Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
27 June 2023


UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan delivered a keynote speech in the context of the Centre’s conference on the “Moving frontiers of the demos”.

Democracy is a space in permanent flux, which is shaped by a variety of political, social, institutional, and technological factors. How to connect the changes in legal, generational and digital frontiers with the expansion or the restrictions of the spaces of participation?

In her keynote to the international conference “Moving frontiers of the demos: Enfranchisement, youth participation, and digital technologies”, which took place on 13 June, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and Research Associate at AHCD Irene Khan noted a push and pull: on the one hand, the push of digital technologies, which open up opportunities and challenges for expression, and, on the other, the pull of regressive authoritarian forces. “In that tension,” she continued, “civic spaces have to be created, and the youth has to figure out their own understanding of democracy”.

The backsliding of democracies is worrisome, she underlined, pointing to a study that shows that out of the 42 liberal democracies that existed around the world in 2012, only 34 remain in 2023. She added that restricting the space for pluralistic media is one path through which authoritarian “toxic and single narratives” are promoted, and that independent journalism is under increased pressure, including in some democratic states. While other trends such as artificial intelligence and the erosion of trust that ensues from information spreading through social media, pose further issues for democracies, hope can be found in civic resistance practices by young activists, journalists, and others.

A discussion between Irene Khan and Gülin Özcan, Masters student in International Relations/Political Science at the Geneva Graduate Institute ensued.