments. In Cyprus, in 2015, the Council of Ministers established September 15 as “Citizen's Day”. The decision was taken in the context of the Government's policy to establish regular communication with citizens, ensuring their right to transparency, expression and information. The aim is to promote their active participation in society at local, national and European level, by broadening their choices.
On the occasion of “Citizen's Day” and following a proposal by the Commissioner for Volunteering and Non-Governmental Organizations, once a year an Informal Meeting of the Council of Ministers is held at the Presidential Palace. In the presence of the President of the Republic of Cyprus and the Ministers, young men and women from all over Cyprus from universities, high schools, National Guard conscripts, the Police Academy, youth organizations and young individuals attend the operation and decision-making of the Council of Ministers. Then they are given the opportunity to ask questions and make suggestions.
Cyprus is the only country in the European Union that gives this opportunity to Civil Society, with the aim of strengthening the relationship of its citizens with the institutions of the State.
The Office of the Commissioner for Volunteering and Non-Governmental Organizations recognizes that “an active citizen gives special meaning to democracy”. He is not limited to the right to vote, but cooperates or opposes policies that affect his own life and that of his fellow citizens, always respecting the will of the majority and the rights of all people. Civil society is intertwined with the freedoms and the rights, with the responsibilities of the Citizen for the future of this world.
In the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 16 – “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions” recognizes that democracy is fully intertwined with peaceful and inclusive societies and with the building of effective, accountable and participatory institutions at all levels. With this in mind, we continue our policy of encouraging active citizenship and youth activism in the public, to strengthen participatory democracy.
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