Declaration of Democratic Principles on the Occasion of the 2023 Summit for Democracy

All people share an inherent right and irrepressible desire to live in freedom and make decisions about their own lives. As historical and more recent events have shown, denial of this basic truth leads inevitably to injustice, conflict, and suffering.

Democracy is the best form of government for ensuring peace, prosperity, sustainable development, and human progress because it is rooted in a recognition of human rights and allows for the orderly reconciliation of competing views and interests. It is a political system based on the free consent of the governed, and it is maintained through a network of mutually reinforcing structures, in which those exercising power are subject to checks both within and outside the state—from independent courts, an independent press, and all the elements of a diverse and active civil society.

No individual democracy adheres perfectly to this ideal, but democratic rights and institutions provide the means for self-correction and improvement. When one part of the democratic system falters, the others can be used as tools to repair and strengthen it, empowering people to constantly, peacefully strive for a better future.

Some of the most urgent challenges of our time stem from a failure of democratic states and societies to rally together, offer consistent and reciprocal support, and collectively address violations of fundamental rights wherever they occur. The neglect has been corrosive, leading to nearly two decades of decline in global freedom and a pattern of mounting authoritarian aggression. In response, the world’s democracies must work together to reinforce shared ideals and confront common threats.

In keeping with the goals of the second Summit for Democracy, we—the undersigned nongovernmental organizations and civil society cohort leads—declare that the following principles are integral to the success of all democracies, and to the rights, dignity, security, and freedom of their people. We call on states to take the recommended actions associated with each principle.

We affirm that observance of these principles will demonstrate the efficacy, legitimacy, and appeal of democratic governance, both to those living in freedom and to those still struggling to end their oppression. We commit to supporting these principles around the world, without exception, because they protect the dignity of all people and promote opportunity for all.

Principle 1: Protection and Cultivation of Fundamental Freedoms and Civic Space

  • States should maintain an enabling environment for civil society activism by guaranteeing respect for the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, and expression and ensuring that law and policy do not impede the work of civil society organizations.
  • States should promote the right of civil society representatives to participate in public policymaking, in part by affording them opportunities to provide input on proposed laws and to express views that are critical of existing laws and policies.
  • States should refrain from reprisals against and stigmatization of civil society activists, support international standards that prohibit such behavior, and offer protection to those who are forced into exile.

Principle 2: Election Integrity and Political Pluralism

  • States should conduct regular, free, and fair elections that are accessible to and inclusive of all eligible voters and candidates and that enable orderly transfers of power.
  • States should foster space for robust political party competition that provides a platform for diverse political viewpoints and gives voters a meaningful choice on election day.
  • States should cultivate and appropriately fund autonomous, professional, and impartial institutions to manage elections.
  • States should promote positive, open discourse on democracy, and election authorities should proactively and expeditiously address information that has the potential to undermine trust in the election cycle, without improperly infringing on the fundamental freedoms of speech and expression.
  • States and election authorities should consider the opportunities and risks associated with the introduction of new election technologies and select the most appropriate tools to support efficient, transparent, and credible election processes.
  • States should commit to the ideal, through a democratic system of checks and balances, that all elected governments serve the interests of the public as a whole and respect the rights of political and demographic minority groups. Pluralistic legislatures with the power to monitor and challenge the executive branch should play an active role in this process.
  • States should increase transparency and accountability in political financing to promote fair competition in elections and close off opportunities for private, illicit, or undemocratic interests to unduly influence decision-making.

Principle 3: Inclusive Policymaking

  • States should recognize that the loss of agency and control among citizens, or even the impression thereof, is a key source of democratic instability.
  • States should prevent related harms by working to explore, expand, and refine mechanisms that give citizens a substantive and visible role in the major policy decisions and legislative initiatives affecting their lives.
  • States should take into account the voices of people from emerging democracies and the Global South when developing policies that could affect conditions beyond their own borders. For example, states should consult widely on draft regulations for global digital platforms that might negatively impact freedom of expression in other countries.

Principle 4: Solidarity against Authoritarian Pressure

  • States with donor capacity should maintain or significantly increase their support for democratic movements and institutions worldwide. They should deepen diplomatic and material support for democratic activists in authoritarian environments and provide a safe haven for those who are forced to flee as a result of their work.
  • States should keep a public spotlight on the mounting number of human rights defenders, journalists, and democracy activists who have been detained worldwide, and take additional steps to routinely and proactively advocate for the swift release of specific political prisoners during interactions with counterparts in other governments.
  • States should recognize that transnational repression is a threat to democracy and human rights worldwide, as it undermines the rule of law, imperils civil and political liberties, and spreads authoritarian practices. States should commit to addressing transnational repression, including by ending impunity for perpetrators, strengthening the resilience of democratic institutions, and protecting vulnerable groups and individuals.
  • States should reinforce economic solidarity as a deterrent to authoritarian economic coercion, working to better insulate individual states from retaliatory measures when they stand up for the values of democracy and human rights.

Principle 5: Media Freedom and Resistance to Disinformation

  • States should recognize that a diverse and independent media sector is essential to the health of a democracy, and actively protect journalists from censorship, threats of violence, and other undue restrictions on their work.
  • States should foster a culture of transparency in government, allowing the press to access the information it needs to hold public officials accountable for their performance or malfeasance.
  • States should enact and adhere to laws and regulations that protect freedom of expression as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  • States should cultivate societal resilience to disinformation by safeguarding the right to freely access and distribute credible information, promoting media literacy at all levels of society, and supporting initiatives committed to tracking, analyzing, and combating harmful disinformation campaigns.
  • States should take a proactive approach to countering disinformation, enhancing their predictive capabilities and engaging in preemptive measures to “prebunk” emerging narratives. They should invest in public diplomacy to advance these goals.
  • States should work with the private sector to reform media regulations and markets in a manner that will support independent news outlets’ financial self-sufficiency, and actively challenge business models and algorithms that either incentivize or monetize hate speech or dis- and misinformation.

Principle 6: Human Rights on Digital Platforms

  • States should uphold fundamental human rights in the digital sphere. They should refrain from shutting down or disrupting access to and use of telecommunications and online services, including social media platforms, anticensorship technologies, and websites hosting political, social, and religious speech. They should also strengthen legal protections for free expression online, including by decriminalizing speech that is protected under international human rights standards and refraining from the imposition of civil penalties for such speech. The exchange of information through the internet and online platforms should remain open, affordable, and secure, even in times of crisis.
  • States should address digital threats to human security. They should tightly regulate the deployment and ban the export of surveillance tools or other technologies that can facilitate human rights abuses, like NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware product. These systems are often used to spy on human rights defenders, political dissidents, and journalists, or to harass vulnerable communities across borders.
  • States should enact data protection and privacy laws that strengthen human rights, protect encryption, and strictly regulate access to and use of personal data by both state and nonstate actors. Governments should protect their people from harmful commercial data policies and practices that incentivize abuse and misuse of private information. They should also ensure that state collection and use of communications data is carried out in a transparent, accountable, and rights-respecting manner.
  • States should use and regulate digital technologies in a manner that not only supports fundamental rights but also advances equitable economic development, environmental sustainability, and innovation.

Principle 7: Rule of Law and People-Centered Justice

  • States should ensure that their judicial systems are structurally protected from undue political influence and other threats to impartiality, and that independent courts have the authority to check executive or legislative action that infringes on human rights or democratic principles.
  • States should put ordinary people and their needs at the center of justice systems, in part by eliminating legal, administrative, financial, and practical barriers that may prevent some segments of society from accessing relevant services, obtaining due process rights, or securing a fair resolution of their cases.
  • States should empower people and communities to understand, use, and shape the law, and increase meaningful participation in judicial processes.
  • States should use the justice system to prevent and deescalate conflict, promote reconciliation, and address the root causes of societal violence.

Principle 8: Safeguards against Corruption

  • States should work with one another and with civic and private-sector partners to promote best practices for fighting corruption and strengthen international anticorruption mechanisms, including the UN Convention against Corruption, the Financial Action Task Force, and the Open Government Partnership.
  • States should seek to introduce the most effective possible legal mechanisms for tracing, freezing, and confiscating stolen assets. These could include laws against illicit enrichment and forfeiture systems that do not first require criminal conviction.
  • States should work proactively to identify any proceeds of corruption held within their jurisdictions and provide information regarding these assets to the state of origin.
  • States should recognize the special nature of high-level corruption and harmonize their laws and practices to overcome barriers to extradition and other forms of cooperation.
  • States should identify and deter any professional service providers—including attorneys, bankers, accountants, real-estate brokers, financial advisers, and corporate consultants—who facilitate, encourage, or enable transnational corruption through legal or illegal means.
  • States should establish a beneficial ownership registry that is appropriately resourced and monitored, and that balances the public interests of data privacy and ownership transparency.
  • States should uphold fair and transparent processes for public procurement and associated activities, ensuring that they serve the public interest and minimize opportunities for rent-seeking, bribe-taking, and other forms of corruption.
  • States should encourage “collective action” initiatives, including integrity pacts, as a critical multistakeholder tool for preventing corruption at the public-private interface.
  • States should have legal mechanisms in place to ensure that no one is above the law and all high-level representatives of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches can be effectively investigated without fear of retribution.

Principle 9: Gender Equality

  • States should accelerate efforts to address harmful gender-related norms, stereotypes, cultural and social practices, and behaviors that undermine women’s opportunities to participate on equal terms in public life. They should include men and boys in these efforts and encourage media and educational institutions to incorporate gender equality into their professional training and core content.
  • States should conduct a systematic review of legislation, policies, and customary laws to ensure that they promote, rather than hinder, women’s political participation.
  • States should create an enabling environment for women’s political participation by showing zero tolerance for all forms of violence against women, setting legal or normative quotas for women in decision-making bodies, and ensuring that political parties adopt inclusive, transparent, and accountable measures for gender equality within their organizations.
  • States should fully implement and fund UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security. They should systematically integrate a gender perspective into all stages of conflict prevention, peace, and security efforts by engaging women as equal and meaningful participants at the international, national, and local levels.

Principle 10: Youth Political and Civic Engagement

  • States should encourage political parties and civil society groups to establish youth branches within their organizations and recruit young people to participate in political and civic activities.
  • States should generally consider youth as an opportunity rather than a problem and increase investment in high-quality education in order to enhance, in the long term, young people’s capacity development and involvement in public affairs.
  • States should encourage and support improved and fair access for young people to open, prompt, reliable, and high-quality information, including through information and communication technologies and community radio, in order to strengthen accountability processes and increase youth involvement in decision-making.
  • States should support human rights and gender equality among young people, and eradicate all forms of violence and prejudice against adolescents and youth, including child marriage, early and coerced marriage, and other damaging practices that affect adolescent girls and young women in particular.

Principle 11: Equal Rights for People with Disabilities

  • States should involve people with disabilities and their representative organizations in decision-making processes across all levels of government, in the spirit of “nothing about us without us.” Disability rights issues should also be mainstreamed across a wide range of policy areas, including climate change, food security, disaster risk, health care, and economic growth.
  • States should align their electoral processes with universal design principles to ensure that people with disabilities can participate meaningfully in politics as voters, candidates, election officials, and observers. This includes making all public buildings physically accessible, providing voter and civic education information in accessible formats, and bringing legal frameworks into compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  • States should invest in civic education activities that will support greater engagement by people with disabilities, making an effort to reach young people, members of ethnic and religious minorities, Indigenous people, and those who are out of school and living in remote areas.

Principle 12: Economic Opportunity for All

  • States should support broad access to economic opportunity by upholding individual and communal property rights and preventing arbitrary expropriation or legal seizures without adequate compensation.
  • States should create legal and regulatory conditions that support free enterprise and fair competition, the establishment and operation of small businesses, and freedom from bribery and extortion.
  • States should uphold the freedom of workers to associate and organize in independent labor unions, bargain collectively and enter into contracts with employers, and engage in peaceful strike actions to advance their interests.
  • States should actively identify and punish exploitative labor practices, including unsafe working conditions, forced labor, child labor, and trafficking in persons.
  • States should protect freedom of movement in all its forms, including the ability to travel to educational institutions and new places of employment.

Principle 13: Freedom of Conscience and Religious Belief

  • States should protect the fundamental freedom to practice and express one’s religious faith or nonbelief in public and private.
  • States should ensure that religious institutions and communities are able to operate without undue regulatory burdens, construct and maintain religious buildings without discriminatory obstacles, and provide voluntary religious instruction without official interference.
  • States should uphold the freedom of individuals to eschew religious beliefs and practices, decline participation in religious activities, or decline military service for reasons of conscience.

Principle 14: Comprehensive Freedom from Discrimination

  • States should protect vulnerable populations that are not otherwise addressed above, ensuring that all people are able to exercise their fundamental human rights without disadvantage on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other such category.
  • States should recognize that the principles enumerated here are not intended to be exclusive. While different circumstances may call for an emphasis on different dimensions of democratic liberty, no such shift in focus should be interpreted as a denial or diminishment of any aspect of human dignity.

The content of this declaration of principles reflects the contributions of the civil society co-leads of cohorts established throughout the Year of Action as part of the Summit for Democracy. Fourteen cohorts contributed to this effort: Anti-Corruption Policies as a Guarantee for National Security, Stability, and Sovereignty; Civic Space; Deliberative Democracy and Citizens’ Assemblies; Disability Rights; Election Integrity; Financial Transparency and Integrity; Gender Equality as a Prerequisite for Democracy; Information Integrity; International Cooperation for Anti-Corruption; Media Freedom; Resisting Authoritarian Pressure; Rule of Law and People-Centered Justice; Technology for Democracy; and Youth Political and Civic Engagement. This initiative was led and coordinated by Freedom House, the George W. Bush Institute, and the McCain Institute.

Organizational Signatories:

  1. American Bar Association Center for Global Programs, USA
  2. Access Now, Global
  3. Accountability Lab, Global
  4. African Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD Initiative), South Africa
  5. African Middle Eastern Leadership Project (AMEL), USA
  6. African Network of Youth Researchers, Côte d’Ivoire
  7. ARTICLE 19, UK
  8. Association of Black American Ambassadors, USA
  9. Alliance for Peacebuilding, USA
  10. Alliance for Vietnam’s Democracy, USA
  11. Alliance of Democracies Foundation, Denmark
  12. Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund, USA
  13. Basel Institute on Governance, Switzerland
  14. Be Just, USA
  15. Bekker Compliance Consulting Partners, LLC, USA
  16. BigMoneyOutVA, USA
  17. The Carter Center, USA
  18. Center for Democracy and Technology, USA, EU
  19. Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), USA
  20. Center for the Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD), Ethiopia
  21. Charity&Security Network, USA
  22. Citizens Network Watchdog Poland, Poland
  23. Clean Elections Texas, USA
  24. Coalition for Integrity, USA
  25. Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ), USA
  26. Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), Uganda
  27. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), USA
  28. CyberPeace Institute, Switzerland
  29. D.C. Student Consortium on Women, Peace, and Security, USA
  30. Democracy International, USA
  31. Devetaki Plateau Association, Bulgaria
  32. The Digital Democracy Project, USA
  33. Digital Empowerment Foundation, India
  34. Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan
  35. Digital Rights Lab, Sudan
  36. DT Institute, USA
  37. European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL), The Netherlands
  38. European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), Belgium
  39. Fix Democracy First, USA
  40. Forum 2000 Foundation, Czechia
  41. Free Expression Myanmar, Myanmar
  42. Freedom for Eurasia, Austria
  43. Freedom House, USA
  44. George W. Bush Institute, USA
  45. Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), Belgium
  46. Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, USA
  47. Human Rights Foundation, USA
  48. Humanity United, USA
  49. Integrity Initiatives International, USA
  50. InterAction, USA
  51. International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, USA
  52. International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), USA
  53. International Disability Alliance, Switzerland
  54. The International Foundation for Electoral Systems, USA
  55. International Media Support (IMS), Denmark
  56. International Republican Institute, USA
  57. International Tibet Network (Secretariat), USA
  58. Internews, Global
  59. IREX, USA
  60. Kenya Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas, Kenya
  61. Keseb, USA
  62. Lapis, United Arab Emirates
  63. Law and Public Policy Center, Georgia
  64. Legal Initiatives for Vietnam, USA
  65. Libyan American Alliance, USA
  66. Manushya Foundation, Thailand
  67. The McCain Institute, USA
  68. Media Diversity Institute Armenia, Armenia
  69. Minh Van Foundation, USA
  70. Ms. Magazine and Feminist Majority Foundation, USA
  71. National Democratic Institute, USA
  72. Network of Estonian Non-profit Organizations, Estonia
  73. New America’s Political Reform Program and Digital Impact and Governance Initiative, USA
  74. newDemocracy Foundation, Australia
  75. Open Contracting Partnership, USA
  76. Paradigm Initiative, Nigeria, Zambia
  77. PartnersGlobal, USA
  78. Partnership for Transparency Fund, USA
  79. Peace And Justice Alliance, Canada
  80. People Power United, USA
  81. Political Watch, Spain
  82. PressOne, Romania
  83. Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), USA
  84. Results for Development (R4D), USA
  85. Renew Democracy Initiative, USA
  86. Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH, Germany
  87. The Sentry, USA
  88. SHARE Foundation, Serbia
  89. Sinar Project, Malaysia
  90. SMEX, Lebanon
  91. Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet), Indonesia
  92. Strategy for Humanity, USA
  93. Transparency International U.S., USA
  94. Tunisian United Network, USA
  95. Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Vietnam
  96. United Macedonian Diaspora, USA and Macedonia
  97. United Nations Association of the National Capital Area, USA
  98. United Nations Association of the United States, USA
  99. Usuarios Digitales, Ecuador
  100. Washington & Jefferson College, USA
  101. World Citizens Association of Australia, Australia
  102. World Justice Project, USA
  103. 44 Virtues, USA

Individual Supporters:

  1. Thomas Carothers, Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, USA
  2. Amb. Norman L. Eisen (ret.), Democracy 21, USA



2560 1700 Global Project Against Hate and Extremism
Start Typing
Privacy Preferences

When you visit our website, it may store information through your browser from specific services, usually in the form of cookies. Here you can change your Privacy preferences. It is worth noting that blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience on our website and the services we are able to offer.

GPAHE uses cookies to collect information and give you a more personalized experience on our site. You can find more information in our Privacy Policy.
Stay connected with GPAHE
You can unsubscribe at any time.
You can unsubscribe at any time.
Stay connected with GPAHE
Thank you for subscribing!
Thank you for subscribing.
Join Us in The Fight Against Global Extremism.
Stay connected with GPAHE and get the latest on how hate and extremism are threatening our safety and democracy.
Subscribe To Our Free Newsletter!
You can unsubscribe at any time.
Join Us in The Fight Against Global Extremism.
Stay connected with GPAHE and get the latest on how hate and extremism are threatening our safety and democracy.
Subscribe To Our Free Newsletter!
You can unsubscribe at any time.