Parliaments vital for strong democracies in times of crisis, OSCE human rights and parliamentary heads say

April 21, 2020
Parliaments vital for strong democracies in times of crisis, OSCE human rights and parliamentary heads say

Warsaw/Copenhagen, 21 April 2020 – A strong role for parliaments is crucial to the transparency and accountability of government measures as the COVID-19 pandemic puts our democracies to the test, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) said in a statement today.

“The role of parliaments in formulating new legislation to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as overseeing the emergency measures introduced by governments make their work more vital than ever,” said ODIHR Director Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir. “Parliaments across the OSCE region therefore need to take decisive steps to ensure they can continue their work during this period of lockdowns and social distancing – and we see that many of them are doing just that.”

Despite the disruptions to their agendas and the difficulties in holding regular plenary and committee sessions, which slows down the regular law-making process, numerous parliaments across the OSCE region are demonstrating flexibility and commitment in adapting to the current circumstances.

Some took rapid action to amend their rules of procedure or pass legislation that allows them to continue their activities via new technology platforms and remote working. In other countries, online meetings of parliamentary committees are being broadcast live online and on television for the first time, turning an emergency situation into an opportunity to increase transparency and accountability, and bring parliamentary work closer to citizens at a time when many are feeling under-informed and isolated.

“Working closely with international organizations like the OSCE, parliaments are demonstrating that with co-ordinated decision-making, we are all better off,” said OSCE PA Secretary General Roberto Montella. “Individual parliaments are finding novel ways to continue their important work, learning from each other, and incorporating international best practices into their national coronavirus strategies. Neither social distancing nor emergency executive powers should inhibit their activity.”

In time of crisis, there is a danger that the need to react swiftly can tilt the democratic balance of power towards governments, Gísladóttir and Montella warned. But now more than ever, the key responsibilities of parliaments to represent, legislate, and oversee must be maintained and even strengthened for them to effectively guarantee the rights and freedoms of all citizens. Their role in guaranteeing the democratic representation of each individual is particularly important to ensure the voice of those communities disproportionately affected by the current crisis is heard and acted on.

In close co-operation with the OSCE PA and the OSCE field operations, ODIHR is systematically monitoring the ways in which national parliaments across the OSCE region are adapting their work to the challenging circumstances in which they find themselves. By highlighting good practices as well as the action of countries that are seeking to limit the role of parliament, ODIHR and the OSCE PA are helping countries to make parliaments stronger and more effective during this emergency period and beyond.

All countries across the OSCE region have committed to ensuring that “a state of public emergency may not be used to subvert the democratic constitutional order, nor aim at the destruction of internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.” In addition, they will “ensure that the normal functioning of the legislative bodies will be guaranteed to the highest possible extent during a state of public emergency” (Moscow 1991).