Call for Lab Submissions: Freedom vs control: For a democratic response

The Strasbourg World Forum for Democracy is an annual gathering of leaders, opinion-makers, civil society activists, representatives of business, social innovators, academia, and media to debate key challenges for democracies worldwide and encourage democratic innovation.

The fourth edition of the World Forum for Democracy, to take place on 18-20 November 2015, will focus on the challenges democracies face in addressing security risks without jeopardising freedom and democratic stability.

For the first time, the Forum will not only showcase already existing initiatives, but also innovative, untested ideas[3] to maintain and develop democracy’s basic principles in times of increasing security threats.

Interested organisations worldwide are invited to express their interest in presenting either an example/initiative or an idea to respond to security threats in a way that preserves the basic principles of democracy such as freedom of expression, public deliberation, and the privacy of citizens, by answering the questionnaire in the appendix and sending it to forum_democracy@coe.int by 15 May 2015. The World Forum Task Force will select the most interesting and relevant proposals in June 2015.

There is a growing sentiment across democracies worldwide about vulnerability to a diverse range of threats – from violent extremism to economic, technological, environmental and geopolitical risks. This acute public awareness – particularly the fear generated by violent attacks driven by ideology – can accentuate societal divides, sharpen latent conflicts, and destabilise society. The lack of data protection guarantees with regard to personal data held by internet companies is also a major concern. The growing tension between the concern for safety and the protection of freedoms is one of the key challenges facing democracies today.

A democratic state has the obligation to protect those residing on its territory. Terrorism and sectarian violence seek to undermine democracy by attacking its core principles such as freedom of expression and the fundamental values it rests upon, in particular the right to life. Such threats may require limited and temporary curtailing of other freedoms such as the respect for privacy through “exceptional powers” and increased state control.

Such measures, however necessary they are, address the manifestations of violence but not its underlying causes. They can present risks for democracy’s fundamentals and should be treated with extreme caution so as to avoid permanent and disproportionate curtailing of freedom. Caution is ever more needed when defining what exceptions to fundamental rights and freedoms are acceptable in a democracy, since limitations on fundamental freedoms by liberal democracies may be used as a justification for the repression of peaceful demonstrations and movements by non-democratic regimes under the clause that they may constitute a threat to the public order.

What institutional and procedural safeguards should be put in place to ensure democratic oversight over the definition of extreme threats and the reasons which justify exceptional powers? What kind of foreign policy decisions are legitimate responses to deal with such threats? How can we ensure that a system of secret surveillance for the protection of national security will not undermine or even “destroy democracy under the cloak of defending it”, in the context of a growing sophistication of communication technology?

The exchanges will have as a starting point real-life initiatives and untested, novel ideas, by public authorities or grassroots actors, which will be critically examined by an interdisciplinary international panel. General guiding principles will be then drawn to encourage and support future policy responses and field action. 

Initiatives and ideas to be presented and assessed at the forum will roughly fall under the four key categories:

§  How much control kills democracy?

Initiatives and actions under this theme could include international initiatives for peace and security;  introducing constitutional requirements for public debate and consultation on the definition of security risks and the “freedom price” for addressing them; public debate on the legitimate ways of ensuring security key decisions; measures for strengthening the powers of human right protection institutions and legislative and civil society oversight over security agencies; safeguards for balancing freedom of information and freedom of the Internet with security concerns; engagement of political parties and institutions to cooperate with civil society watchdogs etc.

§  Freedom from fear in a diverse society?

Initiatives under this theme would focus on encouraging active citizenship, inter-faith dialogue and intercultural dialogue; building a culture of human rights and fostering the desire for freedom and unity in diverse societies.

§  Is learning of democratic culture adequate today?

Initiatives under this theme could include, inter alia, promoting pluralism and critical thinking through education, culture, civic action; and initiatives which increase the public’s defense against hate speech and extreme ideologies;

§  Is freedom of expression and information a reality?

Initiatives under this theme could focus on making citizens vigilant with regard to erosion of freedom; media codes and other self-regulatory mechanisms to ensure the democratic responsibility of media; platforms to ensure the safety of journalists[1]; mechanisms to enable safe whistleblowing[2]; actions to increase the public’s media literacy and its resistance to populist discourse and hate speech; to ensure compliance with data protection rules etc.

One presenter for the selected initiatives/ideas will be invited to Strasbourg to take part in the World Forum. A number of funded places is available. Any public or private organisation is eligible to apply.

For further information about the World Forum for Democracy 2015, please read the concept paper or visit the following websites:


[1] A platform like this was launched by the Council of Europe recently.
[2] For example the platform « Source sûre » by RTBF, Le Monde, Le Soir and La Libre Belgique.
[3] Please note that only already implemented initiatives qualify for the democracy innovation award. Untested ideas will be presented in the labs, but are excluded from the democracy innovation award competition.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article. Good to see this…
    Great suggestions ! I love this blog, but can’t lay there all day everyday :-)
    Thank You Very Much for posting this.. :)

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