In a multitude of ways all over the world, citizens are increasingly demanding that political leaders be held accountable for their actions, as was the case in the Arab Spring. During her inaugural lecture, Marlies Glasius proposes that elections and civil rights are viewed as a necessary – but not sufficient – condition of this process.
Although authoritarian states are at no risk of dying out, their nature has changed due to globalisation. Access to IT and media, the influence of international non-government organisations (NGOs) and increased cross-border passenger travel present new challenges to authoritarian governments. They also present new opportunities for keeping their citizens under control, however.
According to Glasius, the emergence of democratisation movements in such countries is difficult to predict. This is partly due to the fact that activists are not demanding a transition of power or even free elections, but rather changes to society. The democratic visions of western activists in movements such as Occupy and the Indignados, and those of the democratisation activists in places such as Cairo and Moscow, show profound similarities. They both see elections and civil rights as minimum preconditions for democracy. These activists, however, see democracy as a more deep-seated culture that must take root in society – in workplaces, neighbourhoods and families. Even in cases where the transition process has been successful, these aspirations are only ever realised in a very limited form, but often enough – as is currently the case in Egypt – they are silenced by blood.
Glasius believes that the fact that neither international nor local human rights organisations have requested an inquiry by the international criminal court into the recent acts of violence by the army and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt speaks volumes about the damage that the reputation of international criminal justice has already suffered during its brief existence. Three possible reasons for this can be put forward: unrealistic expectations of what international criminal justice is able to achieve in terms of human rights; the ‘autistic’ manner in which prosecutors and judges interact with their social environments; and the way in which charismatic suspects such as Slobodan Milošević, Radovan Karadžić or Charles Taylor take rhetorical advantage of the political limitations of the criminal courts.
Despite all this, controversial cases such as that against Charles Taylor can still put forward the message that nobody is above the law, and that those who violate human rights must be held accountable for their actions.
Prof. M.E. Glasius, Professor of Political Science: Authoritarianism, Activism and Accountability in a Global Age.